Table Tennis and Badminton are the two most established sports in China. But did you know that Basketball arrived in China in the 1890′s and was declared a national pastime in 1935? Besides USA and Canada, China was the 3rd country in the world where Basketball emerged as a sport. So basketball has been played in China for many years. However, Basketball became popular only in the 1990s when globalization and the Internet allowed the Chinese population to come in greater contact with the sport being played elsewhere in the world. In the 1990′s, the NBA started showing a few games on Chinese TV. The NBA gave a boost to basketball in China, but a bigger push was yet to come.
In the mid to late 1990′s the emergence of Slam Manga, a comic about High School teams who the people could relate to easily gave the support a huge boost. It’s mostly because of Slam Dunk Manga, one of the favorite among kids. It’s easier to relate to (story is about high school teams), art style is exciting and energetic. The theme is healthy and teen appropriate. Everyone read it, even girls.
In 2002, many years after the effect of the NBA coming to TV and the emergence of Slam Manga, the sport was taken to the next level when Yao Ming joined the NBA with the Houston Rockets as the 1st Overall Pick. Now suddenly, every kid playing basketball in China wanted to be Yao Ming. It was at this point that the NBA jumped full-speed onto the China bandwagon to capitalize on the Yao Ming effect. Yao’s first match had 200 million followers in China. Followed by the NBA, lots of corporates also started pumping in marketing dollars into basketball in China and the rest is history. Today, every basketball superstar including Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwight Howard, travel to China to promote their personal brands.
Right now basketball in India is at the same stage as it was in China in the mid-late 1990′s before the emergence of the Slam Manga. The NBA and corporates have been trying to push basketball in India for many years. But we still haven’t reached the next level.
Problem- The NBA is doing all it can to help promote itself in India, but what it’s lacking is a spokesperson like Yao Ming to push itself to the next level. In India, we don’t win many medals at the Olympics like the US or China but whenever anyone is competing for a medal the entire country is watching. And every time we win a medal in a certain sport, people start looking up to the winner and we have many more people trying to be the next Saina Nehwal or Leander Paes.
So, if the NBA manages to even get one player from India, suddenly 500 million people will be interested in watching the NBA and quite a few more will start working even harder to make it to the NBA.
Solution- The NBA needs one player from India playing in the league. The NBA is trying to achieve that by holding events and sending it’s players to India.
Some of the NBA’s biggest events in India are-
1. Mahindra NBA Challenge
2. NBA Jam
3. Jr NBA/WNBA Skills Challenge
Till now 20 NBA/ WNBA players or legends have visited India including Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard.
The Challenges focus on developing the skills of budding young basketball players and pitting them against each other. Through all its events and its tie-up’s with the Basketball Federation of India, the NBA is focusing on improving the coaching and facilities provided to the players, plus giving them expert guidance to help compete at the next level. The NBA is just waiting to find India’s Yao Ming.
I think the only thing stopping the NBA from being very popular in India is an identity, a player who the public can relate to. Lets hope, for India and for the NBA we find our missing identity soon.