Rohit Bakshi is an Indian entrepreneur, who grew up in Japan, has seen basketball become a vital cog of his life since he picked up a ball for the first time when he was 13. It is a journey that took him to different continents and crossed his paths with many players. In 2009, his move to India exposed him to the Indian Basketball scene. The talent on show impressed him and it sparked a desire in him to establish a professional setup in in the country that fosters elite competition and lays a professional career path for aspiring players.
That path has eventually led him to being the league commissioner of India's first-ever FIBA recognized 3x3 pro basketball league - the 3BL. Season 1 of the League will be conducted across six rounds in six cities - Delhi, Aizwal, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai respectively. Rounds 1, 2 and 3 have already been completed, all three have been won by the Pooja Bhatt owned franchise - the Delhi Hoopers.
As Round 3 was underway at South City Mall in Kolkata, Rohit Bakshi took time off his busy schedule as the league commissioner to talk exclusively with Sportskeeda. Here's the interview:
Q: What's the fan response to 3BL been like?
Rohit Bakshi: This is the first time in this country, so people are getting very curious especially people who don't know the sport. People who already know basketball are trying to adapt to the culture, system and as to why these games are in a mall. Why this is league is called 3-by-3 and not 3-on-3. There's a lot of excitement among these people that there is a professional league happening in different cities.
Q: There aren't a lot of pro basketball opportunities that are available to basketball players in India. What drove you to establish this league?
RB: I'm a basketball player myself. So my vision is to bring India to the Olympics. I strongly feel that in the 3-by-3, we have an advantage because this [the move to include 3-by-3 in the 2020 Olympics] has just been announced last year. Not a lot of countries are ready for the format. This is something that developing countries like India can adapt quickly to. The developed countries like Japan and US, of course, and many others are focusing more on 5-on-5 especially. The 3-by-3 is a kind of a format, which I believe because we have a first mover advantage, if we move fast and if we give our players the right approach, we have a change of going into the Olympics and bringing back a gold medal for the country.
Q: So is it just any Olympics or is your vision for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo?
RB: My ultimate goal is for Indian players to have a basketball career. Not just a player but even for physios and coaches but some sort of a platform for them so that they can focus on their practice. They have something to aim for. That's the main focus.
The ultimate goal is for India to bring back a medal and through this league, we want to help them establish it.
This is where most people get confused. In 3-by-3 when I say there is an opportunity, what I mean is FIBA has launched a new rule saying the top 100 players in the country with their combined points if they are Top 8 in the world, they qualify for the Olympics. Which means, you don't have to go through Asia Cup, SABA or anything like that. It's just valued based on the top 100 players. And if you have a league obviously the players are playing and getting points. So in India, we are getting very high points per player, which is higher than Japan.
One, because, we have a FIBA association and we have an association with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). If we give more focus to Indian players that means the entire Indian ranking will go up. So that's a unique part of the opportunity in 3-by-3.
So my aim is to get more teams. One team can only get 4 players and so, right now, we only have 48 players. But I'm trying to make this a 36-team league which will close to 150 players and then the top 100 in the country will automatically be among the top 8 in the world.
Q: I'm sure getting the FIBA exclusive rights was a huge deal in setting up all of this. Can you shed some light on that?
RB: In 2016, I bought a team in Japan where I played alongside Amjyot Singh Gill, Inderbir Singh Gill and Bikramjit Gill. We won the Japan Championship in Japan and then we had an opportunity to play in the World Tour Masters. One we played in Japan and one we played in China and from those two World Tours, we qualified for the World Tour Finals which is a very big deal in 3-by-3. In the World Tour Finals, we finished as the Runners-up in 2016, which drove FIBA to give attention to Indian players.
They reached out to me and they were like - what you did with these guys, do it for the country. Then I demanded my staff, we negotiated and that's how we got the exclusive rights from FIBA.
Q: You were a player yourself, so from a player's point of view - What's the biggest difference between 3-by-3 and 5-on-5?
RB: So 5-on-5 is played for 40 minutes with a 7 size ball and a roster of 12 players. That's the major part. Each player has 5 personal fouls and then there are team fouls as well. 3-by-3 is played with 6 size ball of a 7 size weight, which is a unique part of this. It's played mostly in high traffic areas. So the entire vision is sports to the people and people driving into sports.
In terms of technicality, there are no personal foul-outs. You can foul as much as you want but on the 7th team foul, you get two free-throws to the opponent and the ball. So, you might not get fouled out but it is risky to do so.
In addition, it's 10 minutes or 21 points. A knockout. If you score 21 points, it's over.
Q: 3-by-3 is one of the most popular urban sports. Was there any marketing challenge as you were setting up the league like how do I push this forward or how do I reach more people and what do I need to do? What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
RB: In terms of marketing, we don't really do big marketing as such because we are already going someplace where there is a walk-in crowd like a mall. So that's the entire vision. We invest more in the game and the players than on marketing.
Q: Just to round up the interview, could you tell us your favourite NBA player and team right now?
RB: LeBron James. He moved to LA now but still, he's my favourite player. [so Cavs are your favourite team or you have moved to the Lakers?] As an Indian, I'm more player-driven than a team-driven person so LeBron is my favourite.