Things have certainly improved for the better if you're a youngster looking to take up the sport of basketball in India. Thanks to the efforts of NBA India and the Reliance Foundation, children from all across the country are now getting improved opportunities to learn the game of basketball along with the possibility of showcasing their skills.
At the heart of this has been the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Program, which commenced way back in 2013 and is back for the seventh consecutive in 2020. The official description of the program is as follows:
The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program is a comprehensive youth development initiative that aims to develop the game at the grassroots level and apply the core values of basketball – teamwork, respect, determination and community – to positively impact the lives of boys and girls in India.
We got in touch with Marc Pulles, Basketball Operations Team Leader for NBA India in order to understand the program better. Pulles went on to explain the extent to which Jr. NBA has touched lives in India - nearly 10 million youth from about 13,000 schools to be exact. He delved into the numbers for the 2020 edition of the program, which is slated to attract seven million youths from 8000 schools across 34 cities in India.
"As of today, the program tipped off in 24 cities already with the NBA Coaches Academy initiative while Skills Challenge and competitions are on in seven cities. We conduct the program using the existing infrastructure in schools, stadiums, grounds across the cities where we go and with the help and support of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI)."
The program has certainly grown at a monumental pace and Pulles was more than happy to admit that the growth brings its own challenges, which they're happy to deal with.
"We launched the program in 2013 in two cities and in its seventh year right now we are across 34 cities. The year-on-year growth of the program has posed a challenge we are happy to face, to cater to increasing demand to conduct the program across more cities."
It's evident from how the program has gone from strength to strength that it was well-received by all stakeholders who want further expansion of the same. Pulles went on to detail one such positive incident:
"On Feb. 8th, we had over 1000 PE teachers/coaches assembled for our Coaches Academy initiative in Kolkata, close to 50 of them were from Darjeeling. They requested us to bring the program to their city. We get such requests every year and we try our best to expand the program and increase our footprint across the country."
He then went on to note some of the special achievements of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Program, starting from the most recent one.
"Over the years, the program has shown a positive impact and provided a platform for more kids to bounce ball and take up the sport. The first-ever NBA game in India between the Sacramento Kings and the Indiana Pacers on Oct. 4, 2019 was played in front of 3,000 boys and girls from more than 70 schools in Mumbai from the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program."
Pulles then turned back the clock and talked about the time when Kevin Durant visited India in July 2017 and taught 3,459 Indian children from the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program which was the then-record for the world’s largest basketball lesson (multiple venues). He concluded by talking about the boys who have made it to the NBA Academy through the program.
"13 boys from the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Program have made it to the NBA Academy India, our elite player development center in Delhi NCR."
We thank Marc Pulles for his time and commend the leaps taken by the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Program in their quest for grassroots level development of basketball in India.