Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sports boom in India, NBA to arrive next.

In life, there are always some things that are constant (or gradually and slowly moving in one direction) and there are some pulsating events. Like, for example, you are growing up day by day, learning the little new thing every day; and one day you have an adventure and are a singled reason for something great, or something famous, becoming famous.

Similar, are sports. Sports are always there. Every sport is played in one place more than the other owing to diverse reasons extending from the history to weather and, also the physique of the people of the geographical region. But, in recent years, with the advent of radio and later, of television and internet technologies, the following of a game has expanded beyond geographical boundaries. A cricket fan in the USA doesn't have to feel left out, nor should a football fan in Kenya. But, there needs to be something to break the new sport into the newer lands. Something "revolutionary" must happen, which attracts more and more people towards it.

In this post, I will try to put up a few occurrences in the recent history that has attracted a large following towards it, even if there are very few Indians playing it, or very few playing at the highest level of quality. And, predict the next swarm.

1. Formula One Racing.
India had a decent number of F1 followers a few years ago. I used to watch/follow during my school and college days. But it was far less than the number of people who care about, say, hockey. And suddenly, F1 came to India in October 2011. There was an unmatched euphoria that spread across the country like wildfire. People started liking drivers, some suddenly claimed to have known the Vettels and Alonsos since last century, some showered praises and swears like they were best buddies or arch rivals (something you see in sports with cemented fandom base), and people who had dreamt of watching F1 live had now a chance to realise it. The Buddh International Circuit could host nearly one lakh people, all of which were sold! That, brought F1 to India. Should've happened 5 years ago. Late, but never too late. It has happened. Not so long ago, an Indian company started owning a team (Force India), and we also had Indian drivers in the circuit. But THIS, this changed everything.

Click here for the race results.

2. Sania and Saina
Indian sports almost always ignored the performances of women. Even if it was about cricket. The whole nation followed the Indian men's cricket team during the 2003 WC, where it lost in the finals to Australia. But rarely do anyone remember Indian women's team's fortunes, as they traversed the same luck in 2005. But then, two girls, Saina Mirza and Saina Nehwal, swung a lasso and caught the attention of many million Indians towards them.

Sania Mirza raced past expectations to claim an Indian's highest WTA rank (27). Vijay Amrithraj was once ranked 16, Ramesh Krishnan 23. And 22 years since, Sania hit 27. That was when many girls got into tennis. Girls' tennis got more attention, more coaching. Sania went on to win silver and gold in Asian games too. The kick's been given, the result will show. Sania Mirza is the milestone woman to Indian tennis, but not the last one.

Saina Nehwal, a young prodigy, took badminton to another level of fan-following when she took the one way highway up the rankings, and reached her personal best of World Number 2, never before seen by any Indian. She was also instrumental in India bagging an overall silver in the Commonwealth Games of 2010, thanks to her gold medal. To put in a nutshell, she is to badminton what Sania Mirza is to tennis, if not more.

3. Twenty20 cricket
India were wary of the new version of cricket - the Twenty20. Indian ideology is - if you don't know it, don't fiddle with it. Not until India won the World Cup T20 did the think tanks and the people swarm the format of the game and adopt it, such that the world is attracted to the T20 league in India - the IPL, which kicked off on the same lines of the first such commercial Indian T20 league- the ICL (which was then labeled "rebel" league, and shunned). Funny, how things are first termed rebellious, and then taken into practice and termed genuine.

That World Cup drew comparisons to the ODI World Cup win in 1983. We had played only 6 ODIs at home before 1983 victory. We played 7 in 1983 after the world cup win.

These victories, these names, these events... They attract people, and loads of them. Very recently, an Indian company has taken over the ownership of an English Premiership Club - Blackburn Rovers. Now you see players in England, cheered by fans from all over the world wearing a shirt with an Indian's company's name on their chest and the camera flashing across to the club's Indian owners.Whether or not you like the club or not is immaterial, for, I don't even own the football the kids in my apartment play. I can only appreciate them. They even brought the team to play against an Indian club team - Pune FC. Vijay Mallya did similar things when he bought an F1 team and put India on the F1 map.

What next?


Yes! NBA.
The whole of India is now banking its hopes and expectations into a 15 year old simple Punjabi boy, Satnam Singh Bhamara. He's a giant, measured a whole 7 foot tall figure and had impressed his trainers at an IMG camp in Florida in 2010. He has been attracting many coaches' eyes since his arrival there, and is now in regular training. He has another 4-5 years of good training at school and college level before NBA picks players from the colleges from across the colleges (atleast one year of academics must be completed) and the globe in whole.

The coaches are liking his skill sets. They are helping him improve his athleticism. I spoke to Daniel Buerge, owner of, LA Lakers' fan-blog (every NBA franchise has a fan blog, which is like the second place you visit after the official team page, or in some cases the first. And LakersNation was adjudged the best sports blog in LA last year) in December and introduced him to the growing sensation of Satnam Singh Bhamara and asked his opinion. He said that someone as tall as 7 feet with 4 years of growth left and already gaining reputation as a good player with handy skill set will be under the watch of NBA scouts. That, I hope does happen. If his preparations keep the pace, he will get into a good college for his skills, and will go all the way to the big league.
Two articles on him - NDTV, AOL

There is one comparison which I can make to tell you how this can be, if and when it happens. Yao Ming, of China. In 2002, he became the first Chinese player to be drafted into the NBA. What Yao Ming had, was an experience of 5 years in basketball, winning the CBA Championship with Shanghai Sharks, a team he now owns shares of, after retiring from basketball at a very young age of 31, due to a weak knee. NBA, and basketball in general, in China has since become an ever growing market. One of NBA's busiest offices abroad is in China. Chinese basketball improved so much, that when the NBA went into a lock-out, players opted to play basketball in China until NBA was restored, or in some cases, the whole of Chinese season.

Satnam Singh can bring that change to India. He can do what Hasheem Thabeet did for Tanzania, what Samuel Dalembert did for Haiti. He holds Yao Ming as an inspiration, and he wants to be India's Yao Ming. He has all my prayers to accomplish that.

We are waiting by the beach, awaiting the sweet wave to wash our feet, and prepare for a new dawn, one when Satnam Singh Bhamara wears an NBA jersey and stands shoulder to shoulder with other contemporary stars.

Bring it on!