Aye! So, it's no secret that the NBA is now showing a lot of interest in India, with the Basketball Without Borders programmes, Court Dedications, launch of the NBA.com/India site, and of late, the collaboration with Mahindra to launch the new Mahindra-NBA recreational league.
The recreational league, set to be held in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Ludhiana, will be tipping off in Mumbai in mid-April and coming to an end in the first week of June. Rumours are that the NBA is looking to send a current star to India for the finale! This is an exciting oppurtunity not only for NBA stars to get a glimpse of the Indian environment and Indian basketball, but also for our fans to see one of their basketball idols.
NBA players have been to India before, obviously - no disrespect, but enough with the Kyle Korvers and Ronny Turiafs... The biggest stars to have been in India in recent years have been Robert Parish and Dominique Wilkins (both long retired), Baron Davis (who held youth clinics in India) and Kevin Garnett (who came as part of an adidas promotional tour).
We need bigger stars, with a bigger draw - India is a country of 1.2 billion people, and even a small minority of basketball fans here is a gargantuan number. Hell, even the Philipines gets regular All Star visits, including Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and most-famously, Gilbert Arenas.
So which current NBA star do you want to see come June? Here are my nominations...
1. Kobe Bryant: A no-brainer. The biggest name in basketball today, the champion, Finals MVP. India has been force-fed Kobe and the Lakers for an entire decade, back when Kobe ran with Shaq uptil now, when he runs with Gasol, Artest, Odom, and Bynum. The Lakers as a brand are also one of the most popular teams in India.
2. LeBron James: Trust me, I hate to make this a Kobe-LeBron thing. Kobe-LeBron. LeBron-Kobe. It seems every week there is a minimum of one Cavs or Laker game shown on ESPN/Star India. LeBron James blah blah blah Cleveland Cavaliers blah blah MVP MVP blah blah India loves blah best player in the league.
3. Shaquille O'Neal: I'm serious. Shaq in India will be hilarious. I can just see the photobook in my head: Shaq wearing a turban. Shaq riding an elephant. Shaq doing the bhangra. Shaq dressed up in a dhoti. I don't even feel I need to justify this one. Forget about the fact that Shaq isn't an all world talent anymore, the guy is as famous an NBA name as one can be in India.
4. Dwyane Wade: Wade is my favourite basketball player, and the most talented one outside of Kobe-LeBron (sorry Durant, Dwight, Melo, etc). I'd love to see him visit India, and subsequently, gain more popularity since he is still underrated internationally (shocking!!). The former NBA champion, Finals MVP, and this year's All Star MVP needs more exposure to my fellow countrymen who have otherwise been binging on Laker and Cavalier game - unfortunately, the Heat are just not succesful enough these days for him to make the same kind of waves.
5. Gilbert Arenas: Hey, they really loved him in the Phillipines. And ever since his, umm, gun-slinging incident, a season-long suspension has given "Hibachi" a lot more time in his hands. Maybe he's the only one who's free to come to India. Still, let's not forget that despite the stupidity and the injuries, Arenas remains not only one of the most talented basketball players in the world, but also one of the most approachable. He has a reputation for being fan-friendly and entertaining, and we will definitely welcome that attitude in India. Just leave the guns home - we have enough of our own, thank you.
Honourable Mentions that closely missed this list...
- Allen Iverson: Not officially a "current" player, since he's teamless. Also relatively washed-up, AI still has a legion of fans in this country, thanks to his explosive younger years and Reebok.
- Ron Artest: I would love to see him getting pissed off, when stuck in the Mumbai traffic, another commuter calls him out.
- Steve Nash: All around nice guy, likes football, will teach us a tip or two about offence.