November 5, 2011
Q&A: NBA-India’s Akash Jain – “Indian youth has the hunger to learn & enjoy basketball”
The third season of the Mahindra NBA Challenge (MNC) – the largest, multi-city, community-based basketball league in India – tips on in Mumbai on Saturday. Mumbai will be the first of five stops for the MNC, as the league will also be held in Bangalore, Delhi, Ludhiana, and for the first time, in Kochi in 2011-12.
On the opening day of the new season in Mumbai it has become clear that this large project is growing and will continue to grow bigger. Over a 120 teams have registered to play in Mumbai, and after the tour to all the five cities around the country, the MNC will host its first ever Mahindra NBA Challenge National Championship, a competition between the champions from each city to find the all-India champions.
On the day of the launch of the new season, Akash Jain, the Director of Business Development & Partnerships of NBA-India, discusses the growth, response, and the future of the NBA in India.
Hoopistani: It’s hard to believe that the Mahindra NBA Challenge is already in its third year in India now! How has the journey been so far? What lessons have been learnt?
Jain: Yes, it’s amazing to see how fast time has passed and we’re launching our third year already! The response to the MNC has been fantastic. We have learnt a lot and added several elements in this period to improve the programme and to deliver a great experience for the participating players.
From the first year to the second, we grew from hosting the programme in three to five cities. The number of participating teams increased by a hundred percent from the first year to the second. This year, we are adding the National Finals, which we feel will take the programme to the next level. We got good feedback from the local communities wherever we held our leagues for the need of a national competition like this. It will create a new national-level platform for players and teams to showcase their talents.
Hoopistani: Speaking of the local communities, how has the grassroots response been so far to the NBA and its efforts to promote the game of basketball in India?
Jain: The response has been tremendous: when we started our partnership with Mahindra, we had a vision to create a platform for engaging the local communities, and also a long-term vision to increase basketball at the grassroots level in India.
There is a hunger for basketball in the youth across India: they want a platform to learn and enjoy the game. The NBA has united with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), Mahindra, and with State basketball federations in the country to create a programme that fulfills these needs. Troy Justice (Director of Basketball Operations – NBA India) and our other staff have travelled around the country to get the message of basketball across. We’ve held 200 clinics in the country over the past year. In Season 2, we got a tremendous response, as 550 teams from across India participated. This season, we are projecting over 600 teams. The response has made us very excited about the future of the league here.
Hoopistani: The league was held in Thiruvanathapuram last season, and will be moving to Kochi instead this year. Why the shift?
Jain: We had a great season in Thiruvanathpuram, but in consultation with the Kerala State Basketball Association (KSBA) and with the BFI, we decided to make the shift to Kochi. This was done in order to have a more central location and thus make it easier for more teams to participate from across Kerala. We feel that this decision will make it a better experience for everyone.
Hoopistani: What new elements can we look forward to in the new season of the MNC?
Jain: The overall structure of the programme will remain similar to the past years from a week-to-week basis. One of the bonus additions to the programme will be that adidas – one of our sponsors – will provide special commemorative jerseys to all the teams in each league that enters the ‘post-season’ or Quarter-Finals stage of the tournament.
The past season we around 1300 games and, as I mentioned earlier, over 100 clinics around the country. We’ll continue to increase the basketball experience for the players around the country. This year, of course, will have the first ever National Finals.
Hoopistani: When and where will the MNC National Finals be held? Can you share some more details about it?
Jain: We are still working with Mahindra and with the BFI to finalise the location and the exact details for this event. Our plan is to hold the National Finals sometime in September 2012. We’ll be taking all the Men and Women winning teams in the Senior and under-18 competitions from all five leagues around the city and take them to the yet-to-be-determined location for the finals. The teams will compete in a 2-3 day tournament to decide the national champions. It will be great for the winning teams to compete against teams from other cities and showcase their skills at the national level.
In addition, Troy Justice and other NBA staff will provide expert training at the finals to help the participating players and coaches improve their abilities.
Hoopistani: After this year, what our the future plans? What is in the horizon for the NBA and the MNC in India?
Jain: Our plan with the MNC will be to get the programme to 10 cities over the next three to four years. We have added new elements to the league yearly, and we will continue doing so to improve it every year.
The NBA has a long-term commitment here in India. We will continue to take all of our grassroots programmes – the Mahindra NBA Challenge, the Jr. NBA Jr. WNBA Skill Challenge, NBA Jam, and all the coaching clinics held around the country – and we want to grow all of them in scope and scale. We will continue working with the BFI in developing basketball coaches across India. And we will continue to increase NBA programming and presence in order to increase our fan-base in India.