August 24, 2013

Horace Grant, Ron Harper, & Peja Stojakovic to bring championship flavour to NBA Jam in India

Put together 10 NBA championship rings, four All Star appearances, a Euroleague MVP award, and the experience of sharing the court nightly with the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and many more of the game's greats, and you could begin to sketch out the identities of the three former NBA stars who will be coming to India over the next month. The 2013 NBA Jam - an interactive travelling basketball festival which will be held in four Indian cities through September - will feature appearances by Horace Grant, Ron Harper, and Peja Stojakovic, three players with long and distinguished NBA careers over the last two and a half decades, all of whom were role players in various NBA title winning squads.

NBA India announced yesterday that Grant, Harper, and Stojakovic will attend the Mumbai stop of the NBA Jam from September 26th onwards and stay till the event's national finals in the same city on September 29th. Additionally, Grant will also be in Delhi for NBA Jam's earlier stop from September 19-21. In addition, the Boston Celtics cheerleading squad - the Celtics Dancers - will also be in Mumbai for the Finals. One source says that the Miami Heat mascot 'Burnie' will also be there, if you're into that sort of thing.

Grant, Harper, and Peja are not necessarily superstars, but for true NBA connoisseurs, there will be some pure geek-out pleasure in welcoming three players who have played bit parts in some of the league's biggest moments since the late 80s.

Picked eighth in the 1986 draft by the Cavaliers, Ron Harper came into the league as a high-flying player capable of playing multiple positions. He finished second in rookie of the year voting and was en route to becoming one of the top young players in the league. After three years in Cleveland, he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. After his first eight seasons in the league scoring nearly 20 points per game, Harper joined the Chicago Bulls as a free agent in 1994. Although his scoring numbers suffered, Harper reinvented himself as a role player in the backcourt, and when Michael Jordan return, the squad (with Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and more) won three more championships. In 1999, Harper followed his Chicago coach Phil Jackson to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers, where he won two more championships as a veteran. He retired from the Lakers in 2001.

Best remembered for his iconic on-court goggles, Horace Grant was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1987 with rookie Scottie Pippen. Both of them joined a squad that just so happened to field a certain rising superstar by the name of Michael Jordan. Grant became a regular starter for the Bulls when they traded Charles Oakley in 1989, and became the team's top rebounder and their third leading scorer behind Jordan and Pippen. He played a crucial role defending the post as the Bulls won three championships from 1991-93, and 1994, without Michael Jordan temporarily retiring from the game, Grant took a larger role in the team and became an All Star for the first time in his career. After posting career-best numbers (15.1 ppg, 11 rpg), Grant left Bulls for the Orlando Magic, and a year later, was in the NBA Finals again with a team that featured Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway. After five years in Orlando, Grant spent a season with the Supersonics before moving to the Lakers, to rejoin O'Neal in a team that also featured Kobe Bryant. In the midst of the Lakers' three-peat, Grant was part of the squad that won the championship in 2001. He briefly played with the Magic again before returning to the Lakers and retiring from the game in 2004.

One of the greatest three-point shooters of All Time, Serbian-Greek Peja Stojakovic was already a cult legend in Europe before joining the NBA. Playing with Greek side PAOK from 1994-98, Peja had won a Greek League MVP Award and been the top scorer in the EuroLeague before being drafted 14th by the Sacramento Kings in 1998. After two seasons on the bench with the Kings, Peja had his breakout season in 2001, winning the NBA's Most Improved Player Award and becoming a core part of a side with Chris Webber and Mike Bibby that played some of the most entertaining and dominating basketball in the league back in the early 2000s. From 2002-04, Peja played in three All Star games, and also won the Three Point Shooting Competition in two of those years. His best year was 2004, when he averaged career highs of 24.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Midway in 2006 he was traded to the Indiana Pacers for Ron Artest, and later that same year, he joined the New Orleans Hornets. Peja was traded to the Raptors in 2010, and two games later, joined the Dallas Mavericks. He would form the group of role players in Dallas around Dirk Nowitzki that made a magical run in the playoffs to reach the NBA Finals and clinch the 2011 championship. He retired after winning his first and only championship finishing at sixth All Time in three-point field goals made in the NBA.

This year's bigger and better NBA Jam in India was first announced by Miami Heat's Chris Bosh when he was in Mumbai last month. Nearly 500 teams are expected to participate in the 3x3 contests this year as opposed to 400 last year. This edition of the event will include women’s divisions for the first time. In each city, 120 teams will compete across two age divisions for men and women, 16-18 and 19-23. Winning teams from each city will be invited to the National Finals in Mumbai, where they will play in a small-scale replica NBA arena.

During the National Finals, fans will enjoy the first-ever live NBA experience in India. The players will compete in a small scale NBA arena with an emcee, lights, sound, video and a variety of on-court entertainment. The winning teams will have a chance to play 3-on-3 against the NBA legends at the National Finals. There will also be a National Finals for the three-point shooting contest and the winner will get to shoot against Stojakovic. The National Finals will be broadcast live on Sony SIX in India.

The 2013 NBA Jam will be held in Hyderabad from September 5-7, Bangalore from September 12-14, Delhi from September 19-21, and Mumbai from September 26-28, before the Finals in Mumbai on September 29. Music performances by leading Indian artists/DJs, clinics by NBA-India coaches, and dance and graffiti competitions will be held during the events.

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