A few years ago, I floated around an idea to Troy Justice, the NBA's Senior Director of International Basketball Operations, but more importantly, the point-man at all of the NBA's events in India over the past few years. The idea was to photograph Indian people in random NBA gear, preferably outside of basketball related events. I was inspired when I'd seen an elder gentlemen who looked like everyone's Indian uncle carrying a Seattle Supersonics backpack in the Delhi Metro.
Unfortunately, outside of a few clicks here and there, this little photography project didn't really come to realization. NBA gear had always been rare in India. Anyone who has owned an NBA jersey or team/player T-Shirt in the country knows the feeling of kinship when we see another of our tribe, another NBA fan in India rocking the colours of their favourite squad. We feel this kinship because outside of perhaps our own usual circles, these are rare sightings (and for the record, I still haven't come another Knicks fan in India except for the bearded man in the mirror).
The good news is that this is all about to change.
At a gala event at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai on Tuesday, May 6th, the NBA - in partnership with with Jabong - announced the launch of the first official NBA online store in India, NBAStore.in. The announcement was made at a press conference in Mumbai attended by Bollywood star and NBA fan Abhishek Bachchan. Through this partnership, the widest assortment of NBA merchandise ever will be available in India - including the first-ever NBA products for women in the country!
NBAStore.in is an NBA-branded destination within Jabong.com – one of the leading sports and fashion destinations in India -- which has 30 million unique visitors per month and delivers to more than 400 cities, towns and villages. The collection of approximately 200 NBA products will include shorts, jerseys and t-shirts for men and women and will be priced between Rs 1400 – 14000. The online store will complement the NBA’s partnership with adidas which offers fans NBA products in more than 200 adidas stores across India. NBA India report that merchandise sales for NBA products through these adidas stores have doubled each of the last two seasons in India.
"The online e-commerce platform is another way of reaching out to the fans and engaging them," said Yannick Colaco, the Managing Director of NBA India, "NBA Store.in will have a range of products including jerseys, footwear, fan apparel, bags, caps, basketballs and unique fashion collections. The most important part of the initiative is its reach: fans in over 400 cities, towns and villages across India will now have access to NBA merchandise with a click of a button."
"Sports are a major draw among today’s youth in India and we have seen a spike in demand for branded sportswear on Jabong,” said Praveen Sinha, Co-founder and Managing Director, Jabong.com. “We are extremely happy to partner with one of the biggest and greatest brands in sports, and are confident that the NBA will be able to power the game of basketball to the same levels of popularity seen in other parts of the world."
Jabong and the NBA will promote the site extensively across TV, digital and social media. Products will be integrated into NBA television programs airing in India such as NBA Inside Stuff; NBA players and legends will participate in Google Hangouts; and an NBAStore.in. section will be created within NBA Jam, the league’s college-based basketball and entertainment touring property which will travel to 16 cities later this year.
Fans that purchase merchandise will even have a chance to win authentic autographed NBA jerseys as well as tickets to NBA regular season games, NBA All-Star and The Finals.
This is the NBA's fifth international online store since 2012, after NBATienda in Mexico, LojaNBA.com in Brazil, NBAstore.eu in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and NBA.tmall.com in China.
Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchah - famously a Lakers fan - was the special guest in a brilliant move by the NBA/Jabong to appeal to the masses. Bachchan showed up to the event in a Lakers # 1 jersey, which in recent years has been worn by such esteemed names like Smush Parker, Javaris Crittenton, Jordan Farmar, Joe Smith, and Darius Morris. To my disappointment, I later discovered that the jersey said 'Bachchan Jr.' on the back and not 'Parker'. Anyways, Bachchan spoke at great length about his love for the game of basketball, the celebrity games he plays in with Dino Morea, and how excited he is for Jabong/NBA's new store which will allow him and other Indians to easily order NBA gear cheaply from India.
(By the way, wouldn't it be great if fans of Abhishek Bachchan who don't know much about the NBA specifically decide to order Lakers # 1 jerseys to look like their favourite Bollywood star? We could have a whole army of Smushes. That's the kind of world I want to live in).
"I could probably go on and on talking about how great [basketball] is," Bachchan told DNA India, "But then to gist it in a few words I believe the sport is exhilarating, it's fast, relentless, robust... It makes you a complete athlete and is just a complete sport."
Browing through NBAStore.in (which is part of the Jabong website), I was pretty impressed and happy about the collection (apart from the fact that the models sporting the gear didn't exactly look very Indian). The goods on sale are divided into four parts: Jerseys, Footwear, Bottoms, and T-Shirts. Most importantly, the prices are fair for the Indian market and not comparable to the high costs the same gear would be on sale internationally.
The products include: on-court product and fan gear from adidas; women’s and men’s fan gear from Levelwear; NBA socks from New Horizon; official NBA basketballs from Spalding, and basketball footwear from adidas, Reebok, Nike and Brand Jordan. Additional exclusive products will be added each season.
As you may expect, there is a lot of Miami Heat gear. But there are also T-Shirts/Jerseys featuring teams like the Knicks, Spurs, Lakers, Thunder, and Bulls, and players including Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Rajon Rondo, and Paul George. And ya, LeBron and Kobe. Lots and lots of LeBron and Kobe.
NBAStore.in is definitely a work in progress. Hopefully, they are able to add a lot more gear and many more options in the future. Either way, true NBA fans will be glad to have an option of buying various NBA apparel for decent prices and be shipped to almost any town in India for cheap.
I might be way overdue now to restart my 'Indians in NBA gear' photography project. And anyways, if all goes well, it wouldn't be too rare to see people around the country - at random locations - sporting NBA apparel anymore. If the popularity of the NBA continues to skyrocket in India like it has in recent years, the Jabong/NBA store will be welcomed with open arms (or liberal clicks of the buttons). Finally, NBA gear will be easily available for fans in India, and the popularity of the gear should help grow even more fans of the league in the country.
(And maybe I'll finally see another real Knicks fan in India!)