June 6, 2014

Isaiah Thomas of the Sacramento Kings visits India this week

The 2011 NBA Draft - though not the greatest in recent memory - still saw some exciting young players join the NBA. Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried, Jimmy Butler, and Chandler Parsons were all among the names that were called. But one young 5-foot-9 guard, despite a great college career for the Washington Huskies where he was named as an AP All American Honourable Mention, kept on waiting for his time. Finally, with the 60th and last pick in the Second Round, the Sacramento Kings selected Isaiah Thomas, making him an NBA professional. The tiny guard entered the league with a huge chip on his shoulder.

And then chip kept on getting bigger and bigger. Determined to prove to all the teams that passed him over (twice!), Thomas won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month award twice in his first season and finished in the All Rookie Second Team. In three years in the NBA, he has earned the starting spot for the young Kings, and has upped his scoring averages dramatically every year. In 2013-14, Thomas ended up averaging 20.3 points per game (up by nearly seven ppg from a season ago) and dished out 6.3 assists per contest, leading his squad in that category.

As the 25-year-old continues to improve his game on the court, he is set to become a bigger name off of it: the NBA has announced that Thomas will be visiting India this week, becoming the league's first official visit to India of an active player since Chris Bosh last July. Thomas is scheduled to spend time in Mumbai and Chennai, where he will visit schools, community organizations, and conduct youth clinics. He will also join the NBA's official broadcaster in India Sony SIX to provide analysis of the ongoing NBA Finals become the first NBA player to conduct a Google Hangout in India.

"I’m honored to be representing the Kings and the entire NBA in India this offseason and will do whatever I can to help grow the game here by inspiring children," said Thomas.

Thomas marks the 31st NBA or WNBA player or legend to travel to India since 2006 to help grow the game following All-Stars such as Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard.

Being a young and talented NBA guard isn't the only reason that Thomas' visit to India is a big deal. Thomas happens to man the point for the NBA's first and only team to have a majority Indian-born owner: Vivek Ranadive. A little over a year ago, Ranadive's group officially purchased the Kings and helped them stay in Sacramento. Since then, the Mumbai-born tech entrepreneur has spoken on various occasions of his plans to promote his team and the game of basketball in India. Ranadive had hopes (which seemed to have now died out) of the Kings playing an exhibition game in India in the coming pre-season. The Kings became the first team to launch a Hindi website and wear shooting shirts with the Hindi Devanagari script saying their name. Ranadive even released a classic video reaching out to Indian fans to vote Kings' big man DeMarcus Cousins to the All Star Game.

Since getting the entire Kings team to come play in India wasn't possible (there are many reasons why, plus, they're going to play in China in October), the Kings/Ranadive have done the next best thing: send a top player to China. If not Cousins or Rudy Gay, then Thomas seemed to be a good enough option. Plus, at his size, he will continue the message that the NBA has been preaching to Indian fans for several years, that basketball success requires much more than height. To ensure that message, Muggsy Bogues has been here twice and Brandon Jennings was here back in 2011.

"We are extremely excited to have a member of the Sacramento Kings visit India this summer, and Isaiah’s passion for the game and the community makes him a great ambassador for the sport in India,” said Ranadiv√©. “One of the key aspects of my NBA 3.0 vision is deepening the global imprint of basketball and India is a prime example of this. Basketball is rapidly becoming one of India’s most popular sports, second only to cricket, and interest in the game is expanding every day. I also have no doubt that India will one day become a hotbed of NBA-caliber talent."

During his stay in India, Thomas will conduct several basketball clinics at schools and community organizations across Mumbai and Chennai. He will provide in-depth Finals analysis for fans in India on Sony SIX. On June 7, Thomas will conduct the first-ever Google hangout to promote the official NBA online store in India, NBAStore.in. A few lucky fans will be selected to interact with Isaiah and showcase NBA merchandise.

He will also be on-hand to tip off the first stage of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA’s Basketball Hoops Infrastructure project. Reliance Foundation and NBA India have partnered to install basketball hoops at schools across Mumbai. IES School in Dadar is the first school to receive the new equipment. Thomas will conduct clinics for students at the IES School in Dadar and at a local government school in Chennai.

Thomas will be joined by celebrity VJ and television star Rannvijay Sing, who will train with Thomas, learn what it takes to be a professional basketball player, and show him the best food Mumbai has to offer.

"Isaiah’s visit to India coincides with The Finals, an important opportunity to grow the NBA’s fanbase in India," said Yannick Colaco, Managing Director of NBA India. “Thank you to Isaiah for visiting Mumbai and for inspiring Indian youth to play basketball."

Hope that Thomas has a good trip and true fans get a chance to interact with him. I will post more information about the precise time and locations of his clinics/visits as it comes it.

I wonder if Ranadive himself will visit India anytime soon - he hasn't made an 'official' trip back to his homeland ever since becoming involved with the Kings (or prior to that, as a minority owner of the Warriors). It would be interesting to see his impact if he personally comes back to India and speaks about the NBA, from the point of view of someone who has seen both worlds. And hopefully, he'll bring Boogie along too.

Here is my running list of every NBA player - past and present - to have visited India.

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