December 1, 2014

Bollywood Showtime: Indian celebrities love the Lakers

If you woke up last night and decided to become an NBA fan, you would be living in a world where Anthony Davis and Marreese Speights were the two best players in the league, the Raptors were the favourites to win the Eastern Conference, and the Lakers were that weird '40-40-40' team (Kobe shoots 40, scores 40, loses by 40). Little would you know that the team in purple-and-gold from Los Angeles are actually one of the most successful franchises in NBA history, winning 16 championships and featuring about half of the NBA's greatest-ever. Five of those championships were collected over the past decade and a half - all partly credited to a certain Kobe Bryant - conveniently during an era when the internet made the world a much smaller place and brought the NBA closer to the Indian fan than ever more.

No surprise then that the Lakers - who already carried with them the legacies of Mikan, West, Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic, and Worthy - are one of the most popular NBA teams worldwide, including in India, of course. So while the likes of LeBron, Durant, and a certain consistently successful Spurs team have ruled the NBA stratosphere over the past few years, Kobe and the Lakers are still kings across the pond in India.

Now, as the NBA expands its outreach in India, it is looking to hook new fans towards the game by using India's most popular bait: Bollywood. Film stars - both superstars and those on the fringes - and the NBA have a neat mutually-beneficial relationship to help each others' visibility. A couple of reoccurring popular names have been cropping up at NBA events in India around the country in recent years, And seeing the photos from these events have brought me to the scientific conclusion that Indian celebrities love the Lakers. Or, Indian celebrities 'love' the Lakers.

One of the common NBA India partners is actress Neetu Chandra (or Neetu Chandraa as her numerologist may have suggested), a long-time supporter of basketball in India as a former Maharashtra player herself. Chandra has a little niche as Taekwondo black-belt holder and basketball fan. She's a regular at the Indian basketball All Star games in Mumbai and now, a regular celebrity attraction at NBA Jam events around several Indian cities. She likes Kobe.

Rannvijay Singh is that guy who was really mean to everyone on MTV Roadies. Now, he's acted in a few Bollywood films and is going to be an army hero for a TV show called Pukaar. He's also an NBA fan apparently who shockingly loves the Lakers and Kobe. NBA India has invited him to several of their events in recent months, including a showcase with former 3x NBA champ Bruce Bowen (where he wore a Lakers T-Shirt, sorry Spurs fans) and of course, NBA Jam. He likes Kobe.

Abhishek Bachchan is a pretty big star right? Amitabh's son, Guru, all the Dhooms, Dostana, Sarkar, Dostana, Happy New Year etc etc etc. Well, did you know that he loves the Lakers? No, he really does, and he's loved them for a while. Since Magic, we hear. He's been to NBA All Games, Lakers games, etc. He was also chosen by Jabong and NBA India to be the celebrity endorser at the NBA's India store launch in Mumbai, where he showed up in a Lakers # 1 jersey (and I thought it was a tribute to Kobe's greatest ever teammate, Smush Parker).

Before Ranbir Kapoor became 'Rockstar', I knew him mostly for the fact that he was once India's second Knicks fan - after me. Well, Ranbir seems to have quit on his roots and joined the purp-and-yellow side, too. He was at a Lakers game in New York a few years ago, and ended up hanging out with Kobe, getting his sneakers, and rooting for the Lakers.

Models/actors Dino Morea and Lara Dutta were a little ahead of the curve of Bollywooders jumping on the NBA bandwagon, but not many people cared back then. The two got VIP access to the Lakers in Los Angeles, hung out with Kobe, came home with a couple of Lakers jerseys, and saw some NBA hoops. It might blow your mind to hear that they like the Lakers too.

But don't fear, Kobe/Laker haters in India. You'll always have Neha Dhupia, who made sure to order a LeBron Heat jersey online from the first chance she got. Is she going to burn it now that he's gone back to Cleveland or join the bandwagon? I predict door number two.

And then there's this... I have no idea where the photograph is from and when it was taken. But it's only India's greatest-ever sportsman Sachin Tendulkar chilling in a Chicago Bulls hat. Considering Tendulkar's younger look here and the quality of this photograph, I'm gonna guess that this was sometime in the 90s, around the same time that the greatest-ever basketball player - Mr Michael Jordan - was turning the Bulls into a worldwide institution. Now if only we could get Jordan and Tendulkar in the same shot for a meeting of the Gods. It's gonna be like when Thor meets Superman.

No matter how depressing that 3-13 record looks to Lakers fans right now, at least they can take some relief in the fact that Bollywood still believes in them. That's gotta count for something right? For the haters, just wait another decade when the young kids from today become the stars of tomorrow and make LeBron fashionable in India just in time for his 40th birthday.

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