August 27, 2010

Spanish NBA superstar Pau Gasol brings basketball to India

From World Basketball Champion to two-time reigning NBA champion, 30-year-old Spanish hoop legend Pau Gasol has a long list of achievements. Spain may be a basketball superpower today, but this wasn't always the case – Gasol was only the second ever Spanish player to make it to the world's top basketball league, the NBA, back in 2001. Ever since, more than half a dozen Spanish players have followed his footsteps. Spain's domestic league has also been improving over the past few decades, and this has reflected into international success.

Following their model, Gasol believes that it is possible for other countries to also become stronger in the game. "In Spain, it began with a competitive league in the country, and people started to have fun watching the game." He said, "Kids went out to watch their idols and watch a good national team. There is complete satisfaction in watching great players defend your country."

"India needs to involve the youngsters to experience the excitement of basketball," he continues, "Basketball is an attractive game. To promote the game here, they have to start with the youngest children, and give them the infrastructure, resources, and opportunities to play. Furthermore, India should continue working with school kids, create competitive school and grassroots leagues around the country."

The NBA has been investing a lot of effort into developing the game in India – just two weeks ago, NBA all-star Dwight Howard was also in India encouraging youngsters to take up the game. Gasol believes that the NBA should continue these efforts. "NBA should continue creating attention for the game, so that younger players can have a chance to see us and start to think of basketball as a real career option. This will encourage their parents to allow their children to participate, too. As the game grows, the NBA can show our other companies and partners that they should continue being involved with basketball here."

Gasol's trip to India, from August 23-28th, has primarily been a journey to promote the social service and community involvement aspect of NBA in India through the ‘NBA Cares' programme. He visited several schools and held workshops in Mumbai and Delhi with young children to promote healthy living through basketball. "The community in India should see that the NBA is involved in a positive way," he says, "It is not just about the sport but also about social work."

While in Mumbai, Gasol was present on August 25th with Ruzbeh Irani, Executive VP, Corporate Strategy and Chief Brand Officer, Mahindra, & Mahindra, Akash Jain, NBA Director of International Development in India, and Harish Sharma, Basketball Federation of India (BFI) Secretary General, as they announced the expansion of the Mahindra NBA Challenge to a total of five Indian cities next year, adding Chennai and New Delhi to the yearly roster and retaining the programmes at Mumbai, Bangalore, and Ludhiana.

Gasol also took a tour of Mumbai and conducted two clinics during his stay there. He conducted a clinic at the Mastan YMCA in hoop-crazed Nagpada on August 25th and at the St. Dominic Savio High School in Andheri East on the 26th.

In New Delhi, Gasol continued the NBA Cares events, teaching basketball drills and entertaining children at the Father Agnel's School and at the Delhi Public School (DPS) at Mathura Road on August 27th. The NBA's Director of Basketball Operations (India) Troy Justice and Indian basketball's legendary player and coach Shiba Maggon also assisted Gasol in his clinics

Another special feature of Gasol's visit to India was that he brought along the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship trophy, one which he won with the Los Angeles Lakers for the second year running in June. This was the first time that this trophy was brought to Indian soil, and it garnered as much attention as the superstar player himself! Gasol unveiled it during his clinics in Mumbai and New Delhi much to the delight of the young NBA fans in the crowds.

Gasol will be skipping the FIBA World Basketball Championships set to tip off in Istanbul, Turkey, from August 28th. He was the Most Valuable Player of the championships when he led Spain to a victory in 2006. Although he won't play this time, he will be heading to Turkey to watch his team perform during the latter stages of the tournament. "I have been playing a lot of basketball over the last few years and I believe that my body needs a rest, physically as well as mentally. I will be able to return to the court for the beginning of the NBA season with more energy."

With his international achievements, Gasol is not only an ambassador to India for the NBA but also for global basketball. "I have seen the game grow so much already. So many countries play the game well now, and so many more countries are getting harder and harder to beat. I find it amazing to see countries that I strong basketball teams out of countries I would have otherwise never expected to be competitive at the highest level. It is rewarding to see the game improve like this."

"The more international basketball gets, the better! It's a sport that teaches good values and a healthy lifestyle!"

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