October 29, 2019

Hoopdarshan Episode 86: 2019-20 NBA Season Preview with Nakul Yadav

NBA is back with perhaps the most wide-open season in years. And in this post-NBA India Games era, Hoopdarshan goes back to doing what we do best: predicting the unpredictable. With the help of NBA India's creative director Nakul Yadav, co-hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok talk about the favourites, the lamest, the Lakers, the Clippers, the changes, the MVPs and everything else in between.

Episode 86 also includes Kaushik and Karan taking an unccessarily deep dive into Indianised NBA games, from Steph Curry's type of curry to the best chai you can find with Gilgeous-Alexander

Hoopdarshan is the truest voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

October 15, 2019

Hoopdarshan Episode 85: Massive NBA India Games Blowout Extravaganza

Welcome to the biggest Hoopdarshan yet, literally, figuratively, metaphorically. Episode 85 is dedicated to the historic NBA India Games in Mumbai. In this jam-packed release, we include interviews with Vivek Ranadive, Jason Williams, Rajesh Sethi, Vanja Cernivec, Diane Gotua, Detlef Schrempf, Domantas Sabonis, Akshay Manwani, and Ridhima Pathak. In addition, co-hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok discuss the experience of the games in Mumbai first-hand and offer their thoughts on the ongoing NBA-China-Morey controversy.

Breakdown of our guests in this episode:
  • Jason "White Choc" Williams: Sacramento Kings Legend
  • Rajesh Sethi: Managing Director of NBA India
  • Vanja Cernivec: NBA Basketball Operations for the Europe Middle East Africa Region
  • Diane Gotua: VP of NBA's Global Business Operations and Interim MD of NBA India
  • Detlef Schremf: Indiana Pacers Legend
  • Domantas Sabonis: Indiana Pacers Forward
  • Akshay Manwani: NBA India Expert and Hindi Commentator for Sony/Ten
  • Ridhima Pathak: Broadcaster
  • Vivek Ranadive: Owner of Kings

Hoopdarshan is the truest voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

Bigger Than Basketball: The Significance of the NBA India Games

An edited version of this feature was first published for SLAMOnline on October 3, 2019. Read the original version here.

It truly hit me when I saw the promo on a national TV channel. A digitally altered Mumbai. Supersized balloon floats of Myles Turner and Harrison Barnes hovered over city’s iconic skyline. Young people gathered on the streets to watch. Kids jostled for space between the kaali-peeli—black-and-yellow—local taxis for a view. A massive Kings flag unfurled over the excited crowds, and a Pacers banner flew overhead. A cricket player stopped in his tracks to watch, in awe.

I watched in awe, too.

A day later, at a family function, my Maama—mother’s brother—asked me, for the first time, about work.

“So, the NBA is coming here in a big way, aren’t they?”

I smiled. In India, the ‘NBA’ and ‘basketball’ are buzzwords for the youth. People of my uncle’s generation would never “get it”, we thought. The game was too niche, the league was too far away from everyday Indian concerns for any of them to bother. There were a thousand other distractions in mainstream Indian culture.

But even he had heard about it. The Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers were coming to Mumbai for first ever NBA India Games in early October. A mere blimp on the NBA’s calendar, a preseason exhibition between two non-contenders But for India, a giant leap in its basketball history. The jump-ball start to a new era.


As an Indian child in the 90s, I knew of the NBA’s existence only in the peripheries. I’d heard of Michael and Magic. I knew that the “Chicago Bulls” meant something good. I’d seen Space Jam half dozen times.

But back then, I didn’t quite understand the value of the world’s greatest basketball league. No, back then, my Lord Almighty of Sports wasn’t Michael Jordan, but an unathletic 5’5” Indian cricket player with the voice of someone who had been skipped over by puberty: Sachin Tendulkar. Like every good Indian boy, Cricket was my Bible and Tendulkar was my God. The NBA was too far away, across oceans, across continents, a sport that spoke in a different accent from the post-colonial cricket commentators, a game that moved in a faster pace than I have ever been accustomed to.

Around Middle School, however, that began to change. Space Jam helped, of course. So did the friends who brought home NBA trading cards and copies of SLAM Magazine from abroad. My school in the Indian Himalayas was obsessed with basketball, and, in every moment of our free time, that’s all we did: stand around a rim shooting baskets, talking shit. I overheard names like Jordan and Malone, and Ewing and Shaq and Kobe. I began to see more basketball games on TV in India: broadcast live only a few times a week, and at the ungodly early morning hour, awake only with the chokidaars and the roosters.

In 1999, the new hobby became an addiction. I followed the playoffs closely, especially because of this underdog eighth seeded team in the East—the New York Knicks—that overcame all odds and beat all favourites to make it to the NBA Finals. Sure, they got whooped by the Spurs and the Twin Towers of Duncan and Robinson once they got there, but I was already in love. Houston, Sprewell, Camby, and SLAM’s first-ever cover-boy LJ had become my favourite team.

Later, out on the courts, my friends and I would re-enact these Finals, with each side assigning themselves the Spurs or the Knicks. I chose New York, of course, and worked day and night on my baseline turnaround fadeways, hoping to emulate Allan Houston’s devastating midrange shots.

Fast-forward the next two decades, and my NBA fandom went in the opposite direction of the Knicks’ credibility. From over thirteen thousand kilometres away, I watched the Spurs become an annual threat, the Lakers become a dynasty, the Suns change the pace and size of the game, LeBron change everything, Kobe make 81, Iverson step over Lue, the Heatles, the Warriors, and more Knicks embarrassments than the word-count of this entire piece. At least we had Linsanity.

For most of this time, the NBA and its biggest stars felt like as alien to me as the Monstars. They were from a different world, a different time-zone, stars in the sky so dominant and charismatic that they felt almost unreal, as if they were fictional characters living in a world I could never access. They might as well have been the Avengers. Some definitely had superpowers.

Over the years, the NBA superheroes began to feel a little more mortal. I visited the USA, attended my first game (Knicks at the Garden, of course), and later, interacted with and interviewed many stars professionally. But despite the cynicism that comes with age over most of the world’s magic, the NBA remained something pure and special. Something shudh, as we would say in Hindi. Something that, back home to us in India, was still a beautiful galaxy far, far away.

Once the NBA opened its first office in India, in Mumbai, in 2011, the pace of the game’s growth here took a mid-2000s-Suns-esque boost. NBA and WNBA players of the past and present visited multiple times a year, peaking with Kevin Durant dropping in 2017 for hyped-up visit, freshly minted with his first title and Finals MVP.

Meanwhile, the stream had flown the other way, too, and some of India infiltrated the NBA. Most prominently, Vivek Ranadive became the first Indian-born person to become a majority owner of the NBA when he bought the Sacramento Kings. Immediately, Ranadive began to share his vision of one day taking the Kings back to his birth-city—Mumbai—for an exhibition game.

For those of us watching and covering the sport from back here, this idea barely seemed feasible. India didn’t have the infrastructure or the market ready for an NBA game—even a mere preseason matchup. Ranadive’s vision, I had thought, was stuff of science-fiction.


And then, the stars came within reach.

Early in the 2018-19 season, the NBA officially made the surreal announcement: The first-ever NBA India Games would be held in Mumbai on October 4-5, 2019 in Mumbai between the Kings and the Pacers. One team, owned by an Indian-American. The other, interested in reaching out to the Indian market—and, of course, it doesn’t hurt the Pacers to have ‘India’ in their name.

The news was a pataakha for us Indian NBA fan, blowing our minds like fireworks. The long-foretold day was near.

The NBA had, of course, been holding preseason (and some regular season) games around the world for years, all over Europe, South and Central America, Asia, and the special Africa Games. In Asia alone, the league had become a preseason staple in the rabid China market, as well as in Japan, Philippines, and more.

The league’s landing in India had seemed both inevitable and impossible—before it became a reality.

Mumbai—formerly Bombay—is the perfect choice to host the event. It is the country’s financial capital, of course. But it is also seeped in local hoops history, featuring some of the country’s most iconic courts, tournaments, and legends of the game. It’s India’s largest city, densely traffic-jammed with the country’s diverse population, and the home of Bollywood, readymade for all the drama and action that the NBA promises to present.


Basketball existed before the NBA, and India was a colonised country and collection of states hundreds of years prior to that. But coincidence married these two histories together. The Basketball Association of America (BAA) was founded as the BAA in June 1946, and its first season was held from November 1946 to April 1947. In August 1947, India won its independence from British rule.

Two years later, the BAA and National Basketball League (NBL) merged to form what is known as today’s NBA. During the course of the first ‘proper’ NBA season in early 1950, India’s constitution went into effect, officially forming the Republic. This was also the year that India’s own governing body—the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) was born, and independent India’s first basketball team, captained by the late Ranbir Chopra, participated in the 1951 Asian Games.

But ever since, India’s has merely remained a reserve on world’s basketball’s roster, barely able to register a blimp in hoops history. While the NBA eventually became the most popular and powerful basketball league in the world, India had to settle for fragments and scratches of success. We finished fourth in the FIBA Asia Championship once, in the 70s. In 1980, our men’s team took part in the Moscow Olympics, only because the USA and a number of its allies pulled out of participating in Russia. A few of our players got to play in low-tier pro leagues around the world. In 2014, we defeated China on their home soil at the FIBA Asia Cup.

Yet, India remained a potential pot of gold for the NBA, with its rising youth population and the prevalence of basketball around the country, albeit as a much smaller sport compared to the awning shadow of cricket and others. The NBA continued to increase its India presence, and we had our big moment of cheer when Satnam Singh became the first Indian to be drafted—by the Dallas Mavericks—in the 2015. The 7-footer never played in the NBA itself, but we felt that it was the beginning of something big.

Soon, the NBA launched an elite NBA India Academy to hone more talented prospects, and eventually, take the next big leap after Satnam.

The announcement of the NBA India Games brought the two varying histories into confluence. A couple of days after I saw that TV commercial and spoke to my uncle, NBA-India relations took another unexpected, surreal step. At a reception event for India’s Prime Minster Narendra Modi in Houston, US President Donald Trump jokingly suggested in front of the thousands gathered that he could show up to Mumbai for the historic preseason games. A couple of questionable world leaders had used the NBA’s moment to inflate US-India relations—and suddenly, everyone from my local samosa-wallah to my other uncles and aunties understood that this ‘NBA’ thing—whatever it was—was a pretty big deal.


And then, there’s the matter of the Games themselves. Remember, that after all this shor-sharaba and hoopla, this is a mere preseason contest. In true sporting terms, it counts for nothing. In the absence of the injured Victor Oladipo, there will be no All Stars on the floor. In a country where casual fans only know names like LeBron, Curry, Durant, and—like everyone else—are learning to pronounce Antetokounmpo—there is little global name-recognition that the Pacers or the Kings can offer.

Nevertheless, both these teams are going to be stacked with exciting, young players, and even the easy-preseason flow will offer a brand of basketball far higher than ever witnessed in India. Fresh out of the FIBA World Cup experience, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Bjelica, Myles Turner, Harrison Barnes, Domantas Sabonis, and Isaiah Pineiro will all likely feature at the games. Barnes is already familiar, having spent a week in India earlier in the summer to promote the upcoming contests. Bogdanovic, in particular, was one of the breakout stars of the FIBA WC, and will hopefully continue his momentum in Mumbai.

Additionally, several other enticing players from both teams like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles, Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren, and more will potentially suit up in the two matchups. The Kings’ young core in particular is being slated for a major leap, and the games in Mumbai could be their first chance of stating their intent for the upcoming season.

Expectations will be high for these games from the in-arena crowd at the NSCI Dome in Mumbai, as well as all those around the country who will watch the games on live TV; but we’ll have to remember that most preseason games are duds, rarely producing moments of magic or note, and rarely showcasing a team’s true form or shape before the start of the regular season.

But even these ‘meaningless’ exhibitions will mean a lot to the players who participate: they’ll get to be a part of history, and stake their flag in unchartered NBA grounds. Those Indians unaware of the NBA—my uncle-types—will hear about Fox and Turner long before James and Curry. Who knows, maybe impressionable young minds—like my friends and I—will re-enact Pacers and Kings like the way we did with the Spurs and Knicks twenty years ago.

Some of the most intriguing action will take place on the sidelines and off-court. Being in the heart of the Bollywood film industry, the game is sure to be star-studded with some of the biggest Indian celebrities. Indian athletes, including national basketball players, coaches, and more will be in attendance, too. Every bigwig industrialist or sponsor present will co-opt this moment for their own. And true fans are coming from all over the country to have this unlikely dream come true.

The players and teams are going to participate in off-court charity and fan interaction events around the city. The league’s commissioner, a handful of NBA legends, and international media will gather. And Mumbai’s returning native son—Kings owner Ranadive—will get to shine in the spotlight of helping make this possible.


It's pretty surreal for me, personally, to see how far things have come since my childhood. NBA fandom in India had felt like a secret society, a code with which only those ‘in the know’ communicated. Living in smaller cities in India isolated me even further. Behind the hazy of the night sky, the stars were barely visible.

But the haze has cleared away now, and the entire galaxy is shining brightly above us. Although basketball remains a smaller sport in relative terms, the NBA’s popularity is already something that a younger-me could’ve never anticipated.

Of course, the league still has a long way to go to catch up with other sporting brands, like Cricket’s IPL or even foreign football/soccer leagues like the EPL or La Liga. The media in India often talks about waiting for our own ‘Yao Ming Moment’, for the day that an Indian player makes an impact in the NBA, and thus, propels the market back home. India, of course, still doesn’t have its own full-time pro basketball league and our national team still isn’t making any waves in the global game.

And yet, with the upcoming NBA India Games, we’ve taken a historic step forward. If it’s just a preseason game, if it doesn’t really matter, then it’s just about to become the most meaningful meaningless game ever.

October 3, 2019

Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings, and more NBA legends land in Mumbai for first-ever NBA India Games

When I started this blog, almost exactly ten years ago, the mission was to capture the spirit and stories behind Indian basketball, the NBA, and any fringe ideas that somehow connected the NBA with India. There weren't many of the latter. I wrote back then about trips made by Kevin Garnett and Robert Parish to India, which flew so under the radar in the pre-social-media explosion that hardly anyone in the nation knew about it. I wrote about Dikembe Mutumbo showing up at the St. Dominic Savio High School in Mumbai with disbelieving excitement. I celebrated little-known clips, like the NDTV interviewing Shaq at the All Star Game about India, because there was so little other content to look for.

10 years later, with a slew of NBA activities in India including grassroots programmes, the elite Academy, India-specific programming, and superstar visits, we have come far away from those early days. This weekend, the NBA will host the first-ever NBA India Games at the NSCI Dome in Mumbai, two preseason matchups between the Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings. It's the first time in history that entire NBA teams are in India, on our home soil, to play in an official NBA match - even though it's only an exhibition.

For years, I've kept a running list of every NBA player to ever have set foot in India, from Garnett in the mid-2000s to Kevin Durant a couple of years ago, and dozens upon dozens more in between. It was a growing list, but still manageable, as player visits happened a few times a year, and with some research, I had been able to keep track of every such event, organised by the NBA or otherwise.

Now, the cup runneth over. Landing in Mumbai this week, some of the players include: Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, TJ McConnell, Aaron Holiday, Naz Mitrou-Long, CJ Wilcox, Justin Holiday, TJ Leaf, Doug McDermott, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, TJ Warren, Goga Bitazde (Pacers), Bogdan Bogdanovic, Yogi Ferrell, De'Aaron Fox, Kyle Guy, Buddy Hield, Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza, Marvin Bagley III, Harrison Barnes, Nemanja Bjelica, Richuan Holmes, Isaiah Pineiro, Caleb Swanigon, Dwayne Dedmon (Kings) and many more. In addition, the coaching and executive staff of the two teams include more former NBAaers, such as Nate McMillan, Popeye Jones (Pacers), Vlade Divac, and Luke Walton (Kings). This is the second India trip for Barnes and Divac.

Additionally, NBA legends Detlef Schrempf (formerly Mavericks, Pacers, SuperSonics, Trail Blazers) and Jason Williams (formerly Kings, Grizzlies, Heat, Magic) are also in India as 'icons' of the Pacers and Kings respectively.

There will be many more NBAers setting food in India for this big game, and I'll make sure to keep track and update our (massive) list accordingly. For now, make sure to enjoy the game and follow my daily updates all week on NBA India's official website. Follow me on Twitter @hoopistani for real-time updates live from Mumbai from all the major events.

We've come so far for NBA and India - and hopefully, we have a lot further to go!

October 1, 2019

Japan win fourth consecutive title at FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Bengaluru; winless India finish last in Division A

The Japanese dominance over Asian basketball continued last week at the 2019 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Bengaluru, India. With a thrilling comeback win over China in the final on Sunday, September 29 at the city’s Sree Kanteerava Stadium Japan completed an impressive four-peat at the championship, cementing their supremacy over Asian basketball.

Hosts India also took part in the tournament but ended the week in disappointment, losing all of their group games and losing the 7th/8th place qualifier to end their Division A appearance at last place.

The final of the tournament was held between long-time Asian rivals Japan and China on Sunday. Japan, who had won the 2017 title with a final win over Australia in dramatic fashion, once again had to muster all of their heroics to complete a comeback and squeak past the Chinese squad. China commanded a 10-point lead in the first half, but slowed down to start the third quarter as Japan began their comeback run. Japan took a lead early in the second and held on for the 71-68 win. Nako Motohashi led all scorers for Japan with 24. Xu Han scored 18 for China in the loss.

Earlier the same day, Australia blew past Korea 98-62 to win the bronze medal game. Rebecca Allen led the Aussies with a game-high 20 in the victory.

Japan’s Nako Motohashi was named the tournament’s MVP for her performances.

After winning the 2017 Division B title in dramatic fashion and making their comeback to Division A, India sent a young squad that hoped to retain its position in the higher throes of Asian hoops. Coached by Zoran Visic and captained by Rajapriyadarshani Rajaganapathi, India were drawn in Group A of the division, along with Japan, Korea, and Chinese Taipei.

Playing against the powerhouse Japanese, India had no shot in their first game, barely being able to score against Japan’s stifling defense on one end, and finding it impossible to contain Japan’s offensive prowess. Led by Himawari Akaho (23) and Sanae Motokawa (16), Japan cruised to a 103-27 win.

India started with more purpose in Game 2 against Korea, taking an early 12-2 lead and holding a slim advantage after the first quarter. But the tables turned when Korea raced to a 24-6 second quarter run which punctured all of India’s spirits. Korea secured a 97-62 win, led by An Jin’s 21 points.

In the final group game against Chinese Taipei, it was India’s weak start that doomed them, as their opponents took a 28-10 lead after just the first ten minutes. India improved after halftime, but Taipei already had a huge advantage by then, as they won the game 87-58.

Last in their group, India’s mission now was to defeat Group B last-ranking team – Philippines – to ensure that they didn’t fall out of the Division. Alas, it was another weak start by India, as Philippines took a 12-point lead early in the game. India made the game close around halftime, but Philippines heated up from behind the three-point line and took advantage of India’s mistakes to win 92-78. Janine Pontejos scored 18 for the Philippines, while India’s Shireen Limaye had a team’s tournament-best 23 points.

The result left India with a 0-4 record at eighth place. As per FIBA rules, India are supposed to be replaced in the 2010 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup by the winners of Division B. But the Division B event hasn’t been held this year, and if it stays this way, India may keep its place in the higher division after all.

Limaye was India’s best player at the tournament, leading the team in scoring (12.3 ppg), assists (3.5 apg), minutes per game (28 mpg) and overall efficiency rating. There were some decent performances by Jeena Skaria and Navaneetha PU, but neither were consistent enough through the course of the tournament.

For a more in-depth story behind India’s unsuccessful campaign at this event, read my article on Firstpost, published on Monday, September 30.

Final Standings
  • 1. Japan
  • 2. China
  • 3. Australia

All Tournament Team
  • Nako Motohashi (Japan)
  • Yuki Miyazawa (Japan)
  • Shao Ting (China)
  • Han Xu (China)
  • Rebecca Allen (Australia)