Thu, Dec 28, 2006 - Page 19 News List

NBA dreams of Indians going bonkers for basketball

AFP , NEW DELHI

The NBA has launched an ambitious bid to make basketball India's most popular sport after cricket, the country's overriding passion.

The NBA will help organize a series of high-profile tournaments and training camps with the aim of achieving its goal within 10 years.

The NBA believes there is a "tremendous scope" for basketball in India where it could soon overtake hockey, the No. 2 sport.

"We have been studying the potential of basketball in India for about three years now," Mark Aronson, vice president of NBA Entertainment's Events and Attractions Group, said on a recent visit.

"There is tremendous scope and contrary to what we had thought, basketball already has a presence at the grassroot level," he said.

Basketball is played in schools all over the country but few pursue it thereafter like cricket or hockey.

"We know cricket is a religion here but the rise of another team game is definitely a possibility," Aronson said.

His visit coincided with Indian hockey hitting a new low in Doha by failing to win a medal for the first time in Asian Games history.

"There is a definite vacuum after cricket and basketball has all the trappings of an exciting game," Aronson said. "We are eyeing the No. 2 spot in terms of popularity."

"We have given ourselves 10 years to make a mark in the country. We went to some small towns and realized there were people who loved the game. That has given us a lot of hope," he said.

Indian basketball had its moments in the 1970s when the national team finished fourth in the Asian men's championships in 1975 and also qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Now India does not even qualify for the Asian Games but officials are confident a push from the NBA will revive the sport.

"Any association with the NBA will help us get mileage," said Harish Sharma, secretary-general of the Basketball Federation of India.

"We are seeking their help to improve our infrastructure and coaching standards. The game has to be presented in a very big and attractive way. There is tremendous scope but a lot of effort has to be made for that," he said.

Sharma has ambitions of making India the basketball capital of Asia.

"We want to hold international events and also promote the concept of `basketball without borders' where Asian teams can come here to train and play matches in India," he said.

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