“Shaq is swinging a cricket bat at the Arena? Can you imagine that?” asked a voice with disbelief. “There will be a Bollywood dance show at half-time today,” quipped a professor who teaches immigrant and ethnic relations at the University of California. “Quite an apt thing for a region which has the fastest growing Indo-American population, isn’t it,” he adds.

For a good two hours amidst all the festivities before the season opener between Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets, a humdinger which the Kings later won 90-88, the match itself seemed incidental. Five months ago, the locals weren’t even sure whether there would be a team to cheer for. This was until an Indian businessman settled in the United States, Vivek Ranadive, Chairman, TIBCO Software, impressed on the NBA to sell the Kings to him rather than to someone who was intent on moving it to Seattle. The ‘someone’ was none other than the current Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer!

Prior to the celebrations, Ranadive, in a media interaction dwelt on how he plans to take the game to India.

Excerpts:

On the vision for the club: We pledge to build a winning franchise that enhances the lives of all those it touches and adds a set of values — excellence, integrity, openness, hard work and fun.

On plans to expand the game in India: We know that cricket is the national pastime. So we are not looking at basketball to surpass it. Our goal is to be a strong No. 2 to cricket. Our team will go to India and O’Neal has promised to come.

Can increasing viewership translate into more talent emerging? We are not expecting overnight success, but it is one of the fastest growing sports in India. It’s the only American sport that easily connects with Indians. We have players from Punjab like Satnam Singh and the Bhullar brothers who could one day play in the NBA. In the next five years I would be very surprised if there isn’t an Indian player in the NBA.

(N. Sudarshan is in Sacramento on an invitation from Sony Six which will telecast 2013-14 NBA season)

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