OCTOBER 4, 2019
MUMBAI, INDIA – Two security officials are deep in discussion at a yellow plastic barricade. Their orders were simple – no car was to come near the back entrance of the NSCI Stadium in Mumbai. And so they stopped a luxury SUV with tinted windows, and refuse to grant it entry even as the driver explains there’s a foreign celebrity on board. They’ve never seen nor heard of this celebrity before. It’s a dilemma that the security handlers at the venue – which has hosted multiple seasons of the Pro Kabaddi League, fashion shows et al – have never experienced before.
Inside the stadium, two nine-year olds are having a puzzling conversation of their own. One asks, “why are we here?” The other explains it’s to watch a basketball match. “Which teams?” comes the next question. “Kya pata.”
Moments later, over 3,000 high school students from across the city, all dressed in identical ‘NBA’ t-shirts, make their way to their seats to witness the start of a historic moment in basketball history in the country. The name ‘NBA’ isn’t exactly unheard of in this part of the world. But the novelty of having teams from the marquee league – along with the support staff, and of course, celebrity guests – play on Indian soil is overwhelming.
The security officials outside are beseeched by the security advisors of the NBA to let the unknown car inside. And the two nine-year-olds are given foam fingers to wave – with the name Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers neatly printed on each. Thus starts the first ever NBA global game to be held in India.
The screaming and shouting, the thumping of clappers comes often and for any reason. It escalates for the first time when Harrison Barnes of the Kings makes up the length of the entire court and dunks – the kids in the stands (the first of the two-day pre-season matches is meant mainly for school children) may not know much basketball, but they know what a slam dunk is.
They watch in awe as the giants – all over 6-and-a-half feet who effortlessly reach out and touch a rim 10-feet up. Their movement is quick and the moves is flashy. And the dunking continues.
By the end of the first quarter, they had learned much more. And they even had some favourites, even if they couldn’t catch the names.
“White jersey team ka 24 number accha laga,” says a fourth standard student of a school in Thane, of Kings’ shooting guard Buddy Hield. “Uska ek layup move tha. Woh accha tha.” His teacher explained that 35 students from the school had made the trip despite examinations being on in full swing.
The novelties continued as the evening wore on. The ‘muscle cam’ for instance drew unprecedented reactions. During a time-out of quarter-break, a camera would randomly land on members in the audience who would then flex their biceps for the camera. Only, the first group of students the view fell on simply waved at the camera and jumped.
And then when the Pacers’ slam-dunk team, the Power Pacers Pack, started using a trampoline to soar through the air and score trick dunks with a chorus of dholaks – playing the familiar sound that blares through the festive season – sounding in the background, everyone was on their feet.
“The thing about today was that everyone in the stands was either a kid or new to the NBA, so there was a reaction to everything,” says a veteran scribe well-versed with the NBA.
“These (gimmicks) are used in the US as well, but the audience there will sometimes snooze through it, or not react as enthusiastically because they’ve seen it so often. The kids here will cheer for everything.” Hield concurred.
“When we were trailing, they were rooting for us, when Pacers were trailing, they were rooting from them,” he says after the match. Meanwhile the action on court remained central to the entertainment, starting from Harrison Barns of the Kings opening the scoring to TJ Warren’s last second 3-pointer that took the score to 118-118 at full-time. In overtime, the Pacers, who at one point were trailing 59-72, came back to win the exhibition tie 132-131.
A basketball match lasts 48 minutes, excluding time for breaks.
This one went well over the two hour mark – a lengthy celebration of a league that had, till now, been an unreachable marvel witnessed in the United States. No Indian national till date has ever played an NBA match, but the NBA has now played in India.
Paying ticket-holders are scheduled to throng the stands on Saturday, for the last match of this visit. But the students who did attend exams in the morning and decided to make the trip to the NSCI Stadium got the first glimpse of what the NBA is all about.
At the final buzzer, the Pacers and Kings dutifully, and with practiced precision, walked towards the tunnel and onto the bus. Meanwhile, a special announced rang in for the crowd.
“Please remain seated until your (school) bus number is called.”
Courtesy/Source: Indian Express