Bobby Sharma has a passion for basketball that goes beyond support for any one team. His interest is global rather than local. Nearly, a year after joining IMG as senior vice president, Global, Basketball the former NBA executive sees a very bright future for the game in India.
On his maiden visit to the God's own Country, Sharma witnessed the summit clash of the 26th Federation Cup. He was pleased with the talent and athleticism that was on display. In an exclusive chat with the TOI, Sharma spoke at length.
How difficult is it for an Indian to take up basketball? It obviously comes naturally to Americans?
Basketball is a game that was made for India. People often say India is a beautiful organized chaos, and that is also a great description for basketball. It's been said the musical analogy for basketball is jazz, with its free-flowing high energy, and unpredictable excitement. That exactly connects to the spirit of India
How expensive a sport is it to take up? Only fortunate kids get to play sports like tennis and golf.
The beauty of basketball is that it's one of the easiest games to play, as you only need a ball and a hoop. At least in terms of participation it's the second most popular sport in the world. It has a very low cost of entry, you can play it anywhere, and it's one of those games that's very easy to understand.
How does a youngster convince his parents that he wants to make a career out of basketball?
It's a good question. I would say it's the same answer for any sport, whether it's cricket, basketball, golf or tennis. There are professional opportunities for certain individuals, and our goal with IMG Reliance's professional basketball league in India will be to provide that opportunity in the most exciting growth market for sport. But as a professional career in sports can only be realized for a few, it should be noted the league platform provides for many other positive things in India, including health, wellness, and education - both as a game and as a business.
How important is the technical aspect at the grassroots level? In cricket and even football, many players learn at the streets and don't get their basics right until they go to an academy...
Like every other sport, fundamentals are a critical step in the development process for basketball. So it's very important to put technical standards in place at an early stage. In fact, that's one of IMG Reliance's short term goals for basketball in India, and something which we've been working closely with the BFI on.
Indians are not very strappingly built. Will that affect the growth?
I don't think it's fair to generalize a population of 1.2 billion in one of the fastest growing economies in world as such. I think there is a lot of talent and athleticism in the system already, but even more promising, there are plenty of untapped opportunities to identify more and more talent. We've already made great strides in the last year.
Can basketball really become India's biggest sport in the next 5 years?
I don't think any sport sets out to eclipse cricket in terms of popularity in India, especially on such a timeline. Rather, our goal with basketball is to capitalize on the success that cricket has demonstrated in terms of becoming part of a permanent sports landscape, and even the popular culture. And I think there's a lot of room in terms of providing India with alternative sports and entertainment options. In my view, the thing that sets basketball apart from all other sports as a commercial matter is its unique ability to highly-integrate entertainment into the game better than any other sport. It's very possible that basketball can become the number 2 sport in India in the near future.