Ranadive pitch forks DeMarcus Cousins as India’s hoopster.
By Sujeet Rajan
NEW YORK: Who is DeMarcus Amir Cousins? If Vivek Ranadive, the co-owner of the NBA team Sacramento Kings, has his way, the 6 feet 11 inch Cousins will soon be the basketball player India will root for.
The Mumbai-born Ranadive, whose net worth is around $700 million, is more famous today for being part of the three-man group that bought the Sacramento Kings earlier this year at a NBA record-setting valuation of $534 million, than for digitizing Wall Street trading in the eighties.
Ranadive’s strategy to turn around the fortunes of the lackluster Kings: make it the darling of the masses in India, get a bigger fan base than the around 500,000 population of the city of Sacramento in California. Make the dynamic Cousins – who signed a four-year $62 million contract last month – mesmerize India with his power, surge and shooting prowess.
This past summer, Ranadive sent some Kings’ cheerleaders to promote the team in Mumbai. The season’s opening night game against the Denver Nuggets next Wednesday is going to be telecast live in India, on Sony Six.
But on October 24th, the team did something even more remarkable: they unveiled a new-look website: in Hindi (www.kings.com/hindi); the first NBA team to do so.
“A key facet of our ownership group’s vision is for the Kings to become India’s home team,” Kings President Chris Granger said in a statement.
Kunal Merchant, VP of Strategic Initiatives, Sacramento Kings, at a sports conference organized by the US-India Business Council in New York, last week, said not only the Kings but also NBA itself was convinced by Ranadive’s argument that India will be the biggest market for the game outside of the US and China.
“It may take time, maybe 20-30 years,” said Merchant, a former Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Sacramento, of the potential to make basketball a popular sport in India, rival cricket.
“I want to make NBA the sport of the 21st century what soccer is to the 20th century,” Ranadive told the NBA in a meeting during negotiations for the Kings, disclosed Merchant.
NBA is also pinning its hopes on a 17-year-old 7-foot one inch teenager from Punjab, Satnam Singh Bhamara, to do to the sport in India, what Yao Ming did in China. A potential future NBA prospect, Bhamara is at present on a scholarship at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Ranadive’s theory has many takers, including the influential IMG Worldwide, Inc. It’s betting big on India taking to the vigorous game played for 48 minutes long on a 94-feet long court.
“There is massive opportunity in India,” said Bobby Sharma, Senior VP, Global Basketball & Strategic Initiatives, IMG, at the USIBC conference. He is developing the company’s exclusive commercial rights to basketball in India, as part of IMG Reliance, a joint venture between IMG and Reliance Industries Ltd. along with the Basketball Federation of India. It envisions a path to professional basketball on the lines of the NBA, in 30 years’ time, by 2040.
Some 300 million people play basketball in China, with a fan base of around 450 million, powered by Ming’s fame. In comparison, only around five million people play the sport in India. It’s more than in Bhutan though, where the sport is confined to royalty.
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