Could basketball overtake cricket as India’s most popular sport?

Sony Sports India television presenter and host Manas Singh breaks down basketball’s potential in India – why creating a basketball league, continued exposure to the NBA, and a cultural change towards sports is needed to ensure basketball is here to stay.

Crossover International spoke with Manas Singh, television presenter and host for Sony Sports India about basketball’s rise in India and what he believes must happen to cement its place – and potentially even rival cricket as the country’s most watched and followed sport. Singh discusses NBA Academies, sporting culture in India, and how the Indian media landscape can play its part. 

Crossover International: Over the past decade or so, basketball has risen to be one of the fastest growing and popular sports apart from cricket in India. Why do you think this is the case?

Manas Singh: When you think about basketball, you think the NBA. As a package, the NBA has it all. You have immensely professional & dedicated athletes. It’s a league where you can be yourself, and we have the glamor of courtside celebrities too. Basketball is one of the fastest games in the world to be played on foot, it’s tough not to fall in love once you get exposed. 

CI: With the recent controversies surrounding the NBA and its relations in China, do you think India can become the next global destination for the sport’s continued expansion?

MS: China has produced one big superstar {Yao Ming} which accelerated the entire movement both in America for marketing & in China, when it comes to interest. India is not a sporting country yet. India is not even a cricket loving country; India is a country that loves batting in cricket & we have a long way to go to even consider expansion. We need to get a competitive basketball league in place first before we can consider ourselves a global hub for the game. 

CI: The Sacramento Kings played two pre-season games in Mumbai last October to much fan excitement and media buzz across the country. What role do you think Indian origin people like Vivek Ranadive, the Kings owner, have to play in ensuring basketball and the NBA’s popularity grows in this country?

MS: I was blessed to be working courtside for both the games against the Pacers. It was absolutely incredible & one of the best experiences of my life. Vivek is a great man and he has opened up the pathway for probably others to follow. Adam Silver would have seen what India is capable of and also see this as a potential market to tap into. However – the timing of the games is a huge problem for many in India as games begin here from 4 to 5 a.m., yet I strongly feel it’s as good a product as the English Premier League.”

“It can reach the same levels of fan following and tv viewership if the NBA can assign some big games every day for primetime viewership in India, on a regular basis.”

– Manas Singh

CI: With the new rules in the NBA allowing players from high school level to skip college and enter straight into the G-League, do you believe this can open the door for more Indian players to reach the NBA? 

MS: The aim shouldn’t be the NBA for our players. The NBA Academy in India is doing an amazing job & I am sure we will have players playing at a really high level soon, but at the moment there is a gulf of class and we need to compete with better teams and players for sure. Small steps. Realistic steps. Honest steps. It’s possible someday but not anytime soon.

CI: The NBA Academy in India that launched in 2017 has certainly helped bridge the gap between teams and potential future players, what do you think needs to be done from a grassroots level in India to get more people – especially kids involved in the game?

MS: The NBA Academy is working with the very best of the best across the country. The selection process is very thorough from what I am aware of and NBA India is doing a great job. Parents need to let their children play sports, be it football, basketball, tennis, etc. Anything away from cricket and we will see a rise in sporting culture in India. A cultural change is required in our country toward sports. If that happens, we will get more kids playing the game.

CI: As a presenter with Sony Sports India, you have been able to see from very close how much the sport has grown since games began being broadcasted on Sony channels. What role do you think people like yourself in the media have to play to help bring in more fans to an ever-growing fan base?

MS: As a presenter I personally feel it is important for me to be honest when I do my work. To not over complicate things when we do our shows & cater to our audience. That doesn’t mean not talk about what is required to be spoken about, but essentially not scare away a new viewer either. It also helps to speak with young sport enthusiasts through social media. Talking about the league and the sport on social media platforms and getting genuine & honest conversations going is the key. It’s a long road ahead but nothing worthwhile is easy!

Header image courtesy of Manas Singh.