As a kid, all I could think of was to grow up, save up and then fly to the United States of America to watch atleast one game of NBA. While I was working on accomplishing the first two, the NBA decided to reward my passion by organizing the NBA India Games, in Mumbai of all places. Fate could not have intervened more.
Since the day the NBA India Games were announced around 8 months back, I and my friends were hyped about it and made a pact – no matter how expensive the tickets, we will attend it. I knew the NBA is going to enter the Indian market aggressively going forward just as they did in China by hosting more games. However, this was a history-making moment and I wanted to be a part of it, just like watching a long-awaited movie on the first day.
Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings were the two teams destined to leave an unforgettable mark on every NBA fan in India. My excitement went up several notches on hearing that both teams played attacking ball despite being a pre-season game on the 4th of October, a match reserved only for Education and Sports for All (ESA) children.
The journey to my ultimate childhood dream began with a visit to my friend’s house in Andheri aboard the famous local trains of Mumbai. For once, the jam-packed crowd was the least of my concern. After munching a few snacks and playing a few games of FIFA20, we booked a cab to the match venue, NSCI Dome in Worli.
The cab ride was full of NBA discussions, including which team we were going to support and the answer was almost instantaneous – Sacramento Kings. The Indian connection definitely played a part in that decision. All along the way, we could see big billboards heightening our excitement further.
Once we reached the venue, we set about exploring with an hour to go for the tip-off. The NBA fever was well and truly on display with several fans clicking pictures in front of the big banner and the media stand while the volunteers were running around to make some last-minute arrangements. The setup was so well-organised, we did not have any problem in locating our entry gate and most importantly the restroom, something which turned out to be quite an adventure at the FIBA Women’s World Cup a few weeks back.
While entering the arena, we could feel THAT energy, as if everyone present there knew that they were being a part of something big. The arena looked amazing and the volunteers helped us locate our seats. The pre-match show started as soon as we sat and we were bamboozled by it. The trampoline dunk show by the “Indiana Pacers Power Pack” got the fans screaming on top of their voice. Finally, the players entered the arena and started warming up, much to the crowd’s delight.
I could see the Kings shooting from the line while the Pacers practised layups. I was awestruck seeing De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Miles Turner, Sabonis, Marven Bagley III and more. I never imagined that India’s national anthem would play in any NBA game and here it was, being performed by Guru Randhawa and my chest swelled with pride. This was followed by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver presenting the game ball to Indian Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju before the tip-off.
Once the tip-off buzzer sounded out, the crowd erupted and started cheering their team. The game was full of excitement, a very competitive one filled with dunks, layups and three-pointers. The courtside seats were full of star from different backgrounds. Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar were attending to promote their upcoming movie, Rannvijay Singh, the face of NBA India, was accompanied by Bhuvan Bam and Leander Paes.
However, the most exciting part occurred when the NBA legends were announced during the quarter break. One legend, in particular, got a standing ovation from the crowd – Larry Bird. At that moment, I realised what it means to earn respect. In a country where we are tuned to hear “SACHIN SACHIN” from the crowd, it was amazing to hear the crowd shout “LARRY LARRY”.
The match was a proper NBA contest and the experience was enhanced with various fan engagement activities which happen in the regular season such as the layup contest with a twist, free t-shirt giveaways and amazing performances in the time-out break. The NBA Academy students were featured as well and a small 2-minute video was shown on how they built the Noida NBA Academy.
Indiana Pacers won the match 130-106. However, there was no gloom for me or my friends as this game was all about the experience. After the game, we all headed to the merchandise counter to get some memorabilia and stamp this day as an unforgettable memory.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which more than delivered upon everyone’s expectations and I cannot wait for this to become a more frequent occurrence in the coming years.