The past few years in Indian sports have witnessed the growth and popularity of franchise-based leagues in every sport.
The revolution was started by IPL in cricket which saw Pro Kabaddi League take the sport of Kabaddi to the masses, Prime Volleyball League glamourizing volleyball and Ultimate Kho-Kho bringing traditional Indian games to television.
But the globally popular sport Basketball failed to find any pioneers when it came to the professional league until Sunny Bhandarkar who is an ardent Los Angeles Lakers fan decided to come up with Elite Pro Basketball League.
The Bridge sat down with him to understand the depth, vision, and purpose of the first-ever professional basketball league in India.
Here are the interview excerpts:
What was the motivation behind conceptualizing the Elite Pro Basketball League?
My entire family belongs to the sports background. My dad is a retired director from the Sports Authority of India. My mom is an awarded coach of handball and basketball as well.
Both of my parents have played basketball in the past. So have I. Although our main forte was always handball, I belong to a sports background and wanted to do something for the sporting culture in India.
What was the vision behind starting a professional basketball league in India?
I am blessed with a lot of good people who have invested in the growth of this game. In India, there was a huge gap between the players and the game of basketball. There was no platform for the players.
The players didn’t have an end goal. I believe professional players should have bigger goals apart from representing the country. We are here to provide them with the platform. Everyone deserves to be paid in today’s world. We are bringing the professional level in front of the masses.
We want India to be doing better internationally. That's the main goal and that is why we always look up to paying them better salaries, improving what we are doing for them right now, taking them to US camps, and having international scouts come here to train or scout them.
This process and platform will mean that the level of the game rises and once we set the standard, it will help the Indian team in performing well at the international level.
Every sport thrives on the strength of the grassroots level. How do you plan to develop that?
I think grassroots are the most important system as they act as the feeder. Before the league came into existence, we were working with a lot of universities to develop sports like basketball and volleyball.
In India, Universities are always ignored when it comes to sports. Everybody focuses on schools but they miss University. The USA is so good today in sports because they have created a system that helps them keep the supply chain for elite level ready.
For the same purpose, we will have two university players in each team in our league giving them a chance to rub shoulders with the best in the business.
Have you received any support from the stakeholders in the game such as the federation?
The Basketball Federation of India is not supporting us. We have sent them an information letter, which we haven't heard back about. The players know what they have signed up for. They are not relying on federation for the approval. Everyone is here for the betterment of the sport.
We aim to continue with and without any support from outside as I mentioned that our sole aim is to make the sport of basketball reach the masses and provide a platform to the talent out there.
With the pre-season ending yesterday, How was the response from fans and the basketball community?
The response to this league has been very good and I am happy about it. I would like celebrities and influencers to come over and take the game to the masses.
Sadly, there has been no professional league in India for basketball. Sports like Kabaddi, Volleyball, and Kho-Kho have benefitted so much from the existence of a professional league.
We have introduced a league for Women as well and with such a platform we aim to help the players grow more and more. The quality in our teams is as good as the international level teams and we are committed to improving it.
In a nutshell, We are very happy with how things have progressed and we look forward to this season.
Any message for the basketball fans in India?
It's been like one family, and I would just like to say that we need to keep this family united and support each other. We believe in the motto, unity. We want to be united with everybody. I'll just like to say that keep supporting us.