NBA India VP Yannick Colaco admits basketball is a long way from cricket in terms of popularity on the subcontinent. In fact, Colaco said badminton, kabaddi and soccer are currently the next-most popular sports in India, with basketball currently somewhere around sixth or seventh on the list.
But he added that "there’s a lot of movement" among the sports vying for second, and claimed the gap basketball has to close on the country’s second- and third-most popular sports is not "too large."
"It's important for us not just to become a top-three sport, but become a very strong top-three sport," Colaco said during an interview at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, NC, over All-Star Weekend. "We want to entrench ourselves and be able to say in the next couple years, 'Basketball is really a strong No. 2 or No. 3 sport.'"
Colaco currently leads a staff of 21 at the league’s Mumbai office, a number he expects to continue to grow. The most recent example of the NBA’s effort to make up ground in India was the recent announcement of two preseason games in Mumbai in October, the first in NBA history to take place in the country. The Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings will play on Oct. 4 and again on Oct. 5 at the NSCI Dome. Those games will air live in India and reach fans in more than 200 countries and territories on TV, digital and social media.
CHANGING LANDSCAPE: The NBA opened its office in Mumbai in '11. Colaco has been in his current role since Feb. '13. He played basketball at the national university level in India before beginning his sports media career at IMG. In terms of opportunities for young basketball players in the country, the landscape is vastly different than it was during his playing days, he said.
"The big challenge for sport in the country has really been the opportunities and facilities," Colaco said. "In terms of training, in terms of facilities, that wasn’t there about 10 or 15 years ago across multiple sports. It's developed a lot in the last few years. We can play an important role in building that up for basketball."
One key pillar of the league’s strategy is NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training center in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR). The academy, the top of the country's grassroots pyramid, has housed the top male and female prospects in the country since it opened in May ’17.
'PRIORITY MARKET': Colaco emphasized that the NBA, whose strategy for India initially revolved around grassroots efforts, is in it for the long haul. He cited the number of top players, including Golden State Warriors F Kevin Durant and former Miami Heat F Chris Bosh, who have visited the country in recent years as one component of the league's long-term vision.
"Its a deliberate long-term strategy, and now we're ready to actually bring a game to market," Colaco said. "That’s been part of the strategy that we set five years ago. While obviously you try things out and you make modifications, the one thing that’s been consistent is we're in here for the long haul. This is important. This is a priority market for the NBA, and we will be invested in this market for a long period of time."