The NBA is breaking ground next year, with the first-ever games played in the country of India.
The league announced this week that the Sacramento Kings will be playing the Indiana Pacers in Mumbai for a series of 2019 preseason games, the first-ever North American pro sports game to be played in India. As USA Today reported, the games have long been a goal of Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, who had wanted to bring his team to play a game in his birth country.
The teams will play October 4 and 5 at the NSCI Dome in Mumbai.
In announcing the games, Ranadive noted the historic nature of the series.
“As an Indian-American, it is an honor to help bring this historic moment to the country where I was raised,” Ranadive said in a statement.
The league sent Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum to Mumbai to make the announcement, and commissioner Adam Silver followed up with a statement about the meaning behind the game.
“Our inaugural NBA India Games will help further untap the enormous basketball potential in a country with a thriving sports culture and a growing, young and engaged population,” Silver said in a statement.
Under Silver and predecessor David Stern, the NBA has taken a number of steps to spread the league’s influence across the globe. During the past decade, the NBA has put significant focus on growing its fan base in China, including playing a series of preseason games in 2018, as the NBA website detailed. The NBA has played games in China since 2004, capitalizing off the interest in Yao Ming’s entry into the league, and has now played a total of 26 games there. China is also home to a number of the world’s top basketball leagues, with a number of former NBA players ending their careers in China.
The move to Mumbai coincides with the growth of India’s middle class and an interest in sports outside the country. Though cricket still reigns supreme as the most popular sport in India, there has been a growth both in soccer and basketball, with the country taking efforts to build up both of its national teams in these sports to be more competitive in international competitions.
BREAKING: The #Pacers and @SacramentoKings will play in two preseason games in Mumbai in 2019, marking the first games the NBA has played in India and the first games staged in the country by a North American sports league. pic.twitter.com/iTRASpoBsU— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) December 20, 2018
As USA Today noted, the league has already made efforts to grow its fan base in India, opening an office in Mumbai in 2011 and the NBA Academy India in 2017 to develop elite basketball prospects. The league also has a number of games broadcast there, including many with Hindi commentary.