Kings owner Vivek Ranadive once said he wanted his team to become the first in the NBA to play a game in his homeland. Next year, he will get his wish.
The NBA held a news conference in Mumbai, India, on Thursday to announce the Kings will play two preseason games there next fall. The Kings will play the Indiana Pacers on Oct. 4 and 5 at the NSCI Dome in Mumbai, marking the first time a North American professional sports league will play games in India.
“The Sacramento Kings are proud to be playing in the first NBA games ever held in India,” Ranadive said in a statement released by the team. “As an Indian-American, it is an honor to help bring this historic moment to the country where I was raised. The sport is experiencing tremendous growth in India and we are excited about continuing to expand the NBA’s reach to fans across the globe. The world wants to watch basketball and India is a fast-growing new frontier.”
NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum traveled to India to make the announcement along with NBA India managing director Yannick Colaco.
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“We are proud to be the first global sports league to bring games of this scale to India,” Colaco said. “The NBA and basketball have never been more popular in India and fans will get to enjoy world-class showcases for our sport between two exciting teams.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver referred to India, the second-most populous country in the world with more than 1.2 billion people, as an untapped market for the NBA.
“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. “We thank the Kings and Pacers organizations for participating in this historic event.”
The games will be accompanied by interactive fan activities, Jr. NBA youth basketball programs and NBA Cares community outreach events. The games will be broadcast live in India and will reach audiences in more than 200 countries and territories, the NBA said.
Ranadive has long expressed a desire to take the NBA experience to India. He grew up in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, before coming to the United States to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.
Ranadive, who sat courtside for the Kings’ loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, just hours before the announcement was made in India, became the first India-born majority owner of an NBA team when he purchased the team in 2013. Since then, he has helped to infuse Indian culture into the NBA, traveling to India with Silver in 2014 and hosting an annual Bollywood Night in Sacramento.
In 2013, Ranadive told The Bee he wanted to make basketball the second-most popular sport in India behind cricket.
Since Ranadive purchased the Kings, Sony SIX, an Indian sports channel owned and operated by Sony Pictures Network, has broadcast nearly 140 Kings games in the country. According to the Kings, the team has received more than 535,000 likes from fans in India on its social media platforms.
In April 2015, Sim Bhullar made his NBA debut with the Kings, becoming the first player of Indian descent to play in the league. Later that year, the Kings became the first team to stream a game to India using virtual reality.
In 2017, on the Kings’ fourth annual Bollywood Night game against the Golden State Warriors, they were featured in the first Facebook Live stream of a regular-season game. The stream, which was exclusive to India, reached 2 million unique fans and received more than 340,000 views.
In 2017-18, the Kings unveiled their alternate “global” court design, which features logos specific to India and China in an effort to build a brand that connects with fans around the world.
Pacers owner Herbert Simon said he’s excited to join the Kings in showcasing the NBA on a global stage.
“We are thrilled to be one of the first two teams to play the first-ever game in India,” he said, “and proud to be part of the expanding NBA worldwide footprint of our game of basketball.”