We’re learning from the IPL, says NBA Asia boss Ramez Sheikh

NBA Asia and India MD Ramez Sheikh said Saturday the league could learn a lot from the Indian Premier League (IPL) in terms of fan engagement and innovation.

“The IPL has done a great job of evolving and creating a product that continues to be relevant and fun,” he told reporters in Abu Dhabi. “I think all sports, even the NBA in the US, need to keep thinking about how to keep fans engaged. We cannot take fandom for granted and in India they would agree with the IPL.”

“We’re inspired by IPL and we’re learning from it,” he added.

Sheikh, who was put in charge of the league’s Asia and India operations earlier this year, is currently in Abu Dhabi to play the doubles preseason game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks. He spoke about the IPL’s role in the development of the game of cricket and how the NBA took inspiration from it, such as adding the play-in tournament last year to further develop basketball.

“The IPL in particular did a tremendous job of creating a spectacle. Changing the type of game, time, format. That’s where we’re constantly thinking about our game and our product in the United States,” he said. “Those are the things we think about, and in many cases we take inspiration from IPL.”

Sheikh echoed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s sentiments, claiming the league wants to return to India for preseason games as soon as possible. The NBA’s last trip before the pandemic was two games in Mumbai in 2019, when the Sacramento Kings, partially owned by Indian-born Vivek Ranadive, and Indiana Pacers.

The league’s board of directors said that in addition to playing live games and increasing access to regular-season games, their grassroots initiatives to develop basketball talent in the country are also important. When the league went to Japan earlier this year, it was met with much fanfare as local hero Rui Hachimura’s Washington Wizards took on reigning champions Golden State Warriors.

Sheikh believes it’s a “matter of time” before India also produces the kind of talent that will massively grow the game in India, with a particular focus on Amaan Sandhu, the first Indian to win a basketball scholarship to a division school 1 in India received college system of NCAA in USA.

“There have been (Indian) talents who have played in our development league and we are all very optimistic,” he said. “There is incremental progress, but there is talent coming from India and the subcontinent. Part of our responsibility is to create the local programs and continue to inspire local talent and the youth of India to learn basketball.”

“India is a young country, especially in terms of affinity for basketball, so there is a long-term perspective,” he added.

The author is in Abu Dhabi at the invitation of the NBA India.

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