November 10, 2022
It’s February 19, 2022, at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Throngs of National Basketball Association (NBA) fans pack the arena to witness the All-Star Celebrity Game, an annual league tradition since 2003. The roster includes comedian Tiffany Haddish, singers Machine Gun Kelly and Jack Harlow, and one celebrity who has more followers than all three combined. Wearing a multicolored jersey with the #69 on the back and his hair pushed back with a red headband, Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh joined the American musicians, athletes, and actors on the court. The crowd went wild.
In a country of 1.4 billion people, cricket has been the traditional sport of choice for Indians. However, for the past decade, the NBA has been trying to win over India, among the largest consumer markets globally. In 2011, the NBA established a regional office in Mumbai and partnered with major Indian media outlets. In October 2019, the NBA held two pre-season games in Mumbai, India, featuring the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings, co-owned by Indian American businessman Vivek Ranadive. And last year, Singh became the NBA’s brand ambassador for India, sitting courtside at games, palling around with players.
Basketball arrived in India in the 1800s, but its Indian fanbase is still small. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has made it clear that the NBA plans on “developing the game” in India. Now, with a celebrity like Singh in tow, does the NBA have what it takes to make an impact in India?