We are learning from the IPL, says NBA Asia chief Ramez Sheikh

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

“The IPL has done a tremendous job to evolve and create a product that continues to be relevant and fun,” he said to reporters in Abu Dhabi. “I think all sports, even the NBA in the US, need to continue to think about how to keep fans engaged. We can’t take fandom for granted, and in India, with the IPL, they would agree.”

“We are inspired by the IPL, and we’re learning,” he added.

Sheikh, who was made in charge of the league’s operations in Asia and India earlier this year, is currently in Abu Dhabi for the double-header of pre-season games between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks. He spoke about the IPL’s role in evolving the game of cricket, and how the NBA has taken inspiration from that, like the addition of the play-in tournament last year, to evolve basketball.

“The IPL, specifically, has done a tremendous job in creating a spectacle. Changing the very nature of the game, the time, the format. That’s where, in the United States, we are constantly thinking about our game and product,” he said. “Those are the kind of things we are thinking about, and in many cases, we are inspired by the IPL.”

Sheikh echoed the sentiments of NBA commissioner Adam Silver, claiming the league would like to return to India for pre-season games as soon as possible. The last pre-pandemic trip of the NBA was two games in Mumbai back in 2019, when the Sacramento Kings, partly-owned by Indian-born Vivek Ranadive, and Indiana Pacers.

The league’s executive said that on top of playing live games, and making the regular season games more accessible, their grassroots initiatives in developing basketball talent in the country is of importance. When the league went to Japan earlier this year, it was met with much fanfare as local star Rui Hachimura’s Washington Wizards took on reigning champions Golden State Warriors.

Sheikh believes that it’s a “matter of time” before India also produces the kind of talent that makes the game grow massively in India, with an eye in particular on Amaan Sandhu, the first Indian to receive basketball scholarship for a Division 1 school in the NCAA college system in the US.

“There has been (Indian) talent that has played in our developmental league and we are all very optimistic,” he said. “There is incremental progress, but there is talent coming out of 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 pick up basketball.”

“India is a young country, especially in terms of the affinity to basketball, so there’s a long-term view,” he added.

The writer is in Abu Dhabi on invitation of NBA India.

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