Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner, has said the league is giving "serious consideration" to starting a recognised basketball league in India, revealing "it's something we would hope to do within the next five years".
"I think our two most immediate goals (with regard to India) are; one, to see the development of some top-tier talent coming out of India and into the NBA and WNBA. And, two, serious consideration of the launch of a league," Silver said. "It's my hope that within five years we have an Indian player in the NBA. For a league, I'd use that same timing. It's something we would hope to do within the next five years."
Accompanied by Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon, Silver was speaking at a press conference before the first ever NBA preseason game in India on Friday. The games are the latest, and most substantial, in the NBA's efforts to popularise basketball in India.
Ranadive, who is the only Indian-born majority owner of an NBA team, outlined his vision for the sport in India.
"What I see happening is that within the next 10 years, this game, it'll never surpass cricket as the national pastime, but it'll be right up there. And hopefully we can launch a league here," Ranadive said, adding that he hoped to see a player out of the Indian system playing in the NBA within the next 10 years.
India still doesn't have a professional basketball league. When a short-term Pro Basketball League, organised by the United Basketball Alliance of India (UBA), was first launched four years ago, the BFI termed it an "unauthorised competition" and banned all of UBA's participants from taking part in official Indian basketball events.
The BFI has only just emerged from a state of financial and organisational limbo in 2017 due to internal faction battles as well as a legal wrangle with their marketing partners, IMG Reliance. In 2010, the BFI and IMGR had signed a 30-year marketing rights deal and any future professional Indian basketball league depends on a complete resolution of internal disputes.
Asked if the NBA's future plans for India also included more teams playing more games in the future, Silver replied in the affirmative, but said India needs more arena infrastructure for that to happen.
"This is a fantastic facility we're in today, but it required us bringing in a court, a scoreboard, seats, locker rooms. And it's relatively small, certainly by NBA standards."
The Kings and Pacers are playing in the NSCI SVP Indoor Stadium, a multipurpose venue with a seating capacity of about 5000. Silver believes it's "inevitable" there will be state-of-the-art arenas in major cities in India.
Silver conceded that while the first NBA games of any kind in India are a "fantastic and historic" step, it is still a very small one in the larger scope of developing basketball in India.
"You really have to go into it knowing that this is going to be a long-term project, especially as I said earlier, it requires an arena infrastructure if we're serious about a league."
Pacers owner Simon, who has been on the NBA China board since its inception, said the NBA's league model could be replicated in India.
"I think the system is set up so that we could almost duplicate it here and maybe in Africa and other places," Simon said. "The NBA has been good to China and China has been good to the NBA. I see the same potential here."
Ranadive, who was born in Mumbai, spoke fondly of the time he spent growing up in the city and how it was a "dream come true" to bring the Kings to his city of birth. When asked if he would like to own a team in India, Ranadive spoke of kabaddi.
"I actually introduced the game to Shaq (Shaquille O'Neal). He asked if you could tackle and if there were any rules. He was told, no, you can do all the tackling you want. So now he wants to play that," Ranadive joked.
Answering the question more seriously, Ranadive said, "I've been looking. I've been talking about possibly investing in a kabaddi team. I played that game growing up, so it's close to my heart."