The 2019-20 NBA season is nearing its conclusion, with the NBA Finals.
It's been long, weird, tragic, entertaining, difficult - nearly every emotion in the book. For Indians, the NBA's 2019-20 calendar year began in India in October last year, when the Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings played the first-ever games by an American professional sports league in India when they faced-off at NSCI Dome in Mumbai.
With a year gone by since that epic week - arguably the biggest week in the history of Indian Basketball - we re-convene with the four experts and fans, who helped us preview the games last year. In this edition of the Roundtable, we ask them about their standout memories from the NBA India Games and also discuss the NBA bubble. Check it out:
NBA.com: How would you summarise your experience of the entire week of the NBA India Games?
Karan Madhok (NBA Experts & Contributor): In one word... Dreamlike. The entire week was a wonderful haze, a perfect utopia for a long-time hardcore NBA fan like me. It was as if, after decades of penance, I was having multiple dreams come true together in the same unbelievable week. I feel fortunate to be down in Mumbai for the Games, and I will always cherish the experiences - on and off the court.
Akshay Manwani (NBA Expert & Hindi Commentator): I think it was totally surreal. To see all the NBA legends - Larry Bird, Dikembe Mutombo, Detlef Schrempf - that had gathered here in Mumbai, and to watch two NBA teams go head-to-head, it really was a dream come true.
I don't think I have ever had a better sporting experience. And then to call those games on television through Hindi commentary, made it even more special. To introduce the NBA teams and the game to our viewers in our own language really made me feel very proud and happy.
Gopal (NBA Expert & Contributor): It felt surreal to finally be part of something we all dreamed of for so many years. A historic occasion for the entire basketball fraternity in India. The event brought together NBA fans from across all walks of life and from across all parts of India and abroad- whether young upcoming players, coaches, celebrities, those of us in the media- under one roof, something that had never happened before.
Bhushan Suryavanshi (NBA's Most Valuable Fan in India): The first experience was at the historic monument Gateway Of India, which was illuminated and displayed with NBA India Games 2019 visuals.
The #NBAIndiaGames lit up the Gateway of India like never before! ✨✨#NBAInMyBackyard pic.twitter.com/pGW60HKvzN- NBAIndia (@NBAIndia) September 29, 2019
I was lucky enough to get interviewed by the NBA India crew at the venue who saw me and recognized me as NBA's Most Valuable Fan In India. They were like who doesn't know you and being such a huge NBA fan, this moment was very heart touching for me.
NBA.com: Could you share a couple of memorable moments/moments/stories from that week?
KM: It was simply incredible to see Mumbai decked out for the NBA, with billboards and hoardings around the city featuring the Kings and Pacers all around. It was like Basketball Diwali for that week. I met a lot of old friends at this 'hoops festival', made a lot of new ones, and of course, shared space and conversation with NBA/WNBA legends, past and present.
Some of the memorable moments include:
- Watching Jason 'White Choc' Williams give a lesson on how to throw the perfect elbow pass to a group of young women from the NBA India Academy Women's programme, and later, catching up with Williams for an interview.
- The moment of the first tip-off of the first of the two Games, when thousands of cheering kids screaming their lungs off. It set up what I believe has been the greatest NBA preseason game ever played - in any country!
- During a timeout, the big screen cut to some of the celebrities on the sidelines. Pacers exec and NBA legend Larry Bird was introduced, and the entire arena gave him an extended standing ovation. Bollywood/Hollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra was introduced right after, but the "Larry! Larry!" chants continued so long that the cameras had to pan back to him. Legendary
Here's the video proof... 😀 pic.twitter.com/PraQ8244iE- Avinash Saraf (@avibull) October 10, 2019
AM: Well, the most memorable moment that I had was getting a picture clicked with Larry Legend (Larry Bird). He was really gracious when I approached him with the request. He obliged far too easily. Such humility from one of the greatest ever to have played in the league.
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Having interviewed cricket stars and Hindi film personalities over the last decade, I'm not star struck anymore. But when someone like #larrybird comes into close proximity, it's hard even for me to let the opportunity pass. I went up to the 3-time NBA champ, #bostonceltics legend, hall-of-famer, member of the 1992 Dream Team, a true icon of the game of basketball and requested him for a photograph. He agreed, stood up and smiled into my mobile camera. I. CAN. NOW. DIE. PEACEFULLY. . . . #nba #nbaindiagames #nbaindiagames2019 #nbainmybackyard #celtics #basketball #anythingispossible #dreamscometrue #larrylegend #basketballhalloffame
And then the other moment were the heroics of the Indiana Pacers' TJ Warren who hit a 3-pointer to send the October 4 game into overtime. That October 4 game really had a special feel to it, what with both teams giving it their absolute best.
Pacers fans, meet @TonyWarrenJr 😤 pic.twitter.com/mx1cfibRQO- Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) October 4, 2019
Gopal: Most memorable moment was having a chat with Jason 'White Chocolate' Williams. Also to see Larry Bird in the flesh, and how the crowd reacted to him being shown on the big screen. That moment was a huge boost of adrenalin to realize how sincere and genuine the NBA fandom is in India.
A couple of days prior to the event was also the launch of India's first coffee table book on basketball called 'Home Court,' a project which I was a part of. So that was pretty special too.
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Work on India's first ever coffee table book on basketball ✔ Special shoutouts to @mojaswi for on-boarding me, and to writer @manangram for extracting the maximum amount of research out of me in a minimum amount of time. 😂 Couldn't get to see ace photographer @rohanshrestha in action, but got to hang with the talented @sheldon.santos instead! (who taught me how to use a reflector. More on this in the next post.) __________________________________________________ #NBAIndiaGames #NBAinMyBackyard #CoffeeTable #CoffeeTableBook #AboutLastNight #IconicCourts #Documentation #BasketballDocumentation #HoopsYatra #NBAxRohanShreshta #NBAIndiaGames #NBAIndiaGames2019 #HomeCourt
BS: When I got to my seat and started viewing what was going around, a crew from NBA India came and took my interview for their Instagram stories, which is still there on their official handle. This made me feel really emotional and the next moment I had tears of joy in my eyes.
But the most amazing moment was when I called out to Damontas Sabonis and he immediately reacted to my call gave a smile and posed for an instant selfie. This was the best moment of the NBA India Games for me.
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REMEMBERING & CHERISHING THE MEMORIES OF NBA INDIA GAMES 2019 🇮🇳🏀 5th OCTOBER 2019 ❤️ INDIANA PACERS V SACRAMENTO KINGS @nbaindia #nbaindia #nbaindiagames #nbaindiagames2019 #nbainmybackyard @nba #nba #wholenewgame @sonysportsindia #aroundthehoop #nbaweekly #lakersfansindia #nbafans @pacers #indianstyle @sacramentokings #sacramentoproud
NBA.com: What's been your viewing experience like while watching the NBA - seeding games & playoffs - in a bubble with no fans?
KM: Watching on TV from home, the 'Bubble Ball' experience has been surprisingly fantastic for me. Although basketball without fans in the arena can feel soulless in a way, my attention first and foremost is always on the on-court action - and when the games themselves have been so fantastic, there is little else to be distracted by.
I admire the fact that NBA players not only made it to the Bubble in the times of pandemic but also continued to play at the highest professional level while also having an eye on the outside world, with COVID-19 and the Black Lives Mattes Movement surging.
These playoffs have definitely been weird - especially with no such thing as 'home' and 'away' games anymore - but the level of basketball has been great, with some good teams playing to expectation, and some wonderful surprises. It's strange that, even in such unprecedented times, the NBA pulled this off, giving us a sense of 'normalcy' to enjoy as basketball fans.
AM: Ideally, I would love to see fans and that the games should be played in the respective teams' home arenas. But I do understand the situation with playing at one location with no fans. But here again, the NBA has been innovative by having fans present virtually. We have seen players' relatives, VIPs and other prominent figures in attendance through this virtual initiative.
I also don't think the competitiveness has been in doubt. You can gauge that by the competitiveness with which the Portland Trail Blazers, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Phoenix Suns fought for the play-in game in the Western Conference. Phoenix went 8-0 during the seeding games.
Then during the playoffs itself, we saw 2 first round-series in the West going to 7 Games. The Denver Nuggets won two Game 7s before getting eliminated in the Conference Finals. Boston and Toronto played a 7-game series in the East. If anything, the bubble has possibly made things more competitive. I guess players want their sacrifice of being within the bubble to count for something.
Gopal: It's been a strange experience for all of us. But frankly, the viewing experience of NBA fans in India hasn't been any different than previous years. We are anyway used to watching games on our TVs, laptops or mobile phones.
I loved the competitiveness right from the Portland Trailblazers and Phoenix Suns in the seeding games, to Jamal Murray in the playoffs...If anything the competitiveness felt on par or greater than previous 'non-bubble' years.
BS: Being an NBA fan I have always watched the NBA Games on television, or on NBA League Pass but after watching the NBA India Games 2019 live from the courtside, I believe that as much as the fans are missing watching the live games in the arenas, the players must be missing the fans and their support more than ever.
The 2020 NBA Playoffs were full of surprises.
Some of the series going to a Game 7. The Denver Nuggets winning their first two matchups despite trailing 1-3 including against the championship favourite in the LA Clippers. The East wasn't short of surprises with the top two seeds getting eliminated in the Conference Semis - the defending champions the Toronto Raptors lost in seven games while the Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated in five, which surprised all.
Now, that the NBA Finals are going on and the 2019-20 NBA Season is coming to an end, me being a huge Lakers and Kobe Bryant fan, I have high expectations from the Lakers to win their 17th NBA Championship and win it for late Laker legend.
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