Two retired players of different eras, different styles, and different teams.
Yet, this week, former Indiana Pacer Detlef Schrempf and former Sacramento King Jason Williams are both in India as ambassadors for their former squads, as the two franchises look to make history by playing the first-ever NBA exhibition game on Indian soil. On the days leading up to the games, both Schrempf and Williams landed in Mumbai to assist with the NBA's youth development programmes, like the NBA Basketball School or the NBA Academy Women's programmes.
Schrempf became the first German-born player in the NBA when he was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1985. He played for the Indiana Pacers from 1989-1993, during which time he won two NBA 6th Man of the Year Awards and the first of his three All-Star appearances. He made the NBA Finals in 1996 with the Seattle Supersonics and retired in 2001 after a stint with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The iconic passing wizard Jason Williams was drafted by the Sacramento Kings, with whom he played for the first three seasons of his career. He enjoyed career highs in his stint with the Memphis Grizzlies next and won a championship with his third team-the Miami Heat-in 2006. He played for the Magic and briefly returned to Memphis before retiring for good in 2011.
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I spoke with both these NBA icons at various events in Mumbai to learn about their experiences of India, the growth of the NBA in this country, and the uniting power of basketball at a global level.
Q. The NBA is hosting such an important event [the NBA India Games] for the very first time. You were one of the pioneering international players in the league. And you have seen in your pro career, the way the game has grown globally. What do you see in India that could help basketball grow as a sport here?
Detlef Schrempf: India has had a great history of being successful in sports when you look at soccer and cricket and so forth, they have enough people that are athletic and play sports - they just haven't exposed to basketball. So, hopefully, with us coming here and starting schools and after-school programme and basketball academy, maybe more kids will play basketball. Maybe they play soccer and cricket, but maybe they'll also play basketball, too. And I think that the more they'll play, the more we'll find success.
It only takes one to get you on the map. I was the first German in the league. You got an Indian player that got drafted [recently] to the league. So, if you have one that sticks around and makes the league: it goes a long way to helping the grassroots programme.
NBA Legend Detlef Schrempf pulled up at the NBA Basketball School clinic, much to the delight of the young athletes!#NBAIndiaGames #LearnToPlayTheNBAWay pic.twitter.com/jF53ZzxTAw- NBAIndia (@NBAIndia) October 2, 2019
Q. You were the first German player ever to make the NBA Finals with the Supersonics. What are your memories of that team-led by Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, etc.-that went so far, and almost upset the Bulls?
DS: We have a great stretch. I played for a Sonics team that averaged 60 wins a season for five years, so we won a lot of games and had a lot of fun. We expected to win every day. When you know you have a chance to win every night, basketball is a lot of fun.
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Q. What do you hope will be the impact of these Games in the future of basketball in India?
DS: They just want more children to get excited to trying to out. And obviously, the NBA is making a real concerned effort of providing the proper coaching. Not just bringing coaches here from all over the world, but also teaching coaches to properly teach basketball. With all that, you just want the kids to have fun, and when they have fun, and they're active and have a little success, then hopefully, some of them will get to that level where they can compete internationally.
Q. You were bought straight to the court to India [for the NBA Academy Women's programme] to offer your gyan (knowlege) to young kids in India. How's it different for you: you've played with young people in the States, in China… is the process different here?
Jason Williams: I don't think so. Just the language barrier, that's about the only thing. These kids who are in these kinds of camps or in schools, they're here to get better. And they love basketball just like I did as a kid, so it's pretty easy sharing my knowledge. I feel kinda obligated to sharing my knowledge that really wanna get better, no matter where we are in the world.
Above: Jason Williams at the third NBA Academy India Women's Camp in Mumbai
Q. One of the hallmarks of your personal game was your creativity: you might be one of the most creative players of all-time in NBA history. Where did that come from? What was it when you were younger playing ball that made you so different to everyone else playing ball?
JW: I think I was so small growing up, I couldn't really get my shot off, because I used to get blocked all the time. I needed to learn other ways to be able to get on the floor, whether it be a pickup or on the streets. I didn't really work on my shooting-it was all about creativity and being able to get past my guy and hit the next guy for the shot.
Q. You had such a big influence on kids like me, growing up watching you dominate for the Kings. How does that make you feel about the NBA's impact-just playing the game that you love?
JW: I never really imagined people all the way here in India, or in China, being my fan, you know? But basketball is kinda like a bridge for cultural exchange. Once you get between those lines, you can respect anybody, I don't care if you're Indian, you're African you're Russian, whatever. Basketball is basketball. And if you know how to play and respect the game, everyone's gonna respect you.
Q. You left a real impact with teams like the Kings, the Grizzlies, the Heat… What, in your opinion, was the best time playing basketball in your career?
JW: I have to pick '06, winning a championship [with Miami]… That's what is all about. But I had a lot of fun in Sacramento. That's where it all started. When people think of 'White Chocolate' or Jason Williams, they think of Sacramento.
Q. And now the Kings are in India, playing a Game! Growing up, it almost felt like you guys were a galaxy away, like the NBA would never be in India: How does that make you feel that there's actually a game taking place here this weekend?
JW: I think it's great. I think it goes to show what Adam Silver and the NBA is all about. They're about making this sport global.
Q. Your first time in India-is there anything you wanna try or are looking forward to being here?
JW: I like going to different places to see the different cultures, to see how you guys live here and what you guys do. I think us as Americans, we take a lot of stuff granted in America, just throughout life. Here, a lot of people aren't as fortunate as a lot of people in America-anytime I can come and give back anything to such great people like you guys, I'll be on board.
For more updates and stories on the NBA India Games 2019, you can follow NBA.com's page dedicated to the historic event.