If you haven’t been following barely reported news of the summer (i.e. anything not involving a trade rumor), the NBA is working to bring the sport to India. While the world’s second-most populous nation is a big market, they’re not exactly a hoops hotbed, even if it has already penetrated their film and television culture.
As noted in the first post linked above, the NBA has already sent Dwight Howard to the country for a series of promotional events. Now, they also have plans to send Pau Gasol to the sub-continent. From the league’s press release:
Pau Gasol, a two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) champion and a three-time All-Star, will travel to Mumbai and Delhi from Aug. 23 to 28 to further the growth of basketball and the NBA in the world’s second-largest nation. This is the first time a reigning NBA champion will travel to India to conduct events on the NBA’s behalf. […]
Gasol will make appearances with the Larry O’Brien Trophy to take photos with fans in Mumbai and Delhi. This will be the first time that the trophy will be in India. He will also conduct clinics in Mumbai on Aug. 26 for participants of the Mahindra NBA Challenge, the league’s first community-based basketball league in India, which tipped off in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Ludhiana this summer and attracted thousands of participants, including top players from each city.
Okay, are you ready for some broad ethnic stereotyping? Here we go …
Dwight Howard is the league’s best big man and an extremely marketable personality, but I think Gasol might actually be a better spokesman for the NBA in this case. Indians generally prize education and intellect above athleticism and pure power — for proof, just note that their Olympic teams have only ever won one (1) gold medal. Gasol fits that profile: his game is reliant on skill and playing angles more than physical dominance (although his height certainly helps him).
Plus, Gasol is an avid reader, has studied medicine, and remains interested in the life of the mind while working as a professional athlete. His presence in the league can prove to Indian fans that the NBA is a game for smart people too, not just an arena for athletic accomplishment.
Kobe Bryant has become the most popular American player in China because his insane work ethic fits the country’s ideals. Perhaps his teammate Gasol can do the same in India.