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October 4, 2019
ADAM SILVER: Thank you all for being here. I know many of you traveled from far and wide to be at this historic event, and it means a lot to us. Of course this is a landmark for the NBA in that it's our first-ever game on Indian soil. It's been a long time in the works.
I'll just tell a quick story. Shortly after I became commissioner, or actually I had been named commissioner but I wasn't commissioner yet, Vivek Ranadivé had asked me if I would take a trip to Mumbai with him. Of course, as all new commissioners do, you say yes to anything that an NBA owner asks of you.
So off we went in 2014 with a delegation of Sacramento Kings officials that included Vlade Divac and a group from the NBA, including Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum. Once we were on the ground here in Mumbai, Vivek said, Now I need you to promise me one more thing, and I said, sure, again, still a new commissioner, yes to anything that I'm asked. I asked, What's that, and he said, That we will now play games in Mumbai, and of course the first game must include the Sacramento Kings. New on the job, I said, Absolutely.
It took us a few years, and that included Vivek going to his friend Herb Simon, owner of the Indiana Pacers, and saying, We'd love for you to come with us. And I must say, Herb, as the longest-standing owner in the NBA, said it's absolutely critical that my team be part of this historic occasion as well. It took no arm twisting whatsoever. He quickly agreed that he wanted to play. And here we are now five years later.
I will say just having been on the ground for a couple days now, I want to thank the people of Mumbai for their hospitality. We are absolutely thrilled to be here. I want to particularly thank Nita Ambani and the Reliance Foundation for being the presenter of these games and particularly tonight's game, which is devoted to the kids of Mumbai, the young boys and girls who play the game of basketball, who have been part of our Jr. NBA program, which has now reached an incredible 10 million kids in India. So a special thank you to the Reliance Foundation and the Ambani family.
With that, I'm going to hand it over to my colleague and friend, Vivek Ranadivé.
VIVEK RANADIVÉ: Thank you, Commissioner Silver. This is a historic day, but for me it's a dream come true. I left Bombay when I was 17 years old and literally I had $50 in my pocket, so to come back here with my NBA team and also bring my friend Herb Simon with his team and to play an actual NBA game is beyond my wildest, wildest imagination.
I wanted to start by thanking Adam, Mark, the NBA, because as Adam related the story, he's kept every single promise to me. And I might even extract more promises right here tonight, so Adam, I'm just warning. But no, thank you to the NBA. This is amazing. And Herb, thank you for keeping your word and joining us on this incredible trip. It's a long ways, and you've had to fight jet lag and travel time and just the effort that went into even preparing the arena.
We have this word, "jugaad," in India, which means we can just get it done. So when you sit in traffic, you just think that, well, how am I going to get from here to there, the light is not changing, my car just will not move, and somehow they get it done. So to be back here in the land of my forefathers and my hometown, the country of my birth, and to witness an actual NBA game is epic.
When I convinced David Stern and Adam Silver to let me buy the Kings, I had this vision that I referred to as NBA 3.0. I said that there would be three vectors driving that. It would be technology and using technology to make the game accessible to fans everywhere, which we've done. We had fans in Bombay watching a Kings game using virtual reality, having the same experience as I have sitting courtside. I said it would be global, and of course after China, India was the next great frontier, and here we are. I said we would use our platform for good. I believe we have the best league in sports, and we have here the best leadership in sports. Thank you, Adam. We have 3,000 children at today's game. We have really the future of the sport.
Finally, I just want to thank my hometown. I'm a Mumbaikar. One of my players said that he knew about Southern hospitality, but he's experienced a whole new level of soul and warmth and hospitality. My players are very, very thankful for that. You guys have made us feel welcome. You've made us feel loved, and we've had just incredible support from you. So thank you.
ADAM SILVER: Thank you, Vivek. Herb?
HERB SIMON: The Pacers and myself and Indiana, we're honored to be part of this historic event. And there are many reasons that I was so excited about it. Number one, my friendship with Vivek was important. Also the fact that I had traveled to India on a couple of occasions for business, and I saw the vibrancy, the excitement, the potential in India. So I really wanted to be part of this situation.
The other reason is, as Adam knows, I've been on the NBA China board from its inception, and I have seen how the NBA has been good to China and China has been good to the NBA. I see the same potential here, and I'm proud and happy to be part of it. So let's get the games going.
ADAM SILVER: Thank you, Herb.
Q. Mr. Simon, can you talk about what you remember about Vivek when he first got ownership? And how did you guys connect with the friendship?
HERB SIMON: I think I remember him coming in and talking to the board about the reason he wanted to buy the team. He sounded so passionate, so ready to take the challenge. Everything he said in that first meeting, he lived up to every single thing. I'm very proud to call him my friend and partner.
Q. My question is for Mr. Adam Silver. I just wanted to know, sir, for the last few years, the NBA has been spreading its roots in India with junior programs and everything has been starting now. Preseason games are here. What lies in the future, the next couple years? What are the plans?
ADAM SILVER: I think Vivek can speak to this as well. We've seen enormous progress just in the last five years. When we began our relationship with the Reliance Foundation, for example, shortly before I became commissioner, the target was to reach 3 million young people. As I said earlier, that number has now already exceeded 10 million. We saw last season with our relationship with SONY TEN, almost 100 million people in India watched some portion of the NBA season, including an enormous audience for last year's NBA Finals. And we're seeing an explosion of interest on social media.
One of the things we've been discussing recently -- and I know this is something else my friend Vivek is pushing me on -- is the ability to launch a league here in India. As I've said, we have wonderful partners in the Reliance Foundation, with SONY TEN, our broadcaster, and some of our other top-notch corporate relationships here. That is something in these days while we're here that we're taking meetings on and openly having discussions.
I will say that I'm not sure five years ago that was something that was even possible. But because of changes in technology, the explosion of 5G that is reducing latency, allowing incredible numbers of connections in dense urban area, the engagement we're seeing from young fans here through mobile technology, plus the academy that we now have in Delhi and the large numbers of young people playing, I think there's an opportunity to do that. It's something we're very engaged in.
So I think our two most immediate goals are, one, to see the development of some top-tier talent coming out of India and where we would again see players coming into the NBA and WNBA. There's also an enormous pool of young women playing the game as well. And, two, serious consideration of the launch of a league. Vivek, I'm sure you want to add something.
VIVEK RANADIVÉ: Yeah, I think this is a country that has already embraced basketball. If you think about the Indian mindset and the Indian vibe, we're in the movie capital of the world right now. We're in Bollywood. Basketball is a spectacle. It's a vibe. It's a celebration of life, of athletes, of skills. So the Indian mindset and the basketball game, it's a game that can be played in cities and villages. It can be played inside, outside, by boys, by girls, one person, a few people, rich, poor. It doesn't matter.
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, Commissioner, we can launch a league right here in India. I hope in the next 10 years that we'll have at least one player that comes out of the system that plays in the NBA. We already see players. And I fully expect that there will be arenas that spring up across the country where we can play these games.
I've talked to the prime minister about arenas and the importance of arenas in smart cities and in cities of the future, and I know he's committed to that.
Mukesh [Ambani] is putting fiber into homes now. We're a killer app for his fiber because people want to use virtual reality and augmented and other technologies to be able to envoy these games.
I think that with the experience that my friend Herb had in China, the world has shrunk. Everything is happening faster, and so I believe that it'll be adopted even faster than it was in other parts of the world.
Q. Adam, tell us more about the league; by when can we expect the league in India? And the second question is do we see more NBA teams coming to India in the future?
ADAM SILVER: I'll answer the second question first. The answer is absolutely yes to do we expect to see more teams. One of the things we need, though, is more of an arena infrastructure. I think this is where Vivek was a little ahead of the schedule that we might otherwise have been on. 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.
I have had some interesting discussions with developers over the last two days here. I think it's inevitable that there will be state-of-the-art arenas in major cities in India, in part because these are multiuse facilities and live entertainment is increasingly important here as well. Of course, a great arena can have concerts and other shows. But we do need to see those arenas over time in order to play more games.
In terms of timing on the league, as I said, it's something we're giving serious consideration to right now. I mean, I actually -- Vivek, one place where at least I said publicly where I'm ahead of you, that I announced earlier today, it's my hope that within five years we have an Indian player in the NBA. And I think for serious consideration of a league, I'd use that same timing. It's something we would hope to do within the next five years.
Q. How do you see the enthusiasm around regarding the NBA in India?
ADAM SILVER: We're seeing tremendous enthusiasm. Herb, maybe you can speak to this as well because we've been talking about just how fantastic the hospitality has been. I know with the functions we've had so far, what always amazes me when I travel is how knowledgeable the fans are, particularly the young fans. I think whether you live in Sacramento or you live in Indianapolis, it's the same internet, the same apps, the same websites. The young people here seem to know all our players from the top of the roster to the bottom. We have several legends here, as well. My colleague Kiki VanDeWeghe is here sitting in the front row. He works in the league office now but was a great NBA player and great college player, and seemingly all the young people know all his statistics. Herb, you were saying to me earlier the level of support here.
HERB SIMON: The level of support and the people of India that I find is so reminiscent -- my wife is from Thailand, and of course they wai you [motioning with palms pressed together]. To be [greeted that way] here in India, it's just such a kind and thoughtful thing. I love the people here. I love their enthusiasm. I'm really happy to be here.
Q. Adam, first of all, how do you look to sustain the NBA model in India? We've seen sporting events that are privately owned, such as Formula 1 or even other events, make an entry, but in the long run, either some issue or the other, it kind of fizzles out. Secondly, will you be looking to replicate the football model where Premier League clubs have tours every summer in the preseason so it makes the game more popular, makes the players more popular? And my other question would be to Vivek. You've owned a team in the NBA; how about owning a sporting team in India that is non-basketball?
ADAM SILVER: I'll answer your first question quickly, then hand off to Vivek. It's a great question in terms of sustaining the model. I'd only say look at our track record. As Herb Simon was saying earlier, I think we put both feet on the ground in China and we meant it. We made a financial investment. We made a large investment in terms of the commitment of people with three offices there now, several hundred people.
And this is not for the faint of heart. I think it's why we've been very cautious in terms of our approach in India. You recognize that it's fantastic and, as I said, historic to have these two games here, but in the larger scope of developing a business, it's a very small step. 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.
I'll just add by saying, in addition to all the wonderful qualities that sports bring and the impact we can have on young people, what we saw in China, what we're seeing now in our development in Africa, is that sports can be an economic engine for industry as well. There's an enormous amount of ancillary businesses that come around in arena development. As Vivek said, we are fantastic programming for fiber networks, for 5G. It's a fantastic platform for new technologies. But it needs to be sustained, and it requires a long-term commitment.
As to additional team ownership, Vivek?
VIVEK RANADIVÉ: Yeah, it's actually a related answer because I know that you should be credited, Adam, with people don't know this, but we need to give Adam credit for the kabaddi league because it was modeled after the NBA. Heidi, who used to --
ADAM SILVER: Well, our former colleague Heidi Ueberroth, who ran NBA International, is given a lot of credit for suggesting that we follow the NBA model.
VIVEK RANADIVÉ: But Herb, there's a game called kabaddi. Every Indian boy plays this game. I actually introduced the game to Shaq. He asked if you could tackle and in there were any rules. He was told, no, you can do all the tackling you want. So now he wants to play that. He wants to make that his next game.
HERB SIMON: Not with me. (Laughter)
VIVEK RANADIVÉ: But I think India is an incredible market. People forget that for 1,500 of the last 2,000 years, India was the world's largest economy, and thanks to some of the changes now, India is rising again.
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.
Q. Of course NBA fans in India are super excited that the NBA is investing more time in bringing the teams and players to India, but our own basketball scene has been stunted for a long time, and Indian basketball hasn't really grown the way we've wanted it to grow. Is the NBA working at all with the basketball federation of India to maybe push for the growth of the sport, and is the NBA connected with the BFI at all?
ADAM SILVER: We are connected with the BFI through FIBA. The deputy commissioner of the NBA, Mark Tatum, served on the executive board of FIBA and we've been dedicated to the global growth of the game. We work on the ground here in India just as we work globally with our federation.
I'll just say when we get involved with our Junior NBA programs, we're and foremost, we're teaching young people the values around the game of basketball. It's less in many ways about the NBA, and our view is that the more young boys and girls we can get to bounce basketballs, whether they play for a local league here, hopefully potentially play for your national team, or then can possibly one day play in the NBA, all of those different goals are important to us. But we also recognize to grow this game, India or globally, we need to work hand in hand with local federations and leagues where they exist.
Q. Vivek, what goes through your mind as an owner with the issues with finances and everything? My second question is for Commissioner Silver. A lot of mid-level talent if not top-level talent is going to China from the NBA, so is the league at all concerned about this, or is it good for basketball in general?
VIVEK RANADIVÉ: Yeah, so one of the first things you discover when you buy a professional sports team like an NBA team is that you actually don't own the team; the team belongs to the fans, it belongs to the city, even the media. Really our role is to be stewards, and it also comes with responsibility. And we at the Kings have taken that responsibility seriously. We are very committed to using our platform for impacting our community.
When I bought the team, I laid out a mission statement. The mission statement was to build a winning franchise that enhances the lives of those it touches and makes the world a better place. Of course, it starts with winning, and you have to win.
But then the platform is so powerful and so huge. I'm very proud that I can call these gentlemen my friends and my partners because Adam has taken a stand to be on the right side of history. And when we've seen injustice, the NBA has spoken out about it. The work that the NBA has done in impacting the lives of the underprivileged and kids and given voice to the voiceless is just -- I'm very, very proud. Thank you, both.
ADAM SILVER: In terms of the Chinese Basketball Association, I'll just say it's amazing that there are hundreds of millions of people around the world, young people who play the sport of basketball. We work to grow leagues everywhere in the world. We're thrilled with the success that the Chinese Basketball Association is having. The league is run by our former player Yao Ming, who again is devoting his life to the game. Just as we feel the same way here in India, we think it's great for the sport for the CBA to prosper, and in fact work very closely with them on the organization of the league, on helping them create a model system, working on best practices for refereeing and coaching and every aspect of the game.
It's part of our mission, and that is to grow the game everywhere. As I said earlier, whether you're playing in the NBA, WNBA, a local league or for your national team.
Q. Adam, one or two academies won't do justice to the population we have in India. Do you plan on opening up more academies across India and improving the coaching facilities across the nation?
ADAM SILVER: The answer, again, is yes. It's just a question of timing. I realize, of course, with a nation of this geographical size and the enormity of the population, one academy is just putting one toe in the water. I think for us all to be here in Mumbai, to play these games, working with our local office, gives us an opportunity to step back and really develop a complete business plan. But in order to do justice to the opportunity, to the earlier question, it has to be sustained and has to be done over a fairly long period of time. We recognize that probably ultimately will be measured in decades. But we certainly believe it can be done.
Q. Mr. Simon and Commissioner Silver, China of course is a massive consumer of NBA and of course they've got lots and lots of NBA players coming up over the next many years. What are the things that have gone right in the development of basketball in China that India can perhaps follow their footsteps in?
HERB SIMON: Well, the China experiment started slowly, but over the last 10 years, it's grown into a very major development. I think the system is set up almost that we could almost duplicate it here and maybe in Africa and other places.
I think it's a situation where we give back to the community and we receive. That's what the league is all about. Each one of us is part of our communities. Each team gives back individually to the cities and places we live. The league itself is very generous in giving charity to people. We give back as much as we get, and I think that can happen here, too.
ADAM SILVER: I think he said it all.
Q. We've seen in America a lot of players make the transition from high school to college and after playing a year or so they get drafted in the NBA. Perhaps what would be your message to Indian players aspiring to make it someday in the NBA?
ADAM SILVER: That's a great question to end on, and maybe we'll all take a shot at it. What I would say to the young players here is that at the end of the day, my experience almost 28 years now in the NBA, is that the best players are actually the hardest-working players. It's tried and true. It's one of the things we talk about in terms of the values of our game, and one of those values is hard work. One of those values is respect for the game and teamwork. It's quite amazing. And I think that's lost on a lot of the young players out there.
I won't mention names. Well, one of them I'll mention because it's Larry Bird. He's here on this trip accompanying the Indiana Pacers. No one worked harder than Larry Bird when he was a player. I think sometimes the young people see these players and think that they're just these spectacular athletes and they don't understand the 5:00 a.m. wake-up calls and the late nights in the gym. I'd say it's what really differentiates the truly great players in this league.
As Vivek mentioned earlier, also one of the things that makes this game so special is that you can practice it on your own. You're not going to become a complete player without playing in a competitive situation, but you can shoot baskets on your own, you can learn to dribble with your left hand and your right hand on your own. That would be my message. Work hard and stick with it, be persistent and follow your dream.
VIVEK RANADIVÉ: Yeah, I'd like to say if you're hungry, that's not good enough for me because hungry just means you haven't eaten for a while but the meal is coming. What I'm looking for is starving. Starving means that you've got to go find the meal. If you want to make it at the highest level of any sport but particularly the NBA, then the one resource that is readily available to all the youth -- and Indians have a long tradition of that -- is hard work. So the harder you work and you just wake up starving every day and just work harder and harder, that's what I am looking for at the Kings.
HERB SIMON: I think it's all that and passion, that the players with the most passion and who work hard and believe in teamwork and working together usually succeed.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports