There is no good time to have a lockout, but the timing of this particular shut-down of the NBA couldn’t have been worse. The league was at its height of popularity and it featured an exciting group of popular veterans (Kobe, Garnett), incredible in-their-prime stars (LeBron, Wade, Nowitzki, Dwight Howard), talented youngsters breaking into the elite (Rose, Durant) and tantalising prospects for the future (Blake Griffin, John Wall). In addition, the NBA seemed to be becoming open and unpredictable again: Mavs, Heat, Bulls, Thunder, Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, etc all boasted formidable, exciting teams.
But for the NBA fan in India, the lockout couldn’t have come at a worse time: the NBA was at the height of its popularity in India last season. For me, the feeling has been of taking a big bite of my favourite dish (Butter Chicken) to build an appetite, and then being robbed of eating it anymore, and instead staying hungry. Now multiply that feeling by a 100 and replace Butter Chicken with Test Cricket. That’s the Lockout.
Rewind back to a year ago and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The 2010-11 season couldn’t have been better for NBA fans in India. Things started off on the highest note possible in the off-season itself, as India was visited by two of the best big players in the planet: Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. If that wasn’t enough, Gasol even brought the Larry O’Brien trophy with him to India. The NBA Trophy in INDIA!!! Even recalling that moment gives me the chills.
But hype for the upcoming season had already been built before Howard’s and Gasol’s visits, since a certain LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach, ie. join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. The Heat became the most-talked-about team, for better or worse, even before playing a single game, and all eyes followed them through every move in the season. This influence wasn’t lost in India, obviously, as more fans than ever joined in the excitement and anticipation of what the Heat will bring in the new season. A couple of other off-season moves – Amare to Knicks; Boozer to Bulls – added to the intrigue.
And then the season started, and to the delight of Indian fans, it was soon announced that the NBA will be showing four live games a week on Indian TV – on Sony PIX and Ten Sports – after signing deals with both the channels. And then, this number went up to five, and near the end of the season, it was up to six. Six live games in India every week! I was getting no sleep, waking up at wee hours of the morning every single day, and it was okay! By playoffs time, we were watching nearly every game live. It was certainly the golden age.
Of course, the NBA continued to increase its programming and web presence specifically for the Indian audience, showing a clear interest in catering to the growing legions of fans here. There were several NBA-themed shows on TV, and the NBA’s India website featured regular blogs from fans in India – including a bi-weekly blog by me – in addition to promoting players/teams via social networking in India.