From $50 to owning Sacramento Kings

Deccan Chronicle.  | Moses Kondety

Sports, In Other News

Mumbai-born Vivek Ranadive is basketball Big Dad.

LeBron James dunks against Stephen Curry during the NBA All-Star game in Charlotte on Sunday (Photo: AP)

Charlotte: Many years ago, a 17-year-old Vivek Ranadive left Mumbai for the United States with $50 in his pocket. Now, at 61, he has lived the proverbial American Dream, and is the proud owner of the California-based Sacramento Kings that plays in the NBA.

As an attempt to give something back to his country of birth, Ranadive is bringing his team to Mumbai in October for a pre-season game, against the Indiana Pacers.

He wants to showcase India. “For me, this is a dream come true. I just look at this as a showcase. Show the world that we are an amazing country, what an amazing culture we have and how there is history and also how advanced we are in terms of sending the spaceship tomorrow and the things we have done. Then there is also the art and fashion and everything else,” he said during an interaction with reporters on Sunday.

“I am so excited that every day I am thinking of ideas of things I want to do. My colleagues have to slow me down and say look we are only here for a short time. And there is only so much we can do. I want to play the game, see the Taj Mahal, see the tigers, do everything. I have to figure out how do I manage the time,” an excited Ranadive said.

“To go to India is a perfect marriage because we have Bollywood and we have cricket, we have fashion. India has a swagger. Indian culture, Indian music, Indian food just all aspects to be what is Indian is making its way into the Western part and culture, particularly in this country. So to be able to go to India and enjoy that, participate and see firsthand is really exciting for me,” he said.

This is obviously a start, what’s the bigger picture down the line? “There is some precedent on how to roll this out. NBA did this in China, now more people playing in China than there are people in the US. So, we are in that phase where we are investing in popularising the game. Here, the number of people involved and the play has doubled. Seeing an explosive growth in terms of the interest. We also know that as we continue to invest as we pick there will be players that emerge from there. It will take time. We have to be patient.

“The league just announced a partnership with FIBA where they are going to have 12 teams in Africa. That represents another model. I think there is a playbook for how you can do this, but I think we are going to be ahead of the curve. The reception we are getting is so strong. The rollout in India will be faster than it happened in other countries,” he said.

Plans are afoot to involve cricket celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar during the tour. “Sachin and Sunil are both heroes of mine. When I was growing up in Bombay, Sunil was one of my heroes. And I would love to do something where we bring basketball, Bollywood, fashion and cricket together,” he said.

Elaborating his journey, Ranadive said: “Actually grew up playing cricket in Bombay. I was a huge cricket fan. I came to this country at a young age. I had a family, did business somewhere along the line I ended up coaching my 12-year-old daughter’s basketball, having never touched basketball before. With that experience, I fell in love with the game. I saw this as the greatest show on earth. It was constant action. It was extreme athleticism, again it had beauty and swagger to it.

“A few years later my friend and neighbour, Joe Laker, was buying Golden State Warriors, he asked me if I would join him, I became the vice chairman of the GSW. And then in a short while later, there was a deal to buy the team and move to Seattle. I was approached by various people who said wouldn’t it be great to save the team and kept it in Sacramento and my initial reactions was No, I live in the bay area we are just starting to win now.

“Then I saw the passion of the fans, Sacramento has an incredible fan base. Sacramento is the capital of the state, it’s the fifth largest economy in the world. And it would be like ripping the heart out of the city. So like as an immigrant I had come with absolutely nothing in the state of California. Everything I had I owed it to the state maybe this was something that fated for me to do and I ended up buying the team.”

His daughter was overjoyed when Ranadive bought the Kings. “My kids are huge basketball fans. She was completely blown away and she had been a Warriors fan growing up. It was a dream come true for them when she was transitioning into becoming a singer, the first public performance was the national anthem at the game. Later on, she sang at the Madison Square Garden when Prime Minister Modi came. It was a dream for my family,” he said.

Ranadive also acknowledges that cricket is India’s national pastime. “But I think basketball can be strong No. 2 as you don’t need a lot of space. It is a great equaliser. It will be played in villages, by rich and poor. It will be played in Boston, in Mumbai and all the African villages. It’s going to catch on in a big way.”