NBA India's Yannick Colaco: Kings-Pacers Games Critical for Country

MUMBAI, India -- In a country where cricket is king, the NBA is trying to force its way into the national conversation.

The sport rapidly is becoming more popular in a country of 1.36 billion people, and one of the main reasons behind that is NBA India's vice president and managing director Yannick Colaco.

Colaco oversees the Jr. NBA program in India and the NBA Academy in Noida, a city near the Indian capital of Delhi. Now, he's in charge of putting on two preseason games in Mumbai, the entertainment and financial hub of India.

This past December, the NBA announced that the Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers would play two games at the NSCI Dome in Mumbai on Oct. 4 and 5.

"We've obviously been investing significantly over the last six or seven years in grassroots, developing a fan base, our academy, our Jr. NBA program," Colaco told NBC Sports California during an interview at the NBA India office in Mumbai on Feb. 21.

"And we kind of figured a year back that we had reached that point where we believe we needed to actually bring the physical property to the market to kind of accelerate that growth further."

While an NBA Asia official would not divulge how much money has been invested in India, the Jr. NBA program has reached more than 10 million Indian youth since it's inception in 2013. The NBA Academy in Noida currently has 24 live-in prospects.

Kings owner and Mumbai native Vivek Ranadive had been working to get games in his home country ever since he purchased the team in 2013. Soon after he became the owner of the team, he made a trip to India with new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

At the time, Silver promised Ranadive that there would be games in India. Four years later, Silver came through on his promise.

"The game is obviously a part of this multi-pronged strategy of ours, building the game of basketball and the NBA brand," Colaco said. "It's an important part, but it's one part. Since Vivek and Adam came here four or five years ago, we've been looking at saying ‘What can we do to help us grow that foundation and base of the game.' You make those choices and say ‘Keep investing.' We've been investing significant resources over the last five or six years. This is the culmination of all that."

While the two games will be played in Mumbai, Colaco acknowledged that Delhi, Kolkota and Hyderabad were also considered. Those cities will be options if India is chosen to host future games.

"We'll look at how this does and then figure out our next step on it," Colaco said. "We evaluated multiple cities, so we believe there are multiple cities in India capable of accommodating preseason games like this."

But don't expect those future games to be played during the regular season.

While the NBA scheduled two regular-season Global Games apiece in London and Mexico City this season, with the amount of travel involved, it's difficult for the NBA to send regular season games to Asia. The last time regular season games were hosted in Asia was 2003 when the Clippers and Sonics played two games in Japan.

"We think that, for India, doing these preseason games is the most optimal use, given that there's a long distance of travel," Colaco said. "And also, the teams will also get to spend substantial time in market because it's the preseason, which I don't think would be possible if you were doing regular season games."

The games themselves aren't the only reason the players are in India. Mumbai is a city rich with culture and is a place not many, if any, of the NBA players have ever experienced.

"It's a very important part, I think, of these Global Games," Colaco said. "Is that the players not only experience the culture, but contribute and be a part of it, to the extent possible."

But the NBA India officials in charge of the trip don't plan to jam as much into the schedule as possible. They are aware that the teams are preparing for the regular season, so they need time to practice and work out. But they still want the players to feel like they got to truly see what Mumbai has to offer when they head home.

"It's not about trying to get them to do 100 things and them not appreciating anything because you're so tired," Colaco said. "The important thing, as we want the fans to have a great experience, we want to make sure our players also have a great experience on their trip."

Unless both the Kings and Pacers sign several older free agents this summer, they will be sending young teams to Mumbai in October. The average age for the 10 Kings players under contract for the 2019-20 season is 23.8.

For the seven Pacers players under contract, the average age is 23.1. The trip to India will be an eye-opening experience for all involved, and Colaco hopes the players take a lot away from what they see.

"What they will take away from this trip is the amazing culture that India has, the variety, just from Mumbai itself," Colaco said. "Just this amalgamation of people from across the country who work and live in this city and how everyone works together. And I think just the culture of India from the people to the colors, I think that's something the players will be appreciative of.

"I think our players will also be appreciative of the passion for everything that is sports, the appreciation of entertainment that exists, and also the challenges that this country is not just faced with, but is spending a lot of time trying to overcome as we continue growing, developing as a country. The challenges of poverty, things around that, and it's something we help focus on as the NBA. I think our players will be appreciative of not just the challenges, but the efforts done by everyone to help this country and help address these challenges."

[RELATED: India games key to Ranadive's vision]

Colaco and NBA India have accomplished a major feat. After more than five years of investing major resources, they have managed to bring two NBA games to India.

So, what does this all mean?

"It's a really important moment not just for basketball in the country, it's actually the first time any global sports league has brought games of this level to India," Colaco said. "So I think it's a critical thing for sports in this country. And we're going to make sure that everyone from the fans, not just basketball fans, but sports fans as well as the players who travel, we're going to make sure everyone has a great experience."

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