To say that Harrison Barnes knows what it is like to be a world-class basketball player is an understatement. He was part of the Golden State Warriors that won the NBA title in 2015 -- their first in 30 years and was part of the USA team that won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
That India lags behind the USA in terms of infrastructure for the sport is common knowledge, but Barnes feels that apart from that, youngsters need access to the game to fall in love with it in the first place.
"In the States, one of the biggest ways I fell in love with the game was just watching it," Barnes told IANS on the sidelines of an NBA event in Greater Noida.
The 26-year-old, who plies his trade for Sacramento Kings, is visiting the country for the first time. He said that he came with no preconceived notions except for the food, which he said surpassed expectations. "I came with an open mind. I loved Indian food back in the States so that was pretty good. It surpassed my expectations," he said.
Barnes said that while it is obvious that basketball cannot be compared to cricket in terms of popularity in the country, the passion that he saw in India for sports is encouraging. "So, I believe there is a huge opportunity here for basketball to grow and really be one of the major sports," he said.
Barnes said that the inclusive nature of the NBA is good for the sport to spread in countries like India. "There are other leagues around the world that have done the same thing (being inclusive) and the NBA just happens to be at the top," he said. "There is an opportunity for people from across the world to come to the NBA and have it in their culture. Our league is extremely diverse and so the opportunity for basketball to become a big thing is really possible."
In February 2019, Barnes was the subject of one of the most bizarre incidents in the long history of the NBA. He was playing for Dallas Mavericks against Charlotte Hornets and learnt midway through the game that he had been transferred to the Kings.
It took some time for him to adjust to his new side. While he was an asset for the Kings in the defence and rebound aspects of the game, Barnes' scoring rate went down. But he has picked up his game since and Barnes admitted that it was difficult at first to adjust to the sudden change.
"It's very different but the other side of the NBA is that it is a business," he said. "So there is always a chance that things like these can happen. That being said I'm very excited just to be able to be with a young team. It's an exciting team and we are trying to win and get better. It was crazy when that happened, but I'm happy where I am now."
Like most American basketball players Barnes does not shy away from raising his voice on social issues or undertaking activities for the community when he is not playing. He said he sees the platform he has been given as an elite basketball player as a pretty big deal and intends to use it more in this fashion.
"It's huge, to be able to speak up for communities that you live in or those that you came from or those that you feel doesn't have a voice," he said. "(NBA Commissioner) Adam Silver and the league have been pretty supportive in players speaking out about issues. They haven't stopped us from doing that instead they have encouraged that.
"I think it's important for players to really speak and be passionate about the things that they feel comfortable about. Not every player wants to do that but for those that do, they have unlimited resources at their hand."
So what advice does Barnes have for aspiring basketball players in India? "Biggest advice I would give to youngsters would be just to put in as much time as you can," he said. "This is a sport that takes time and repetition to get better and it's an unbelievable game."
(Rohit Mundayur can be contacted at email@example.com)
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)