Dewayne Dedmon found a chair for himself on the edge of the basketball court ahead of the second NBA pre-season exhibition game between Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers in Mumbai on Saturday. The seven-footer Kings center sat down in chair and began his ball handling warm-up drill. When a fan approached him for a selfie, he obliged, still sitting, still bouncing the ball.
Soon the NSCI arena at Worli was buzzing with fans. Unlike on Friday, when over 3000 schoolkids came dressed in ‘Jr NBA’ T-shirts for the first game and gave the stands a monotonous look, on Saturday, proper basketball aficionados showed up, having shelled out a considerable fortune for the tickets. And they wore replica jerseys — LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Bosh, Stephen Curry, et al.
And you could tell in the way they would cheer during play that this was a knowledgeable crowd — there was silence during dribbles, a few ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ for a regulation layup, some louder cheer when there was a slam dunk, and a thundering applause to commend a mesmerizing move.
Also in the stands were numerous Bollywood A-listers. Actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas was there along with her cousin Parineeti Chopra. So was actor-director Farhan Akhtar. Indo-Canadian comedian Russell Peters was in attendance too, as was tennis ace Leander Paes. But none — including those on the Kings and Pacers’ rosters – commanded as much cheer and respect as Larry Bird.
Chants of ‘Larry, Larry…’ rang out in the stadium when the American basketball great was shown on the big screen. So much so that the 62-year-old, a winner of three NBA titles, three MVP awards, and two Finals MVP awards, who is otherwise known for his stoic demeanour and deadpan expressions, rose and waved at the crowd. “It was definitely louder last night than today with all the adults (in the stands),” Pacers’ coach Nate McMillan observed.
On the court, the Pacers registered their second win on the trot against the Kings this pre-season, winning 130-106. Both teams though will return home to the United States with a greater knowledge of where their respective new squads stand ahead of the 2019-20 season. The regular season starts in just over a fortnight.
Come Sunday, the Kings and Pacers will be back in the United States, and all signs of the two-matches at the NSCI Stadium will be gone too: the stands, with its the specially designed basketball court and the posters. All that will remain is the memory that two teams from the world’s most recognizable sporting league had come to this part of the world and entertained for two nights.