On the Rise

Three-quarter-length portrait of Gautam Kapur standing with his arms crossed on a basketball court

Gautam Kapur on creating India Rising and his dreams for basketball engagement in India and its diaspora.

I’ve worked in the sports industry for the past six years, and in that time I’ve seen a lot: summer league, the NBA draft combine, the transition programs that help rookies adjust to NBA life. So although I’m by no means a player, I have seen the journey players take. And while the NBA has had a presence in India since 2008, in my time here I’ve encountered few other brown people, whether on-court or behind-the-scenes. 

So there are two things I know. First, brown people in America—or elsewhere in the world—want to see athletic brown role models. We want the brown Yao Ming! Second, I know that there are more than sixty active brown professional basketball players who play in countries like Singapore, Uruguay, and New Zealand. So I’m creating India Rising to try and bridge the gap between those two facts. There has never been a single platform to bring the best brown players together—the Avengers of brown basketball. India Rising is that team.

But you can’t just put together a team and go play in the NBA or the G League. So we’re starting with The Basketball Tournament (TBT), a single-elimination tournament on ESPN featuring sixty-four teams from around the world. They’re competing for a million dollars, and more than fifteen million people globally watch the games. It’s an amazing platform.

And while our goal is for India Rising to perform well in the tournament, that bracket isn’t the end of our ambitions. Entities outside the NBA that work on basketball can add value in three ways: growing basketball participation; developing young players; and spreading love of the game through pop culture. We want to help bring basketball into the mainstream in India and in the diaspora. There are already more than ten million players in India and, anecdotally, it’s the most popular sport among Indian Americans and Indo-Canadians. But it’s an underserved market. Imagine ten million people loving a sport but hardly seeing a team that looks like them! And imagine the possibilities for the team once people get behind it.

Imagine ten million people loving a sport but hardly seeing a team that looks like them! And imagine the possibilities for the team once people get behind it.

Sure, there is the Indian National Team. But it’s only for Indian passport-holders. India Rising is open to anyone who’s brown: you could be Indian-American, Indo-Canadian, from the UK, playing in Switzerland. We don’t care about passports or politics. If you identify with our mission—and you can hoop—we want you on the team. And the cultural impact of India Rising comes from that, from being able to say we’re brown and of Indian heritage but of all different nationalities. It’s a Dream Team of brown people.

For the players, it’s a chance to create a kind of brotherhood—and an opportunity to share with each other their common experience of being misperceived and stereotyped. They’ll build relationships with each other, with coaches, with scouts, with the guys on other teams.

I’ve been privileged to work in a role that blends both basketball and business operations, which has trained me for this moment. I feel that if I don’t create this platform, no one will. India Rising is a multi-year project and we can’t wait for our first game to tip off.

As told to Brian Sholis

A vertically split image featuring basketball player Inderbir Gill, who is dribbling a ball, and Kiran Shastri, who is taking a shot.
India Rising players Inderbir Gill (left) and Kiran Shastri.

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