His is an unusual presence in the busy suburban jungle of Nagpada in south-central Mumbai—a tall American with a shaven head who watches basketball with more than passing interest at the Mastan YMCA basketball courts, set amid kebab stalls, hundreds of shops and thousands of pedestrians.
As the director of basketball operations in India for the US-based National Basketball Association (NBA), Troy Justice assists the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) in basketball development, conducting camps, clinics, events, and training sessions at academies. Now based in Delhi, where he works out of the BFI office, Justice has been in India for 12 weeks; the last few of these have been spent in Mumbai for the Mahindra NBA Challenge that started in April and the All India Mastan Basketball League held from 8-15 May. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Slam dunk: Troy Justice is bringing the NBA’s expertise to India. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
What brings you to India and what are your plans here?
India is a country with incredible potential for growth in sports even as we expand the global platform with NBA. It makes sense to be in India, a passionate country with a love for sports.
We want basketball to be the second most popular sport after cricket. We want boys and girls, men and women everywhere to be playing the game. We want to provide those opportunities to play, with expertise and coaching development.
What kind of work has already started and what is needed?
With the Mahindra NBA Challenge, the focus is on the grass roots. We also want to work in schools and colleges, with coaches from all age groups. We have a partnership with the BFI to assist in helping overall growth.
Infrastructure is important for growth. There is the need to provide more basketball facilities than currently existing and improve the ones that do exist. We need to provide indoor practice courts and arenas so that the game can be played from morning to evening. My understanding is, and this is not based on any study or numbers, that there are more basketball courts than cricket grounds in India.
Apart from infrastructure, what is needed to improve match play among players?
The tournaments that take place here are good but the next step is to move to a league system. The Mahindra NBA challenge is an eight-week, ongoing league. When you play week after week, there will be growth. A five- to seven-day tournament does not provide the same potential as a league does but a league should complement the tournament system. Leagues should start in age groups, in high schools and colleges. Once the leagues are developed in those formats, then it can lead to a professional league.
Do you see enough potential here?
Athletic talent exists in India; there are people over 7ft tall, players who can jump and shoot. A lot of people have asked me if there will be a player in the NBA from India. Yes there will be, it’s just a matter of when that happens. It would be important for the continued growth of the game, but having said that, the game will continue to grow if or not that happens.
Overall, the national team has some high-quality athletes. Requirements would be related to greater infrastructure and ongoing, continued and focused coaching for these teams. I believe the more they are able to receive (the right) coaching, the quicker the national teams would continue to grow. There is a need for more of the systematic approach to development, more of what they are doing at the moment. India has what it takes to be very, very successful.