At the beginning of April, I took a trip to Mumbai (formerly “Bombay) and Bangalore, India for NBA Cares.
What a fantastic experience! My friend from childhood, Lee Johnson got to come, which made it all the more special. It’s amazing how fast a 19-hour plane ride can go when you are with a great friend.
The first thing you need to know about Mumbai is that the city is the second most populous city in the world – approximately 14 million people. I experienced that when I first got off the plane and hit a traffic jam at baggage claim – at 1 a.m. in the morning! That served to prepare me for the next 10 days. The traffic made L.A. freeways seem like a freeway in Pocatello, Idaho.
We did four clinics during the time we were there. Basically, the goal was to train youth coaches, and to arm them with coaching tips and tools to pass on to the youth they serve. Each clinic had anywhere from 25 to about 50 in attendance and lasts for a couple hours. I was very impressed by the coaches, they have great passion for the game and were eager to learn anything that might help them equip the youth. One of the clinics was for youth (in Bangalore) – that was great fun to work directly with the kids and see them embracing the game of basketball.
I was the only former NBA player on the trip, but believe me, you couldn’t tell Lee Johnson that he wasn’t an NBA player by the time our trip was finished! Lee was signing autographs; giving interviews for the paper, showing off his skills on the court. You know how Kobe got such a great reception during his trip to China for the Olympics?Well, let’s put it this way: what Kobe is to China, Lee Johnson thinks he is to India!
We also got to sightsee a bit and learn more about the culture. We visited a temple – Big Bull Temple – there are some truly beautiful temples there. Our guides, Hrishi and Rajesh, were excellent – they work with a company called Global Sports. I actually have a buddy, Jonathan who works with Global Sports in India. Hrishi and Rajesh took us to the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens – it was breathtaking. Wee saw trees that were hundreds of years old, big Redwood-type trees, big enough to make a 6’9” former NBA player feel small! They also took us to some popular shopping areas and served as our “price negotiators” – I think we got some good deals!
Ah yes, the food. Indian food is extremely tasty. When you go to a restaurant, they have every traditional spice you could imagine. I break them down into three categories: (1) mild; (2) hot; and (3) I NEED WATER NOW!! Lee and I ate at a place called Indi-Joes in Bangalore – it was a smorgasbord of cultures – really great food.
I also met some good friends that work with HP and Tata Consultants (HP and Tata were the local NBA Partners for the trip). I told my new friend at HP that my nine-year-old nephew Terrence, Jr., has an HP notebook that he loves. We actually saw their computers over the All-Star weekend in Phoenix when we visited a school that HP had donated computers to; Terrence loved the computer so much that now he has one.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip. I’m looking forward to going back and hopefully conducting some more sports camps or private clinics over there. I’m not sure if Lee will come, he is busy training to make his NBA “comeback”.