After Dwight Howard visited India four years ago to promote NBA, he went home to the United States with a cricket bat besides pleasant memories of having seen tigers and experiencing the Indian culture, and of course, serving the purpose of his visit – promoting the basketball league. Today, the 28-year-old eight-time NBA All-Star still has the willow but has not put it to proper use. The 6-foot-11-inch centre and power forward of Houston Rockets is eager to visit India again and spread NBA and encourage youngsters to take up basketball.
Howard, formerly of Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, is an international ambassador of NBA and does not mind going across seas to add to the league's popularity across the world.
Howard, who made his eighth consecutive NBA All Star appearance in New Orleans recently, fondly remembered his visit to India.
"I had an amazing time in India," he told dna. "I want to go back. It was a lot of fun. The fans were great. I even learnt to play cricket a bit. I still have my cricket bat. I had a great time learning about the people there and the food was amazing. Whenever I get an opportunity, I love to come back."
Asked if he ever tried his hand at cricket, 'Rocketman', said: "I did not get that opportunity but I am looking forward to using the bat. I did use it to play with tennis ball, though. I want to make sure it stays the same. So, I still have my cricket bat. Am actually looking forward to going back (to India)."
About his visit to Bangalore in August 2010, the member of the 2008 Beijing Olympic gold-medal winning US basketball team said: "I did reflect upon the progress of basketball in India. I remember my time with the (Indian) national team and teaching it. The game has grown so much in India and around the world. I was very happy that I was there and like I said I want to go back and do the same things, teach the kids about basketball."
Howard is not the only one who is eager to visit India, which is looked at as a bright market by NBA to reach out the youngsters. It is for this reason that NBA set up an office in India and send NBA stars, past and present, on a regular basis.
Kobe Bryant, who has played all his life for LA Lakers (1996 to present) and has been part of the team's five championship titles, said he wanted to give back to his fans whatever he learnt from the game and India was on the top of his list of countries to visit and promote the game.
"I'd love to come out to India to promote the sport as much as I can," Bryant, who was injured and hence could not take part in the NBA All Star game, said. "Like I have said earlier, basketball has been my passion and I have learnt so much about life through the game that I am going to share that with as many people as possible."
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant said that he'd like to visit many countries and promote the game. "No doubt the game is growing globally year by year. I would like to visit a lot of different countries and just be an ambassador of the game and I am sure they would love an NBA player come over. So, we will see," said the 25-year-old.
One thing is for sure, India is a favourite destination for these NBA superstars, each one a legend back home in the United States.