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NBA: Indian businessman is the saviour for Sacramento Kings

Indian businessman Vivek Ranadive will keep the Sacramento Kings in California's capital and represents a new trend of foreign NBA owners, writes Steve Dilbeck.

Vivek Ranadive grew up in India but went to college in America and is among a new trend of foreign NBA owners. Jesse D. Garrabrant / AFP
Vivek Ranadive grew up in India but went to college in America and is among a new trend of foreign NBA owners. Jesse D. Garrabrant / AFP

The NBA quietly made a little history on Friday. The attention mostly went elsewhere when a highly tumultuous ownership period for the Sacramento Kings finally ended with their sale.

After almost moving to Anaheim in 2011 and to Seattle earlier this year, small-market Sacramento celebrated keeping of the only major professional franchise located in the California capital.

Only there was another celebration, albeit less noticed. The Kings new ownership group was led by Vivek Ranadive, a software tycoon from the Silicon Valley who was born in India.

International ownership is coming to American sports. Last year, it was Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov purchasing New Jersey Nets, and now Randadive becomes the first majority owner of an NBA team from India.

Commissioner David Stern has pushed for expanding the NBA worldwide, and what better way than with owners from around the globe?

Stern has someone who shares his vision in Ranadive, who reportedly came to the Unites States at age 17 with US$50 (Dh184) in his pocket to attend MIT and later Harvard, before establishing a pair of giant software companies.

"It's going to be exciting," Ranadive told USA Today. "We're going to build a global brand with the Kings. We're going to give the fans the product that they deserve."

Ranadive, 55, watched from over 100 miles east of Sacramento as the Maloof family tried to sell the maligned franchise.

They thought they finally had an agreement to sell the team to a group from Seattle for $406 million.

But new Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star, pledged he would not see the team leave without a fight. He sought new owners to purchase the team and keep it in Sacramento, and Ranadive came forward.

Johnson was quickly sold on Ranadive.

"He understands technology and start-ups. He's built businesses," Johnson said. "He's a visionary."

That was what they concluded when his first major company, Teknekron Software Systems, was credited with digitising Wall Street in the 1980s. He took the same software principles to his next creation, Tibco in the Silicon Valley, which now counts among its clients Sony, FedEx and the US Air Force. The company is valued at $4 billion.

"I'm going to do what I do in my business, which is surround myself with people that are way smarter than me," he said.

He has already been busy. Ranadive and his group purchased 65 per cent of the Kings for an NBA record $535m. Hours after closing the deal, he fired Kings coach Keith Smart and hired Mike Malone, a former assistant coach with the Warriors.

The NBA has given Ranadive a 2017 deadline to build a new arena in downtown Sacramento, which despite the Maloofs's difficulties in getting it done, his group is confident can be accomplished a year earlier.

Ranadive has nothing if not big plans for a team that has not been to the play-offs in seven years.

"I think basketball will be for the 21st century what soccer was for the 20th," he said. "With globalisation, the growth is going to come from places like India and China."

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