NEW ORLEANS -- Kevin Durant is booked for a trip to India.
As a prologue to his eighth consecutive NBA All-Star Game appearance, the 28-year-old Golden State Warriors superstar announced on Thursday that he plans to visit the subcontinent in July.
He will be the first player to visit NBA Academy India, an elite training facility slated to open in May in the National Capital Region.
"I'm super excited about helping grow the game of basketball to a new level," said Durant, who will make his sixth All-Star start on Sunday (Monday morning IST). "I'm looking forward to it and can't wait to help. ... Seeing the Taj Mahal is something that has been on my bucket list for a while."
Happy to announce I'll be visiting the first NBA Academy in India this summer. Huge thanks to @NBAIndia. Excited to meet the young players.— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) February 17, 2017
A number of notable NBA players have made promotional visits to India in recent years, including Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett. Last year, Dallas Mavericks guard Seth Curry and Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez conducted youth clinics in Noida and Mumbai. A visit by Durant, however, raises the stakes for basketball in India. He is a star among stars -- someone who looms as large as cricket luminary Virat Kohli on the spectrum of global sports icons.
Durant is aware of the impact former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant has made in China by visiting the country annually on promotional tours and embracing the culture, and the Warriors star said he would like to have a similar influence in India.
"I think what people really appreciated about Kobe was that he really wanted to learn about different aspects of life and how people approach different things," Durant said. "I feel the same way. I want to feel the culture when I go to India. I want to see what it's about. I want to get to touch the people and check the pulse -- not only the game, but life in general."
The NBA's presence in India is steadily growing. Up to 14 games are televised across the nation each week, and the league reached 75 million unique Indian users last month on social media. Just this week, 24 prospects from across the nation were selected to be the inaugural class of NBA Academy India.
Potentially, the next big development for the NBA in India might be to hold pre-season games there. The NBA sends a pair of teams to China annually to play two exhibition games. While there is no timetable in place to make such a decision in regard to India, NBA India managing director Yannick Colaco said it's a legitimate proposition.
"We are absolutely looking at it," Colaco said. "We think that getting an NBA team into the market would be great, and it's something we're evaluating very closely."
Meantime, the NBA is playing a role in assembling a basketball infrastructure that will allow promising young players to be discovered more easily and create a path to rise through the national ranks. To that point, more than 3.5 million boys and girls and 3,500 physical education teachers across the country have participated in the Jr. NBA program over the past four years.
Although the framework is still in its fledgling stages, Durant doesn't want aspiring players to be discouraged. He said he would offer the same advice to young athletes in India as he would to those in the United States -- that they don't have to be the biggest, fastest or strongest player in order to succeed on the court at the highest levels.
"Keep dreaming," Durant said. "It can happen if you believe it can happen and you work at it. It might sound cliché, but it really is that simple."