Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Danny Granger may not realize it, but the basketball seeds he helped sow a couple of years ago continue to reap benefits for the young people of Indonesia.
Representing the NBA in August of 2008, Granger participated in the first-ever NBA event in Indonesia with the then DetEksi Basketball League (DBL) by watching the DBL's Best and Biggest Competition and conducting an NBA Baskteball Clinic for the all-star players in the Second City of Indonesia, Surabaya.
The DBL was founded in 2004 by a young (27 years old at the time), smart and passionate man named Azrul Ananda, who learned about basketball as an exchange student in Ellinwood, Kansas. I became acquainted with Azrul when he supplied me with information and reports from Granger's visit two summers ago. At the time, he shared his vision for the league, which in a nutshell is to use basketball as a means to provide educational opportunities for Indonesian youth.
The DBL was gaining popularity locally in 2008 and Granger's visit set off another spark of growth. The appearance of an NBA player further legitimized the basketball program and it continues to spread throughout Indonesia today as the Developmental Basketball League (DBL). For more on all of the stories surrounding Granger's visit, you can click here, here, here, here and here.
Azrul recently brought a group of DBL All-Star players to Seattle, Washington for their first trip to the United States to play a group of AAU teams. After the games, Azrul took his own basketball tour of the U.S., catching games at Staples Center, Madison Square Garden and, or course, Conseco Fieldhouse.
I was lucky enough to meet Azrul in person while he was in town and we shared a nice conversation, as he updated me on the growth of the DBL since Granger's visit. The Houston game was perfect for Azrul since the summer after Granger's visit, Kevin Martin visited the DBL in Surabaya, throwing his support behind the league by funding a trip for the all-stars to play in Australia. David Lee also visited in 2009 and his Golden State Warriors were in New York when Azrul visited, so he was able to touch base with all of those NBA players that helped promote the DBL and create the opportunities Azrul envisioned when he founded the league.
In 2010, the DBL appears to be as solid as an old oak tree with new opportunities continuing to branch off and blossom for the young people of Indonesia.
Opportunities on the court
When Granger visited in 2008, the DBL was coming off a huge year that had over 13,000 player participating and 200,000 spectators...for essentially, high school games. The 2010 season marked even more phenomenal growth with over 24,000 participants and 500,000 spectators! We're talking Anderson's Wigwam or New Castle's Chrysler Fieldhouse rockin' back in the day.
Indonesia has a professional league and, in fact, two players that trained with Granger are considered leading candidates for Rookie of the Year this year. But the DBL draws more spectators than the pros. The boys and girls teams routinely play in front of 5,000-6,000 fans, usually separated into male and female sections as the young and old cultures of Indonesia co-exist and evolve together.
The game has spread far beyond Surabaya as well, with 2011 participation projected to take place in 22 cities and 19 provinces around Indonesia. Granger is proud of the DBL but remains humble about his impact.
"I'm glad to see the expansion of the league," Granger said. "I had a lot of fun when I was over there, so I'm glad I could help it come along a little bit."
His face lit up, which wasn't easy following a tough loss to Houston, when I mentioned the kids he trained with who are doing well in the Indonesian pro league. Also, Azrul mentioned his intention to name a future court in Granger's honor which excited the Pacers' forward even more.
"That would be awesome!"
"The people were so great to me over there," Granger continued. "Within ten years we may have our first NBA player from Indonesia. That would be cool."
Opportunities off the court
The opportunities Azrul so proudly speaks of go beyond the basketball games on the court. The league is popular and has many spectators which requires logistics handled by the young people of the DBL. I was shown professional publications used to report on and market the DBL all created by budding journalists and marketing professionals in their early 20s.
I recalled the media contact I worked through in 2008, Aziz Hasibuan, who really impressed me with his professional manner and quick response to requests, providing great press releases and other informative materials while also getting me in touch with Azrul. What I didn't know then, but learned last Friday was that Aziz was just 20 years old at the time.
Azrul also works for the Surabaya newspaper, Jawa Posand their coverage of the DBL is handled by young reporters putting their education to work. The culture in Indonesia does not promote self-expression, especially among its youth, but these young people have found the courage to do just that through the fertile combination of education and opportunity.
There are now sections of the Jawa Pos written by young people, dealing with the normal issues all young people deal with as they find their way in the world. These sections are wildly popular and have helped create a circulation boom which runs counter to circulation trends for newspapers around the world.
Moving forward, leaving a trail
The Emerson quote above is included with the DBL marketing material as the inspiration for the league. Of course, the goals for Azrul go beyond the court and while he tends to the league, he patiently observes the incremental impact his efforts are having on the culture in his home. Young, bright minds expanding their horizons and taking advantage of new opportunities to grow and continue learning.
It hasn't been a perfect ride for the DBL. At times they've grown too fast in the wrong areas to support properly or they had partners not hold up their end of the deal which required the oak tree that is the DBL to trim its branches in order to stay healthy and create new growth. Azrul is so positive, though, even the setbacks he spoke of seemed to be taken in stride and appreciated as part of the learning process.
Azrul has a calm, confidence about him which makes it easy to understand how people have followed his vision to help create this wonderful basketball story.
Oops, I did it again. This isn't just a basketball story, but instead a story that involves basketball. Basketball is simply the lure to make a bigger impact on the people of Indonesia. As we flipped through one of the DBL magazines Azrul shared with me, he pointed out a photo of fans filling the stands for a DBL game.
In that photo, you could clearly see a division in the crowd with girls in traditional Islamic dress on the left and boys on the right, which Azrul explained was the cultural norm in some areas of Indonesia. Then he added, with a sly smile, "Before long they will all sit together."
See, it's not just a basketball story.