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‘The potential is unreal’: How Chris Paul is betting on cricket’s global appeal

The Suns All-Star has become a minority owner of the Indian Premier League’s Rajasthan Royals, and is learning about the game along the way

PHOENIX – While NBA All-Stars often talk about becoming a part of team ownership after they retire, several are investing in other professional sports while still active.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James is a minority owner of Liverpool of the English Premier League, and the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant is a minority owner of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union and the National Women’s Soccer League’s NJ/NY Gotham FC.

Earlier this week, the Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul became the latest to join this group when he became a minority owner of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket franchise Rajasthan Royals.

“We as players want to be involved in different entities,” Paul told Andscape on Wednesday following the Suns’ shootaround before Game 2 of their second-round series with the Dallas Mavericks. “We played for so long that we know what it takes to build a franchise and what that looks like as far as entertainment. I don’t think it’s right or fair that guys can’t be a part of that until they’re done playing.”

Also joining the Royals’ ownership group through Emerging Media Ventures were former Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald and Kelvin Beachum, an offensive tackle for the Cardinals. Fitzgerald became a minority owner of the Suns in 2020.

“India has a passionate sports culture and I’m excited to invest in one of the most sought-after teams in the country,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.

The Royals won the inaugural edition of the Twenty20 tournament in 2008. They were also one of the eight original teams in the inaugural season of the IPL. The IPL has grown to be the most popular franchise-format league for Twenty20, the shortest form of cricket, and has spawned many similar tournaments. The Twenty20 league has also attracted Bollywood actors as franchise owners.

“With my team and my brother, we’re always looking into things and studying the market,” Paul said. “The game is growing unbelievably if you’re following what is going on with cricket in sports. That is something I wanted to get into.”

The Rajasthan Royals were part of the original eight teams for the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League in 2008.

Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

“We played for so long that we know what it takes to build a franchise and what that looks like as far as entertainment. I don’t think it’s right or fair that guys can’t be a part of that until they’re done playing.”

The IPL grew to a 10-team league this season with expansion teams Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants paying a combined $1.7 billion to join. With 1.4 billion people, India is the second-most populous country in the world behind China, according to World Population Review. Despite declines in viewership compared with the end of the previous season, the first week of IPL matches last month still had an overall reach of 229.06 million viewers, according to India’s The Economic Times.

“The potential is unreal, especially in India,” Paul said. “Honestly, as far as the game of basketball, it’s trying to grow in India. But cricket rules. It’s been an education process for me, too. It’s something I’m excited about.”

Paul said he follows the Royals, based in Jaipur, Rajasthan, in Northern India, on social media. The 12-time NBA All-Star, however, would like to visit the Royals and India this offseason if time permits. Paul also is involved in several multimedia projects, has been attending Winston-Salem State University and owns a stake in a minor league baseball team, the Winston-Salem Dash.

“I’m going to have as much involvement as possible,” Paul said. “I still got my day job [with the Suns], which I’m always going to be fully engaged in. There are a lot of other things I got going on. But I’m always going to make the main thing the main thing.

“Hopefully, we [the Suns] will play for a long time. My family lives in LA. So, I don’t know what my summer looks like right now. But going to India is something I look forward to doing.”

Paul, who turns 37 on Friday, is certainly doing quite well in his day job. He is averaging 23.5 points in two postseason games against the Mavericks heading into Friday’s Game 3 in Dallas. The point guard is shooting 74.4% from the field over his last three games, which is the third-highest mark in the shot clock era, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Paul is averaging 10.3 points on 64% shooting in the fourth quarter.

“It’s super impressive, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Suns teammate Devin Booker, 25, said. “I’ve been watching him since I was 7, 8, 2 years old. But more than what he is doing on the court, I’m watching how he is carrying himself, I’m being a sponge to that. Seeing how he takes care of himself. How he takes care of his body. His diet. His strength and conditioning. He can tell you better than I can, but he is getting better by the day.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.