January 24, 2015

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive to join Barack Obama in trip to India

On Sunday, US President Barack Obama will land in India for a historic three-day trip, becoming the first American president to attend India's Republic Day parade in New Delhi. In the process, he will also become the first sitting US president to make two official visits to India. Aside from being the special guest on the parade on January 26, Obama is set to hold meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, help to warm diplomatic ties between two of the world's largest democracies, take part in a bilateral radio show, and even visit the Taj Mahal in Agra.

But that's not all: Obama is set to be joined by several CEOs from top US companies to India, including Vivek Ranadive, the India-born CEO of TIBCO and the majority owner of the Sacramento Kings.

This is going to be Ranadive's second trip since becoming a majority NBA owner: Ranadive came to India in early December with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and former NBA star Vlade Divac to attend events of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme and charity programmes in his former hometown, Mumbai. Ranadive has been hoping to gain another audience with Modi since the two met during Modi's trip to New York in September; in an interview with me before his last visit to India, Ranadive mentioned that he was interested in discussing future projects - such as readying an NBA ready arena for India - with the Indian prime minister.

According to Forbes, the delegation of business chiefs visiting India with President Obama include Ajay Banga of Mastercard, Dave Cote of Honeywell, Bob Iger of Disney, Indra Nooyi of Pepsi, Arne Sorenson of Marriott, and Ranadive.

Via Forbes.com

But the presence of the corporate captains the White House hustled to recruit for the mission indicates the economic stakes. Warming diplomatic ties between the world’s oldest democracy and its largest are encouraging American companies seeking expanded access to India’s $2 trillion economy.
Modi is pushing to make his country friendlier to foreign investment with new incentives and regulatory reforms. He unveiled a “Make in India” campaign in September aimed at promoting the country as a manufacturing haven. And the US and India are chasing a five-fold increase in bilateral trade, to $500 billion, by 2020.

It's obviously encouraging to see improving relations between India and the USA, and having top US businessmen added to the trip will add to India's growing prestige as a business and investment destination. Ranadive may be visiting in official capacity as TIBCO CEO, but of course, he'll probably use this opportunity to pitch the growth of a future relationship between India, the NBA, and the Sacramento Kings.

January 22, 2015

WNBA and international superstar Tamika Catchings to visit India for Jr. NBA city championships

One of the most successful WNBA and international basketball players of the past decade, American Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever is set to visit India next week to host the inauguration of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA city championships in Chennai and Mumbai. Catchings will tip off Chennai's Jr. NBA Championship on February 1st at the Santhome School which will see youth from schools all across the city participate. She will also be at the Dominic Savio School in Andheri East in Mumbai on January 28th.

“It is an honor to travel to India on behalf of the Reliance Foundation and the NBA to help teach basketball to young boys and girls in India,” said Catchings. “It is exciting that the sport I love is taking off in India and I am looking forward to working with these kids.”

Catchings (35) has enjoyed a highly successful basketball career. Drafted third by the Fever in 2001, the forward has spent her entire WNBA career with Indiana, leading the team to their first championship in 2012. Catchings is a five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, nine-time All Star, the 2012 Finals MVP, and won Rookie of the Year in 2002. At the international stage, she has played an important role for USA, winning the women's basketball Olympics gold medal the last three times (2004, 2008, and 2012) and the women's world championship gold medal twice. Catchings has also played for clubs in Russia, Poland, and Turkey.

Catchings will be the third big name WNBA player to visit India over the last four years, following 2x champion Katie Smith in 2011 and 3x champion Swin Cash in 2013.

The Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA city Championship marks the culmination of three competitions that have been taking place across the city. There will be a finals of the 5x5 team competition featuring the top eight boys and girls teams from across the city; a 3x3 team competition featuring over 150 teams; and the finals of the Hot Shot individual shooting competition, which will see one boy and girl crowned as the best shooters in the city.

January 21, 2015

Poonam Mahajan becomes the first woman president of Maharashtra State Basketball Association

Poonam Mahajan - a Member of Parliament from Mumbai North Central and a politician of the BJP - was voted in unanimously as the new president of the Maharashtra State Basketball Association (MSBA) during the Annual General Meeting of the association on Sunday, January 18th. Mahajan becomes the first women to be MSBA president in the association's 65-year history, reported The Times of India.

Mahajan succeeds outgoing MSBA president Jaidev Shroff to the post, who now becomes the MSBA's chairman. The previous chairman of the MSBA was M Venkatesh.

Mahajan told The Times of India that her plans for the MSBA include providing support for the players and improving basketball infrastructure in the state.

"It is quite amazing to see basketball being played across all villages in Maharashtra. Basketball has been my favourite sport since childhood and I am very fortunate to lead MSBA," she said.

"The challenges are enormous but with my experience, I will be able to meet them. It will be my endeavour to take the game to even greater heights with the help of all my colleagues in MSBA."

Maharashtra has some of the richest basketball culture in all of the country, featuring well-organized district, state, college, and school tournaments as well as playing host to some of India's best national invitational tournaments, like the Savio Cup and the Ramu Memorial Basketball Tournament. Kudos to Mahajan for breaking a gender barrier in the MSBA fraternity, but how much sense does it make to hand someone with no basketball playing/operational experience (except for it being her "favourite" sport) to lead the basketball association of the entire state?

Basketball in Maharashtra has not been without its turmoil over the past year. In November, the MSBA faced protest from several district associations from the state in the form of a letter requesting for a removal of MSBA officials for causing irregularities, miscommunication, and the misuse of power. That letter was sent to the media by Shatrughan Gokhale, the secretary of the Nagpur District Basketball Association. After the most recent AGM on Sunday, Gokhale was named one of the five vice-presidents of the MSBA.

January 20, 2015

Madras University are crowned India university champions at 2015 UBA national men's tournament

When 16 of the best university basketball teams in India gather together on the same court, fireworks are guaranteed. And for the past week in Chennai, fireworks were delivered. The UBA All India Inter University Basketball Tournament for Men was held at the Sathyabama University in Chennai from January 12-19 as the conclusion of the world's largest combined basketball tournament . The national final was an 'All Chennai' affair, as hosts Sathyabama faced off against local rivals Madras University on Monday. Madras University that emerged as national university champions with an inspired 81-64 victory.

The Universal Basketball Alliance of India (UBA) has acquired the broadcast, merchandise and sponsorship rights to the existing, and self-governing Indian University Basketball Program of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU). The UBA worked on securing television broadcasting arrangements, corporate sponsorships for tournament play, and creating merchandising opportunities at the tournament. They have focused their attention on the AIU and popularizing its All India Inter Zonal Tournament in the same manner as the Collegiate Basketball in the USA. In their first year as organizers of the tournament, the UBA invited star former Indian athlete Anju Bobby George, former NBA All Star Cedric Ceballos and Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan as special guests.

Four teams that finished tops in each of the North, South, East, and West Zones in India were invited to this tournament to compete for the national crown.

The battle of the Chennai city rivals at the final on Monday was a rematch of the South Zone championships finale, where Sathyabama had defeated Madras University just ten days earlier. Satyhabama seemed on course for another victory after they got off to a blistering 13-2 start to begin the game. But Madras University turned the corner after a quick timeout to get on top and hold on to a slim four-point lead at halftime. Behind the dominant post play of Jeevanatham P. (26 points, 10 rebounds) and forward N Nagaraj (20 points, 14 rebounds), Madras took complete control of the second half and raced to a 81-64 win. Anto Bethle added 19 for the winning side. Satyhabama were led by Arun Prashanth (19) and Rakesh (17 points, 16 rebounds) in the loss.

Earlier in the day, the bronze medal game was an offensive explosive between Jain University (Bengaluru) and Bharati Vidyapeeth University (Pune). Kapil Gaikwad, representing the Pune side, scored 48 points to lead all high scorers as Bharati had an 16-point lead earlier in the game. But Jain's 'Big Three' of Kaif Zia (36 points 14 rebounds), Yashas R. (31), and Vinoth (25) sparked an inspired second-half comeback to help their team win 123-115 in the entertaining clash. Bharati's Akshay Bhosle also scored 36 for his team in the loss.

Bollywood actor and basketball enthusiast Abhishek Bachchan was the chief guest at the final and handed over the trophies and medals to the teams. On the occasion, he said “Basketball is growing rapidly and is going to be the biggest sport in this country. The Universal Basketball Alliance will continue to have my full support in this great initiative to promote basketball in India.”

Former NBA All Star and slam dunk champion Cedric Ceballos was also a guest at the opening of the tournament along with star Indian athlete Anju Bobby George. Ceballos, who played 11 years in the NBA with memorable stints at the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers, was also a judge at the UBA national championship's dunk contest.

This Inter-Zonal All-India University Annual Tournament is the most comprehensive on the planet, as it encompasses nearly 10,000 colleges. “It is an honour to be here,” said Ceballos at the opening ceremopny. “This is a challenge for passion, this is a challenge for teamwork, and it is also an opportunity for dreams to come true.”

January 19, 2015

ONGC (Men) and Chhattisgarh (Women) win 10th Savio Cup in Mumbai

Continuing the momentum gained from winning India's biggest domestic basketball tournament - the Senior Nationals in Rajasthan - players for Chhattisgarh (Women) and ONGC (Men ) rose above their opponents to be crowned champions at the 10th Savio Cup invitational basketball tournament in Mumbai. One of the top club/state basketball championships in India, this year's Savio Cup was once again held at the Don Boscho school in Matunga from January 11-18. The Women's and Men's finals were held in front of an eager, hoops-loving crowd on Sunday, January 18th.

ONGC - the Men's club side featuring several of the same players who won the Senior National Championship in Bhilwara (Rajasthan) a few weeks ago - returned to the Savio Cup as the reigning champs with hopes to lift the title again. In the tournament's finale, ONGC faced their familiar rivals IOB (Chennai), whom they had defeated in the final last year as well as trumped over earlier in this year's tournament. With tournament MVP Vishesh Bhriguvanshi leading the way, ONGC once again got the better of their foes. ONGC started with a 19-5 run in the first quarter and held on to their advantage till the end for a 63-53 victory.

The women's final brought out the top stars in the country in a clash of 2014 Savio Cup winners Southern Railway and the winners of the last two Senior National Championships, Chhattisgarh. Railway started the game on top, racing up to a 33-29 lead. But Chhattisgarh bounced back with a strong performance in the third quarter to go up by five before the start of the final period. The gold remained in touching distance for both squads, but it was eventually Chhattisgarh who provided another clutch performance to stamp their mark over Indian Women's hoops with a title-clinching, 71-63 victory.

Sponsored by United Phosphorous and Tridhaatu Realty Infrastructure, this year's Savio Cup featured seven Men's teams and four Women's teams.

On several days at the tournament, Arts-based therapy practioneer Gayatree Joshi held relaxation therapy sessions for the participating players.

January 17, 2015

15 for 15: New Year’s resolutions for Indian Basketball in 2015

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on January 7, 2015. Click here to read the original post. 
Teams gather for the 65th Senior National Basketball
Championship 2014-15 in Bhilwara, Rajasthan.
By tradition, India’s senior national basketball championship – or the ‘Senior Nationals’ – are held in the transition period between one calendar year and another. Although there have been exceptions on the schedule every now and then, for most of India’s finest hoop players, the New Year’s celebrations have been held in preparation or during intense basketball competition.
This seems fitting: if you’re Indian and you worship the great gospel of basketball, then the Senior Nationals are clearly the most important domestic event on your annual calendar. For India’s top basketball players, coaches, referees, managers, and fans, the start of every New Year is a chance to get together and reflect on what matters to them the most.
The turning of the calendar from the old to the new is also a time for resolutions; for us to make promises to ourselves, set goals, and use the opportunity of a fresh slate to take a fresh approach towards betterment. With the 65th Senior National Basketball Championship (in Bhilwara, Rajasthan) concluding earlier this week, it’s a good time for the Indian basketball fraternity to make some resolutions, too.

What should be the milestones for our top players, teams, and stakeholders of the game? Here are 15 New Year’s resolutions for Indian basketball in 2015:
1. Parents support at basketball events. The irony for many young players with basketball aspirations in India is that the biggest roadblock in the realization of their dreams isn’t always talent or opportunity: its family. Traditionally, Indian parents have been hesitant to let their children chase a career in sports (or creative arts). In recent years, however, the trends have been improving, and more parents are showing support for kids with ‘alternative’ career prospects. The support has to begin at a young age, and I hope that more Indian parents appear in the audience at basketball events organized by the BFI/IMG Reliance (like the Indian School/College Basketball Leagues) and the NBA (like the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme) to give the youngsters the encouragement they need. It’s these kids who will eventually become the future basketball stars of India.

2. India’s best players get offers to play professionally abroad. The only Indian players to play for professional clubs abroad have been Geethu Anna Jose and Anitha Paul Durai. But there is a lot more potential in India, and it’s only a matter of the right kind of exposure to provide opportunities to our young and rising stars. Players like Amrit Pal Singh or Amjyot Singh are top talents and could definitely benefit other professional leagues in Southeast Asia, Australia, the Middle East, or even Europe.

3. More Geethu Anna Jose, please! She’s now a proud winner of the Arjuna Award and probably the greatest basketball player India has produced for the last few decades. But Jose has taken a semi-hiatus from basketball. Even though she may not be the dominant force she was until a few years ago, I believe that the 29-year-old still has a lot to contribute to Indian basketball and can carry our national team and Railways to greater heights.

4. Satnam Singh Bhamara plays NCAA basketball. Bhamara exploded on to the scene as a talented 7-footed teenager, completing an incredible journey that started in a tiny Punjabi village and took him to the IMG Basketball Academy in Florida. Bhamara is reaching the end of his tenure at IMG, and the possibility of NCAA basketball might beckon in the future. If he makes it to Division 1, he could be the first Indian national to do so.

5. NBA Jam and Reliance Foundation expand to more cities. It was a marquee year for NBA India, as both the NBA Jam and the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme expanded to more Indian cities, reaching more young players than ever before. NBA India’s Senior Director Basketball Operations Carlos Barroca told me that the NBA has big plans for future expansion: hopefully, they can take their coaches to train Indian coaches and players in more cities than ever.

6. India’s Men’s NT repeat FIBA Asia Cup wonders at Wuhan again, at the FIBA Asia Championship. India performed a Wonder at Wuhan in July, defeating Asia’s top side China for the first time, and did so on their home soil. In September 2015, Asia’s best teams will head to Wuhan again for a bigger tournament: the 28th FIBA Asia Championship (ABC). India’s performances at the FIBA Asia Cup were great, but a repeat of that performance at the ABC will raise pride for Indian basketball more than ever before back home and give another grave warning to India’s other continental rivals.

7. India’s Women shock the ‘Big Four’ at FIBA Asia Championship for Women. FIBA Asia Women tournaments are a ‘quad-poly’ between four top teams: China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and Korea. These four teams, in some order, always finish in the top four at the Women’s FIBA ABC events. In 2013, India won a ‘Level 1’ FIBA ABC game for the first time (against Kazakhstan) and finished fifth, their highest ever rank in the tournament. This year, I hope we dare to dream bigger and manage to defeat one of the top four, thus getting a chance to enter the semi-final stage for the first time in history.

8. New male/female stars rise at the U16 FIBA Asia Championships. 2015 is also the calendar year for the next U16 FIBA Asia Championships for both boys and girls. This tournament will be the first major international championship for India’s finest youth players, and it will be the first chance to learn of new names that will one day become mainstays at our senior level. If India is going to find the big breakthrough superstar that makes the NBA or WNBA level one day, we could get the first glance of that star at one of these tournaments.

9. The NBA sends a superstar to visit India this summer. As India grows as a market for the NBA, visits from NBA or WNBA’s current or former players have become a common occurrence in recent years. The NBA usually sends retired legends during the season and uses the offseason as an opportunity to send a rising talent (like Isaiah Thomas in 2014) or an All Star (like Chris Bosh in 2013). Here’s hoping that the summer of 2015 brings a super-duper star (of the Durant-LeBron-Kobe calibre) to the country.

10. Indian basketball games make it to national/cable TV more often. DD Sports – when they have nothing better to show – will dabble with broadcasting Indian domestic tournaments or occasional international games. But in 2013, when Neo Prime broadcast the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, it was the first time that an Indian basketball game – domestic or international – was shown on cable TV in India. Ten Sports/Action broadcast the 2014 Asian Games basketball tournament, too. The move to cable brings more professionalism and better production value to the games, and thus are more eye-catching to both casual and serious fans. Hopefully, the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships (for both men and women) are picked up by cable channels so that a wider audience will be able to catch India’s top players in action. It’ll be a bonus if the domestic national tournaments make the jump to cable, too.

11. Local fans flock to watch national tournaments around the country. No matter how much the organization off the floor and the talent on the floor improve at national basketball tournaments in India, one thing that has stayed unfortunately constant has been the general apathy of local fans. At most national tournaments, the fans in the stands (until the final stages, at least) comprise usually of players from other teams at the event. At the Senior Nationals in Bhilwara, there were sizeable crowds for the outdoor court matches and during the semifinals and finals. Hopefully, the momentum can carry on to the other nationals for the rest of the year, too.

12. Basketball associations in various states sort out their troubles. 2014 was a year when basketball associations in various Indian states – like Maharashtra, Goa, andJammu and Kashmir – struggled with internal issues, which in turn affected the growth and potential of the rising talents in those states. Hopefully these states – and others particularly in the North-East of India who haven’t earned BFI affiliation – can smoothen their internal differences and find a way to showcase their best at the national tournaments in 2015.

13. Improve the infrastructure, bring FIBA and NBA over. India has a few decent basketball arenas and has been a host to a FIBA Asia Women’s tournament in the past, but we still have a long way to go to match the stadiums in some of the other Asian countries. I hope that various cities around the country shift their attention on helping the growth of sport and invest on building bigger and better arenas. Out in Sacramento, Vivek Ranadive, the Indian-born owner of the Kings, has long-professed his desire to bring his team to India for an exhibition game, but NBA-level infrastructure has been the major speed-bump in his plans. With better infrastructure, it is more likely for FIBA to choose India for a major tournament again and for the NBA to hold India’s first-ever exhibition game soon.

14. More international exposure games for National teams. A common complaint by India’s national team coaches Scott Flemming and Francisco Garcia in recent years has been that our squads are being sent to Asia’s top tournaments untested and completely unprepared. Unlike other countries, India keeps missing the opportunity to take part in ‘friendly’ games or smaller tournaments before the big FIBA Asia Championships. These games give a chance to the coaches to figure out their systems, test their lineups, and help improve team chemistry. Hopefully, before the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships, the BFI are able to secure international practice games for both men and women to help them raise their experience and comfort-level before the bigger challenges ahead.

15. Launch an Indian professional basketball league. I’ve argued in great detail before about how a professional basketball league could revolutionize hoops in India. The trickle-down effect of the league will benefit our players, coaches, referees, and fans, and would eventually help India’s national team performances. Since their relationship IMG Reliance began, the Basketball Federation of India have been discussing and doing the groundwork for the launch of this league for several years, but so far, none of the theoretical thoughts have produced practical results. IMG were instrumental in launching football’s ISL’s in 2014, and hopefully the success of that league will help create a blueprint for an Indian basketball league to finally be launched in 2015.

January 16, 2015

Hey now – you all are All Stars!

Becoming an All Star is an important milestone in the career of an NBA star, and NBA greats are judged by – among other things – the number of times they earned that ‘All Star’ moniker. The results of the fan ballot for this year’s starters will be announced on January 22 and the full roster with the fan’s votes will be out on January 29. But before that happens, here is my list of who deserves to make the NBA All Star teams this season.

Click here to read the full feature on SportsKeeda.