April 29, 2010

A Clockwork Blue, White, and Orange

The date was January 8, 2010, when in foolish optimism, I thought that it would be a good idea to talk about how much my New York Knicks had been improving. I had woken up that morning to watch the then 9th place Knicks take on the then 8th place Bobcats. Knicks won the game 97-93, and thus closed the distance between the two teams, inching closer to a playoff spot. I named the post I wrote that morning Knix Jinx because I believed that either the Knicks were going to continue playing positively and up to their potential to make the playoffs, or I would jinx them and watch them settle back into their decade-long seat of poor performances and go fishing in early April.

I had written:
If you believe in jinxes, and the Knicks crash and burn and fail to make the playoffs, and Gallo breaks both his legs and David Lee snubs the team demanding a trade and Nate Robinson starts to worship Stephon Marbury, and our starting lineup next season features Larry Hughes instead of LeBron James, then this is the article to blame.
Until then, I'm gonna stay hopeful.

And guess what? I did end up jinxing my favourite team. Soon after those early glimmers of hope, the Knicks became the Knicks again. The team's record was 15-20 on January 8th, and they finished 29-53, only managing to win 14 of the next 47 games of the season. A clockwork blue, white, and orange, like most years in this miserable decade, the Knicks failed to make the playoffs and ended the season a forgotten team. Hell, we don't even have any first round draft picks come June - thanks a lot, Utah.

The positives: David Lee became an All Star. Gallinari managed to grow himself a pair. Toney Douglas and Bill Walker realised that they weren't awful. Earl Barron turned out to be a surprise. And Wilson Chandler kept up his good work.

The negatives: The Knicks still don't know how to play defense. Defense, as you may know, apparently wins championships. And it is apparently 50% of everything on a basketball court (the other 50% in this pie is something called 'offence', that Coach D'Antoni may be familiar with). The T-Mac experiment gave mixed, if uninspiring, results. Oh, and the Knicks still have Eddy fatass Curry.

So Nate Robinson got traded for Eddie House, and I would say now that despite Nate's inconsistencies, that was probably a dumb move.

We now enter the most important part of the Knick season... the Great Summer of 2010, where everyone from LeBron James to Dwyane Wade to Chris Bosh to Lionel Messi to Sachin Tendulkar to Genghis Khan will apparently become free agents. Okay, so maybe not ALL of those guys, but it is the most impressive list of free agents ever. Here are the top 10, in the opinion of someone over at Scoresreport.com:

LeBron James
Dwyane Wade
Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh
Amar'''e Stoudemire
Joe Johnson
Dirk Nowitzki
Carlos Boozer
Manu Ginobili
David Lee

Look at the last name on the list. David Lee. The Knicks seem to have enough money now to sign two big name guys. What do we do with Lee though, who has been the heart and soul of the team for so many years, giving his all and improving his own play? The worst-case scenario would be that we end up without any of the top three or four big name guys and Lee walks away, too. The best-case would be that the top players in the list suddenly end their thirst for money and decide to accept peanuts to play for the same team. The chances that a) this would ever happen or b) this would ever happen for New York, are ranging somewhere between minimal to none.

Come transfer window time, the league is going to see a techtonic shift, especially considering the news that the agents for the top three guys now work together. Let's hope that 2010-11 is a much better season for the Knickerbockers. Until then, I'll be drying my eyes with my Stephon Marbury jersey.

April 28, 2010

SABAL pre-season tournament held in Bangalore

Continuing to work with youngsters at the grassroots level, Subhash Mahajan of the Sumpoorna grassroots basketball movement organized a pre-season tournament of the Sumpoorna Annual Basketball League (SABAL) at Vidyaranyapura in Bangalore from April 21-24. 53 children, all below the age of 15, participated in the five day summer event.

Mahajan said that "The idea of this type of tournament for the children was to promote the game with more enjoyment and compassion and less pressure on the kids." For the first four days, the children participated in casual games and training, so that all of them had a chance to participate. A knockout tournament of the eight teams was held on the 25th.

The Tumkur edition of the SABAL preseason tournament will be a bigger affair, set to take place from May 19-21 at the Tumkur village near Bangalore. Mahajan expects the participation of up to a 100 kids.
"The full SABAL league begins in July, after the schools re-open," added Mahajan.

The hard work of Sumpoorna to promote basketball in Bangalore, Tumkur, and nearby villages have shown fruitful result as the game has grown astronomically amongst the youth in that region. Mahajan is continually in search of moral support and visits from Indian professional players and basketball fans to pay a visit to his camps and watch the game taught and played at the grassroots level.

Recently, three respected American basketball coaches JD Walsh, Craig Esherick, and Dr. Bob Baker paid a visit to a Sumpoorna camp in Bangalore to interact with the village children and talk hoops!

April 26, 2010

Which is India's "Basketball City"

The time has come for you to decide: Hoopistani is ready to take nominations to decide what city in Hindustan should be crowned The Capital of Hoopistan! Which is India's Basketball City?
Cities should be nominated on the basis of the amount of talent produced, major tournaments held, those that play host to the most famous/succesful teams, those with the most illustrious history in basketball, or those with the most number of diehard hoop fans.
Write in your comments on the Hoopistani blog, or send your nominations via facebook, twitter - @hoopistani, or e-mail. Write about the city you feel should be nominated and back up your nomination with your strongest argument!
Is it Mumbai, which seems to be hosting the dearth of basketball tournaments nowadays, from the RMBT, to the Mahindra-NBA Challenge, or the Andheri-YMCA Tournament, or the Mastan League next month?
Or it could be Bangalore, which is a future location for the Mahindra-NBA Challenge, has a host of hoop fans, and nearby Tumkur is the home to the Sumpoorna Basketball movement, and the place where countless Indian national camps are held, including the national training camp recently held by JD Walsh, Craig Esherick, and Bob Baker.

Is it Chennai, the host of the 2009 FIBA Asia Women's Championship, as well as home to great national players, and a city with a long history of basketball fans and memorable training camps? The Tamil Nadu basketball Association also happens to be one of the most organised associations in the country.
What about cities in Punjab, like Ludhiana or Kapurthala? The Basketball Association of Punjab is one of the most impressive and succesful ones in the country, and of course, the state has a historical tryst with hoops. Ludhiana has hosted countless national tournaments, and Punjabi basketball players such as TJ Sahi and Manny Sahota have made waves around the world. Kapurthala is the legendary town which is believed to be the birthplace of basketball in India, and it featured many great players that represented the country over the past century.
And of course, I'm not forgetting India's capital... New Delhi has long been the place where several succesful school, college, and club teams have performed, where prodigious talents have been honed to reach their full potential. And of course, the city features one of the most basketball/NBA hardcore fan followings in the whole country. Could the capital of Hindustan also be the capital of Hoopistan?
There is also Baroda in Gujarat, which has a strong fan following of the game and has produced players like Dishant Shah, Himmatnagar’s Rikin Pethani, and others who have made waves around the country.

There are cities like Pune and Hyderabad, where there is no shortage of players and fans addicted to the game of basketball.
And honourable mention should go to my hometown, V-Town, Varanasi, the town which has one of the most amazing track records of producing national level basketball talent, from Trideep Rai, to current Cagers' captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, to the Singh Family of India - four sisters to take over the national women's team, and its a city where institutions like the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth (MGKV) have been promoting basketball for years.
There are many more... Nominate your city, and submit your argument... In one week, the top five nominees will be announced for voting. One of these will then be chosen as the Basketball City of India.

April 25, 2010

An International Assist: American coaches hold coaching clinics and camps in India

India's untapped potential for a basketball revolution has long been realized around the world - a country of nearly 1.2 billion people must surely have at least a respectable starting 5 to step out on any court and face any opponent, right? Surely?
But potential is one thing, its realisation another. India is still a country where most sports, excluding cricket, aren't taken too seriously. While other Asian countries like China, Iran, South Korea, and Kazakhstan have improved their level of basketball dramatically over the last decade, India still lay 52nd on the last Men/Women combined FIBA rankings.

But there is the potential, and although it may be difficult to make a change overnight, there are several who are chipping away every day, hoping one day to carve out a space for basketball in this cricket crazy country. After spending several years holding training camps and coaching in India, American basketball coach JD Walsh recently teamed up with Dr. Bob Baker (Head of Sports Management at George Mason University) and Craig Esherick (former head coach of Georgetown University) to hold combined coaching clinics and youth basketball camps in South India. The initiative was sponsored by the International Sports Initiative grant, awarded through the SportsUnited Division of the US state department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Walsh, Baker, and Esherick spent around 10 days in India, holding basketball clinics and camps in Chennai and more intriguingly, getting a chance to work with a few members of the Indian Men's National team in the city of Bangalore. Only seven of the 21 total members of the Indian squad, nicknamed 'The Young Cagers', showed up for the training camps, but they were accompanied by dozens of interested basketball coaches from around India who came to pick up coaching skills from the American coaches. I was lucky to speak to all three of them before they boarded their flight (and beat volcanic ash) to get back to the US last week.
"Some of the boys we worked with were pretty good," said Esherick, who helped in organisation practice drills for the players that attended, "But it will take a lot of hard work and organisation on the part of the basketball federation here to make a decent team."

Esherick should know - currently the assistant professor of sports management at George Mason, one of the highlight's of Esherick's coaching career was playing the role of assistant coach and scout of the US Men's Basketball Team that won bronze in the 1988 Olympics in South Korea.
The trio of American coaches also worked with Alexsander Bucan, the Serbian head coach of the Indian team. "We have tried to help Alexsander demonstrate basketball fundamentals to the players," Esherick added, "This is a young team with a good nucleas, and their hard work will pay dividends later on. They need to play together, train together, and stay together to form a good squad. They must travel together and get some more exposure. But all these things won't be possible without a stable structure and the right amount of financial assistance from the federation."
The current national team is indeed a young squad, with most of their players under the age of 24. At the recently concluded South Asian Games in Bangladesh, India was captained by 18 year old Vishesh Bhriguvanshi. Vishesh is one of the brighest young Indian talents, first making his name when he won the MVP award at the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Asia camp two years ago. He also won praise for his hard work at the camp in Bangalore.
"He's a good shooter and has a strong inside game, too," says Esherick. Walsh adds, "Vishesh has good size and he works hard - but more importantly, he really wants to be a better player." Apart from Vishesh, Walsh had warm words for a few other Indian guards too, particularly praising their shooting ability.
I take special, biased pride in Vishesh's successes - he is one of the many hoop talents rooted from my hometown in Varanasi. A city known more for its spirituality than its sports, Varanasi has surprinsingly been able to produce talent after talent for both the Indian men and women's teams. I interviewed Vishesh for the first time when he was just 17, fresh after his BWB MVP award - in two years he seems to have build on that potenial.
Potential. And it seems like that word never seems to leave my mind when I think about Indian basketball. No, potential isn't good enough. Far from it.
Bob Baker, who also spoke about his experience and welcome so far in India, agrees that the country can do a lot more in the world of hoops. "It is important for India as a big player in the global community to make a strong commitment to the sport of basketball," feels Baker, "There needs to be a strategic approach to the whole organisation of basketball here. The federation and other organisers need to work on how to keep the players together, what other things to teach them, how to get them to play more games..."
"But I'm confident that these players will develop," he adds, "That is the best way for the sport to be visible to the audiences and popular in Indian culture."
Baker was also encouraged during this camp by the enthusiasm of the attending coaches from around India. "The coaches really cared about developing their knowledge of the game," he said, "They absorbed our teaching, asked great questions, and we spent a lot of time discussing basketball teaching and strategy with the coaches. It was neccessary to talk to both the coaches and the players about the importance of fundamentals."
Walsh added: "The coaches were really interested and asked a lot of questions. We worked with them on various offensive and defensive sets - motion offense, press, etc. It is disappointing that only seven players of the team showed up, because we would have obviously liked to see the entire team. I would love to come and work with the national team on a more regular level."

Apart from their camps in Chennai and Bangalore, Walsh, Esherick, and Baker also got a chance to see another side of basketball in India when they visited Subhash Mahajan and his Sumpoorna camp at the village of Tumkur. Mahajan has been working for several years to support India's grassroots basketball movement. After deciding to synchronise their efforts, Walsh and the others visited Mahajan during their trip where they interacted with young hoop lovers.
Many of the kids who play in the village camps are from underpriviliged backgrounds, sent from an NGO called Shishu Mandir in Bangalore. "The kids here are now gaining more awareness about basketball now that JD has been visiting and helping out," said Mahajan, "They were just awestruck just to see the tall Americans! Some of them asked the JD and the others if they could pass on LeBron James' e-mail ID!"
Mahajan admits that cultural challenges in India make it difficult for people to take sports seriously, but he was glad that the children got to know that there is more to the game than just casual shootarounds on the court. "They have to learn about a serious world of basketball, that they have to persist regularly and practice hard to make a life out of it."

The USA's assist to aiding basketball in India has continued in another form - NBA-India has recently launched the Mumbai edition of the Mahindra-NBA Challenge, which features a recreational basketball league and training camps for hoops enthusiasts in the city. Laker legend AC Green was in town along with former WNBA player Teresa Edwards to tip-off the tournament. Green has since been to Bangalore to help out in an Indian national training camp for under-18 girls. This iniative was taken in the form of a pact that the NBA has entered with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to provide world-class training to the Indian players and coaches.
Green said at the event: "Indian women players have lot of potential and they are no less than anyone in the field. What they need is an opportunity to prove themselves."
Potential. There seems to be hell of a lot of that going around our 1.2 billion isn't it?
There is still a long way to go to fix the untailored and casual culture towards sports in India. Federations have to be organised, players have to be provided incentives, accountability has to be asked for, media hype to be created, and most of all, the game has to be loved. But basketball, if anything, is a hell of a lovable game. There are various efforts offering the game an assist here - let's just hope that we can finish the play.

*First published on SLAMONline.com on April 22, 2010.

April 23, 2010

North East: It's the Games, not the Festival

Read an interesting article in The Telegraph this morning about the 24th North-East Games currently being held in Shillong. The Games, which were previously known as the 'North-East Sports Festival', have had a change of name in hope to be taken more seriously and recognized by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). Unfortunately, like everything in mainstream India about the North-East, the sporting issues relating to those eight states continue to be taken lightly.

The Meghalaya State Olympic Association has appealed to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to take necessary steps to get the North East Games recognised by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the North Eastern Council directly associated with it.
Speaking to The Telegraph on the sidelines of the ongoing 24th North East Games here, Meghalaya State Olympic Association (MSOA) general secretary D. Syiemlieh said the annual meet was yet to shed its “festival” tag primarily because it is not recognised by the IOA.
“It was a welcome initiative when it was rechristened North East Games instead of the erstwhile North East Sports Festival. However, the attitude of the organisers as well as the participants unfortunately remained as amateurish as before,” Syiemlieh observed.
“Unless it is recognised by the IOA and the state Olympic associations are involved, the attitude of the participants will not change because the medals and certificates in this meet are till now just ornamental. The SAI should take immediate steps to get it recognised by the IOA and get it organised more professionally,” he added.
The meet is now organised by the state directorates of sports or the state sports councils with partial funding from SAI. The state sports associations are involved in selecting the state teams and technical conduct only.

The North-East states - Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura - can be developed into essential breeding grounds for athletic talent in India. Already, a great many of our football stars have hailed from that region. It is sad to here words such as "the attitude of the participants will not change because the medals and certificates in this meet are till now just ornamental": the mainstream media, too, has to give more respect to that part of our country instead of treating them like our illegitimate step brothers.
The states have been competing against each other in Football, Badminton, Table Tennis, Basketball, Boxing, Wushu, Karate, and other events.

April 22, 2010

Woodstock School hosting Win Mumby All India Basketball Tournament

I'm gonna send a big shout-out today to my alma mater / the school where I currently volunteer: Woodstock School in Mussoorie. The Win Mumby All India Basketball tournament began at Woodstock last night. This is the 10th edition of the tournament, which is affiliated to the Basketball Federation of India (BFI).

17 teams from some of the finest schools in North India are taking part in the Boys and Girls divisions. The Woodstock Tigers will line up against teams from St. George's College, Wynberg-Allen School, and Tibetan Homes School (Mussoorie), Doon School, Welham Boys' School, Welham Girls' School, and Hope Town Girls' School (Dehradun), Modern School and Sri Ram School (New Delhi), Yaadvindra Public School (Patiala), Bishop Cotton School (Shimla), and Sherwood College (Nainital).
The tournament was tipped off by chief guest and Woodstock alumnus actor Tom Alter.
The semi-finals and finals of the tournament will be held on Saturday, April 24th.
Aaah... I love basketball season... Go Tigers!
In another news, boarding schools kick ass.

April 21, 2010

Andheri Invitational Tournament kicks off in Mumbai

It seems like Mumbaikars can't get enough of their hoops, can they? Within a space of a few months, the Mumbai courts have already hosted the Ramu Memorial Basketball Tournament and the Mahindra-NBA Challenge and next month, the Mastan Basketball League is set to be launched, too.
And here's another "basketball carnival" attracting Mumbai hoop-heads: The Andheri Invitational Tournament tipped off on Tuesday April 20th at the Andheri YMCA court. Organized by Andheri YMCA and co-sponsored by ABEC India, the tournament will conclude on May 2nd.

The competition will be held for the following sub-groups:
- Under 13 (Boys & Girls)
- Under 18 (Boys)
- Women (Non Professional)
- Men (Open)

Teams have been considered for invitation following their performance in the Bandra/Ghatkopar tournaments. A total of Rs. 1 lakh prize money is on offer.
One of the highlights of the tournament will be the 'Master's Match', held on the 1st of May: it will be a special exhibition game featuring former International and National players as well as basketball loving celebrities.

Keep ballin', Mumbai!

April 20, 2010

Tyreke Evans: In Good Company

Say the names together: Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James... and Tyreke Evans! Evans, the Sacramento Kings rookie, became just the fourth player in the history of the NBA to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in their rookie season. He joins hall of famers Robertson and Jordan as well as reigning MVP (and probably future hall of famer) LeBron in this esteemed list.
This is quite a feat. Evans was taken by the Kings as the fourth pick in the 2010 NBA draft - and he immediately took charge of the rebuilding squad. Finishing with the final averages of 20.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and 5.8 apg, Evans is also the favourite to be soon named the seasons Rookie of the Year (ROY) award. He will likely beat the Bucks' Brandon Jennings (and his awesome 55 point game explosion) and the Warriors' Stephen Curry (who had an great run to end the season).
Kings head coach Paul Westphal had this to say: "“I don’t think we need the numbers to validate what a great season Tyreke has had. He’s been the most consistent rookie I’ve ever been around. The 20-5-5 is really just icing on the cake for what a complete ballplayer he is and what a mature ballplayer he is. I’m sure it won’t be the last time he achieves all those milestones."
'Reke's detractors are obviously going to bring up two problems with his ROY campaign: 1) his team cooled off and didn't make the playoff and 2) Reke was a ball-hog.
Sure - both criticisms are true - but not true enough to take away from all the positive contribution that he made to the team on and off the floor this season. He's brought back excitement to the Arco Arena, and along with Omri Casspi, Carl Landry, Beno Udrih, Jason Thompson, and Spencer Hawes, he will help to lead an improving young squad in the future.

'Reke has been my favourite rookie all season, and SLAM magazine even compared him to a young LeBron James. But he completely let himself down in the Kings' second-last game of the season against the Rockets: Tyreke shamelessly pursued the 20-5-5 milestone in expense of a victory. The Kings lost by 10 points but still celebrated because Tyreke, who needed 24 points in the game to clinch the record, over-shot the ball, even during crucial stages of the game, and he finally finished with 24 points after taking 23 shots.
Great season Reke; awful ending.

April 18, 2010

Mahindra-NBA league launched in Mumbai with AC Green

The Mahindra-NBA Challenge was tipped-off on April 17th at Mumbai by none other than NBA legend AC Green. Green, the former Los Angeles Laker, is known for holding the record for most consecutive games played in NBA history has been to India before, when almost exactly a year ago he inaugurated the same Nagpada court that will be host to some of the Mahindra Challenge this year.
Green, a Power Forward / Center, won three NBA Championships with the Lakers (1987, 1988, 2000) and was an NBA All Star in 1990.
Green was also accompanied in Mumbai by former WNBA player Teresa Edwards, who played for the Minnesota Lynx and represented USA Basketball in five Olympics.
The Mahindra NBA Challenge will be held in Mumbai from April 17-June 6, in Bangalore from July 24-September 18, and Ludhiana from July 31-September 25. It will feature a recreational league will run for seven weeks in two divisions: Youth division - ages 14-17; Adult division - 18 and above. The league will comprise of co-ed teams. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has worked with the NBA to implement and oversee league operations.
The programme also includes a coaching clinic open to both boys and girls from the age of 14-17 and another category for players aged 18 and above.

From Rediff Sports:

About 961 participants have registered for the event and nearly 50 coaches will be trained by NBA's Troy Justice over the six weeks.
"I am very much appreciative and excited about being back here again. Thank you to the Basketball Federation of India for continuous support of basketball and promoting the game," Green said.
"I don't want these kids to just be good players; I want them to be good students of the game. I want them to be team players," Green said.
"I can't wait to get the clinic and the league itself started, to see the beginning and hopefully see the end of it and hopefully some games in between," said Green, who will be in Bangalore on Monday to train with the Indian basketball team.

St Dominic Savio School (Andheri) and Mastan YMCA (Nagpada) will host the Mumbai leg of the competition.

"This initiative is a joint effort of the Basketball Federation of India and the NBA to promote basketball and make it the No 2 sport in India," said Akash Jain, NBA director, International Development, India.
Elaborating on why the NBA picked only the above mentioned cities for the clinic, Jain said, "We did a small study before starting this project and we realized from that that basketball has a huge following in Mumbai, Bangalore and Ludhiana and that is why we have targeted these three cities in this program."

Well, thanks Mr. Jain - that kinda answers why the NBA chose Ludhiana of all people. Except that I have a different theory.
And welcome back to India, Mr. Green. It's great to see that Green is also training with the Indian national team in Bangalore following the training sessions held for the team by JD Walsh, Craig Esherick, and Dr. Bob Baker. It's cool that Green is back and hopefully the NBA's initiative gets more coverage and hype to popularize the game in India. I'm hoping that we'll get a current NBA star at the conclusion of the league.

April 16, 2010

Let's talk Playoffs!

It's that time of the year again - all 30 NBA teams have played their 82 games, and the best 16 (top 8 from each conference) move on to the second season, aka, the most exciting time of the year - the NBA playoffs.

The postseason tips off on April 17th - playoffs will be held in knockout fashion with the teams fighting in best of 7 series in each round. The actual postseason lineups are slightly different from what I had predicted a few months ago following the trade deadline.

Here are the playoff matchups for 2010:

Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)
Orlando Magic (2) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7)
Atlanta Hawks (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
Boston Celtics (4) vs. Miami Heat (5)

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Oklahama City Thunder (8)
Dallas Mavericks (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7)
Phoenix Suns (3) vs. Portland Trailblazers (6)
Denver Nuggets (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

There are a lot of young teams in this year adding excitement to the playoff picture. The Bobcats and the Bucks have been playing out of their minds in the east and fully deserve to be in the postseason. In the West, a nod obviously goes to Kevin Durant and the young Thunder as well as the injury-plagued yet surviving Trailblazers.

Here are my first round predictions:

Cavs vs. Bulls: Cavs in 4 - The Cleveland LeBrons have finished the season as the best team in the league (61-21) for the second straight year and will have home-court advantage right through the playoffs. Reigning (and soon to be named future) MVP LeBron James will be back after being given a week's rest, and Shaq will be back since his injury at the end of Feb. The Cavs are looking great, with Antawn Jamison, Big Z, Mo Williams, Varejao, Boobie Gibson, JJ Hickson all ready to fire.
The Bulls did beat the Cavs twice this season, but a healthy, motivated Cleveland team is too good. Despite Derrick Rose's brilliance, and the Bulls' late season form to sneak into the playoffs, I call a clean sweep here as Cavs will win all four games with relative ease.

Magic vs. Bobcats: Magic in 6 - I don't see this series being too easy for the favoured Magic, led by Dwight Howard and Vince Carter. The Bobcats are a tricky opponent: Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, and the tutelage of Larry Brown will make things scrappy and difficult for the Magic. Still, the Magic, who were last year's finalists, have too much experience of the playoffs and should be able to win the series in six games.

Hawks vs. Bucks: Hawks in 6 - The Hawks are number three not because they deserve to be number three (yes, I'm a hater) but because the Celtics kept on shooting themselves in the foot towards the end of the season. Now, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and my main man Al Horford will step up against a defensively great Milwaukee team, who will now be lead by rookie Brandon Jennings. Unfortunately, their best player Bogut got injured at an inoppurtune time, and the Hawks should be able to take advantage of that and get through to the second round.

Celtics vs. Heat: Heat in 7 - Here I go, predicting my first upset of the playoffs. Teams 4 and 5 are always the closest matched, and to be honest, I wouldn't have given the Heat a sniff of a chance against the Celtics in a playoff series at the beginning of the season. Things have since changed: the Celtics are struggling big time, the Big three are looking really old, and unless KG can wake up and take charge, this team will not replicate their famous 'ubunto' identity again. The Heat on the under hand have been on fire to end the season. The incredible Wade has led the team to win 12 of their last 13 games, and there is nothing better than momentum entering the playoffs.
Still, the talent on the Celtics can't be denied. This will be a tough, exciting series, and will go all the way to seven. But D-Wade will eclipse the Big 3 (and 4 now, counting Rajon Rondo) and win an exciting game seven.

Lakers vs. Thunder: Lakers in 5 - Good job at making it this far, Oklahama City. Kevin Durant will be a second-favourite on MVP vote, after already becoming the youngest player ever to win the scoring title. Speaking of scorers, Mr. 81 aka Kobe will be back, and so will the Lakers. Too much experience in Phil Jackson, Kobe, Gasol, etc here - the champs will win again.

I'm excited to see Kobe and Durant go off against each other, too. And to see Ron Ron deal with Durant defensively. Gasol (and the probably returning Andrew Bynum) will eat the Thunder post players alive.

Mavericks vs. Spurs: Mavericks in 7 - The Spurs are hitting form again, led by the return of Manu Ginobili's manhood. Tim Duncan can never be counted off, and that is why I believe they will take a supremely deep and talented Dallas team all the way to seven games. Still, Dirk, Kidd, Marion, Butler, Terry, Haywood... Oh the Mavericks are deep! They'll survive this one!
Here's an amazing Spur stat for you: The Spurs are starting the playoffs without home-court advantage for the first time since Tim Duncan's rookie year. That, my friends, was 12 years ago. Amazing.

Suns vs. Blazers: Suns in 4 - This series could've been so much more - but an unfortunate injury to Blazers guard and superstar Brandon Roy has meant that the Suns, who have finished the season in amazing form, will continue dominating opponents. Amar''e is on fire and Steve Nash is playing like its 2003. Add a rejuvenated Grant Hill and the serviceable Jason Richardson, and the Suns are looking great to sweep this series.

Nuggets vs. Jazz: Jazz in 7 - You smell that? I smell an upset. A Jazzy, Jerry Sloan led, Deron Williams dominated, Chauncey overshadowed, Boozer post destructing, Melo buzzer-beating missing upset. These two teams are too close to call, but the Nuggets seem to have lost their footing a little bit, and the class of Deron and the Jazz will see them through this very, very close series. I'm very excited to see the Chauncey-Deron matchup: two PGs of different generations who play very similar games.

April 17 is the date. Bring on the postseason - only the 16 now matter. Who will be the last team standing? I can hardly wait.

April 15, 2010

BFI to launch the Mastan Basketball League in Mumbai

More More More BASKETBALL! Nearly a week ago, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) announced the Mastan Basketball Professional League for Men & Women to be held at Mastan Y.M.C.A in Mumbai from 5th to 15th May, 2010.

The Mastan league is yet another positive step taken by the BFI to introduce what I call a "league-like" experience to some of the countries top players. Following the news of the Mahindra-NBA recreational league which will target amateur/casual basketball players, the Mastan league will offer a similar structure to the top-level basketball players in the country.
Ibrahim Lakdawala, an enterprising former national-level player has been behind the planning of this first of its kind professional basketball league in a hope to change the face of the game in the city.

From BFI News:
Top 48 players from all over India and 32 players from Maharashtra State will be selected to play in the Men section forming 8 Teams from these 80 players.
While top 25 players from all over India and 15 players from the state of Maharashtra will be selected to play in the women section forming 4 teams from these 40 players.
CASH AWARDS TO EACH PLAYER will be provided during each match of the League as per details mentioned below: -
Winner – Rs. 3,000/- (per player)
Runner-up – Rs. 2,000/- (per player)
Semi Final Matches: Winner: 4,000/- (per player)
Runner-up Rs. 3,000/- (per player)
Final’s Winner: 5,000/- (per player)
Runner-up: 4,000/- (per player)
Each match will have a best player award.

As mentioned above, the league will feature nearly 30 percent players from the state of Maharashtra and the remaining will comprise of the best from the rest of India. I spoke to BFI secretary Harish Sharma about the league today, and he said the purpose of this league will be to introduce a new concept and new teams to the players.
"We want to mix the teams up, like it would be if we had a national league system," said Harish, "They will be given cash rewards for their appearances and performances. We will hold tryouts to choose the final teams and also recruit coaches for this. It will be one more step towards a professional league in India."
Many of the country's best players have been invited for this league, and beyond them, other good basketball players will also be given a chance. Check out the BFI website news for contact details if you wish to participate.
The players will have to report to the venue on the 5th of May and the teams will be formed on the 6th and 7th. The matches will kick off on the 8th and end on the 15th of May.

April 14, 2010

An NBA preseason game in India? Dream on...

The NBA is a very rich league, a league much richer than other sporting leagues in North America, and a huge reason for this is that the NBA is a lot more famous internationally. There are three major reasons for this:
1) Basketball is the one sport that both North Americans and the majority of the rest of the world understand and enjoy.
2) There once lived a man named Michael Jordan who was the biggest thing since basketball itself.
3) NBA commissioner David Stern is a shrewd man - and ever since he took the role of commissioner in 1984, the one thing that the NBA has done best is spread the game to other parts of the world while at the same time feature more and more international players in their own league.
Let's focus on point number 3: there are countless examples of the NBA's efforts to promote itself to a far greater international audience than just those in North America. Outside the US and Canada, NBA games are regularly broadcasted live in at least 31 more countries around the world. The recent All-Star game was broadcasted in 215 countries in 41 languages! The NBA has set up a dedicated 'Global' page to showcase its efforts around the world, and it has global websites in Brazil, France, India, Taiwan, Canada, Germany, China, Japan, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, and the UK. There were 83 international players from 36 different countries on NBA rosters to start the 2009-10 NBA season.
And then its the NBA's outreach and grassroots events in other countries that continue to make them the ubiquitous name in basketball. The Basketball Without Borders (BWB) programme has served as "has served as a summer camp for young people designed to promote friendship, goodwill and education through sport." BWB have been to India, too, and as you may know, the NBA has teamed up with Mahindra to start a recreational league in three Indian cities this summer. Programmes such as BWB have also encouraged current and former NBA players to visit other countries, including India.
So where do we go from here? In most countries, usually the NBA's next step has been the most interesting one - organizing preaseason games featuring NBA teams on foreign soil. The NBA has been holding games exhibition games in Europe for several years already, and recently announced that the Lakers, Knicks, and T'Wolves will be playing again in Europe this October.

Even Asia has had its share of NBA action: The NBA has played six games in Japan since the 1990s, and has held preseason games in China since 2004, after Chinese star Yao Ming joined the Houston Rockets in 2002: the first game obviously featured the Yao-powered rockets against the Sacramento Kings. In 2009, when the Nuggets met the Pacers in Taipei, it became the eight Asian city to host either an NBA regular season or preseason game, along with Tokyo, Yokohama, and Saitama in Japan; Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in China; and Macau.
You know where this train of thought of heading... an NBA game in India? FUGGEDABOUDIT! What is the one thing in common amongst all the other countries that we lack back home in India? We have the money if someone chooses to spend it (for proof, see IPL). Our extra large population ensures that even a small percentage of NBA fans make up for enough to provide enough audience for any game. And the IPL has proven that we have the technological, energy and security infrastructure to host large sporting events.

No, what we really lack back here are good, ol-fashioned arenas! Not the kind of sharp-shooting, gun-toting Arenas that plays for the former Washington Bullets; no, I mean actual, international quality indoor basketball courts, made of good quality, polished hardwood (or similar surface), with fiberglass boards, and the capability to hold a large-capacity audience. Yes, there are some new courts around the country now which come close, but we're talking NBA-quality here, people! Yes, the NBA has brought in everyone from AC Green to Dikembe Mutombo opened several courts in India over the past few years, but we're far, far hehind.
Hell, even the Indian national team has to practice on shoddy surfaces most of the time. One of the biggest complains is that the best players in India play most of their basketball on concrete courts with rubber balls, and so when they move on to play on a hardwood court with a leather basketball they are constantly struggling to adjust. Even the men's national team members that have been training with JD Walsh, Craig Esherick, and Dr. Bob Baker in Bangalore have had to work in embarassing facilities.
I'm sorry, but there's no way that David Stern is going to allow his preciously talented millionaire NBA stars to break a sweat in any of our Indian courts.
Who knows, maybe the Reliance-IMG alliance to develop sports facilities in India will change things in the future. The extremely distant future. Otherwise, no, no chance in hell.
Go ahead, David Stern, NBA, Reliance... prove me wrong.

April 12, 2010

Several NBA teams amongst the highest-paid sports teams in the world

Seven of the top 12 highest-paid teams in sports around the world last year were from the National Basketball Association (NBA). The list is topped by baseball team New York Yankees of the MLB, worth $7,000,000, but they are the only baseball team represented in the top 12. Real Madrid (Spain), Barcelona (Spain), and Chelsea (England), all football teams, make up positions 2-4, and Dallas Mavericks of the NBA are at number five. 6-11 are also NBA teams, and a surprise inclusion at number 12 are the Bangalore Royal Challengers of the Indian Premier League (IPL)!
The list has been published by sportingintelligence, as part of their Annual Review of Global Sports Salaries (ARGSS). The list has been decided on the basis of the average salaries in the squad.

Here is the complete top 12 for 2010:
1. New York Yankees (MLB)
2. Real Madrid (La Liga)
3. Barcelona (La Liga)
4. Chelsea (EPL)
5. Dallas Mavericks (NBA)
6. Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
7. Detroit Pistons (NBA)
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA)
9. Boston Celtics (NBA)
10. New York Knicks (NBA)
11. Phoenix Suns (NBA)
12. Bangalore Royal Challengers (IPL)

You know what's funny? Check out the highest paid players in the NBA teams last year and you'll see that most of them are far from deserving of the honour. For the Mavericks its Jason Kidd, now in the twilight of his career. The Lakers and the Celtics get it right with Kobe and Garnett respectivelly. The Pistons paid the most money to Allen Iverson, who was a shadow of his former self and spent most of 2010 on the bench for the Grizzlies, and then signing and not playing for the 76ers.

How about the Suns at 12? They paid the most to Shaq, who is now out in Cleveland. And the Cavs themselves? You would think LeBron would be their highest paid, right? Nope - that honour goes to none other than Ben Wallace (now with the Pistons).
Undoubtedbly, the reward for the biggest waste of money goes to the Knicks, though, who are easily the worst team in this top 12 of all the leagues, and their highest paid player was Stephon Marbury, who has spent his 2010 streaming silly videos of himself and ballin in China.
And the Royal Challengers? Their highest paid player is none other than Kevin Pieterson, who if my knowledge of IPL is right barely gets to play for them.
So what's the moral of the story here? If you're good at basketball, you will be rich. Even if you're Stephon Marbury.
Indian parents - hand your child a basketball starting... NOW!

April 9, 2010

Corporate Sports Fest to be held in Bangalore, Mumbai

Modular Employement Skills (MES) under the Government of India will be organizing the largest ever Corporate Day and Night Sports Fest in Bangalore and Mumbai.

The tournament will be held on April 10 and at St Joseph's Indian High School, Vittal Mallya Road, on April 17 and 18 at E-Zone Club, Marathahalli and on May 8 and 9 in Mumbai at Goregeon Gymkhana.

The fourth edition of the "MES Corporate Day and Night Sports Fest-2010" will attract 150-odd top corporate teams and over 1,800 participants. The events include Six-a-side cricket, five-a-side football; throw ball, basketball, volleyball, paintball and go-karting.

April 7, 2010

Video: Manny Sahota, Punjabi basketball prodigy

Nearly a month ago, I got an e-mail from Manvinder 'Manny' Sahota, born in the village of Arjanwal near Jalandhar in Punjab 18 years ago, but moved to live in Canada in 1999. The youngster blossomed into a basketball phenom, and performed exceptionally for his high school St. Marguerite d’Youville in Brampton.

The 6 foot 6 small forward was named as part of the '09-10 Toronto Regional High School Basketball Boys All-Star team, averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks for the season. He has professed his dream to one day represent the Indian National team, the Young Cagers. For now, he's been recruited on a full basketball scholarship to the Cornell University in Ithica, New York where he will have a chance to play Division 1 basketball in the NCAA.

Here's a mixtape of Manny's highlights from the past season - let's wish this Arjanwali boy the best for the rest of his career. As I watched this video, I saw how he tore apart every silly stereotype about Indians not being athletically good enough to play basketball at a high level - with the right diet and fitness regime, there is no doubt that more Mannys can be discovered amongst the thousands of keen ballers back home in India.

April 5, 2010

You can vote for the NBA MVP

As if letting NBA fans vote for All-Star starters wasn't controversial up enough (see Iverson, Allen or McGrady, Tracy for further proof), the NBA is now going to give one of its 125 Most Valuable Plater (MVP) votes to the fans. The other 124 votes for the MVP are decided by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States. The one fan vote will be the accumulated vote of all the fans.

Okay, so 1/125 isn't that big a deal when it comes to shaping the MVP award, but its still significant. You can vote for your top five MVP choices at NBA.com/kiamvpfanvote.

The pros: Obviously, more fan involvement, interaction, and as 'Wikinomics' preaches, "When you ask the customers to dance, let them lead!" This would mean that fans would (faintly) believe that there opinion is making a difference in deciding who has been the season's most valuable player.

The cons: It's the friggin MVP award. Not a popularity contest. The All Star Game is the popularity contest, where the game is an exhibition FOR the fans, and thus one can argue that letting the fans decide who they want to see is the right move. The MVP award, on the other hand, is about the one player who has been the most valuable in the entire league, not to the one player who fans like the most. Obviously, there is a great number of fans who would vote sensibly, but you won't find too many hardcore Kobe fans voting LeBron despite the latter deserving the award much more. I don't want to see a billion Yao Ming votes when he is injured or not as many votes for Tim Duncan (because everyone outside of San Antonio seems to hate the Spurs) or not as many votes for Kevin Durant (because despite his brilliance this season, Kobe/LeBron/Iverson/McGrady/Yao etc are a lot more popular than him internationally).

Still, it's only 1 out of 125. That gives like a million of us a collaborated 0.8% chance to determine the 2009-10 MVP. [In Napoleon Dynamite's voice]: "Yesss..."

Now, on to my top five MVP pics. I'm going to make two lists here, one based on sound reasoning and one based on passion. Because you know, if they ARE going to let us vote here, are we not going to let our opinions seep through?

Sound Reasoning

1. LeBron James: Duh... Obviously. LeBron has been the best player in the league and the best player in the best team and is near the scoring leader and has the best stats and may end up having the best PER EVER and he's the most untradeable and the most valuable and you take him out the league or his team and it'll make the biggest difference and damn I hate over-LeBroning of the world. I'm not the LeBron fan that many, many others are, but there is no denying that anyway you define the meaning of MVP, he is it this season. He won it last year and only the infinite improbablity drive can keep him away from doing a back-to-back. But most probably not.

2. Kevin Durant: Damn, the Durantula really sneaked up big on everyone this season, didn't he? I mean, we all knew he was talented, but no one imagined that along with invidual brilliance (he might win the scoring title from LeBron), Durant has also made sure that the awful Thunder of last year have already won more than twice as many games this season, and the young, inexperienced team is easily heading into the playoffs. The most improved team of the year, on the back of one of the best talents in the league. Durant deserves a nod for his efforts all year.

3. Dwyane Wade: Three weeks ago, Kobe would've been number three on this list. But the month of March has been gold for D-Wade and the Heat. He has once again carried an inconsistent and awful team into the playoffs, improving his play off late and making sure that the Heat are now an 8-game winning streak entering the most important period of the year.

4. Kobe Bryant: Can't believe that after the first month of clear-cut domination Kobe has falled to FOURTH on my list. But Lakers are the second best team, he's their most valuable player, and still one of the best talents in the league. Plus, there were all those game-winners that have been leaving us all in awe. Plus, I still think that he will be the last one standing with the championship trophy in June.

5. Steve Nash: The two-time MVP is again having one of his best seasons, and the Suns, who are surprisingly underrated this season, have been playing amazingly under him. Of course, this is an arguable choice because Amar"e has been just as awesome, but i'm gonna go with Stee here.


1. Wade: Ya, he's my favourite player. And I still believe that he's the one player I'd like to have on my time for any one basketball game anywhere in the world.

2. Chris Bosh: Bosh has been having an all-world season, and although the Raptors dipped in form for a while, he has been able carry them close to a playoff berth with his amazing form.

3. Pau Gasol: Don't laugh. The Spaniard keeps on getting overlooked for his awesomeness, despite being a rock for the Lakers all season. Give Gasol enough touches and Lakers don't lose, it's as simple as that.

4. Amar'e Stoudemire: Amar'e has been a friggin beast all season, but especially after the all star break. He's ignored all the trade rumours and the contract-ending stuff and has just played amazing basketball. He has also helped the poster-making businesses around the world. Just as Anthony Tolliver.

5. Deron Williams: The Jazz are a model of consistency, and no one player has epitomized it more than Deron.

So who will finally win the MVP? Let me know your top fives, and vote here to get your voice heard. The results will be announced at the end of the season.

April 1, 2010

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