December 29, 2014

65th Senior National Basketball Championship tips off in Rajasthan with Indian All Star Game

It may be the 'Holiday Season' for most of the world, but for the top talents of Indian basketball, the most serious time of the year has begun. At Bhilwara in Rajasthan, 51 combined Men and Women's teams from across the country have assembled to take part in the biggest event in the nation's domestic hoops calendar: the Senior Nationals. The 65th Senior National Basketball Championship for Men and Women tipped off in Bhilwara on Monday, December 29th. The championship is being organised by the Bhilwara District Basketball Association in collaboration with the Rajasthan State Basketball Association under the aegis of Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance.

A day before the launch of the championship, the BFI celebrated 'Indian Basketball Day' in honour of late CEO Harish Sharma. On this day, the best players in the country took part in Men and Women's All Star games and a Slam Dunk contest. Cultural performances, prize distribution, and a remembrance ceremony for Sharma was also held.

27 men’s teams and 24 women’s teams are participating in this event that will be played in a league-cum-knockout format. The last iteration of the tournament was held in March 2014 at New Delhi and won by Tamil Nadu (Men) and Chhattisgarh (Women).

On the first day of the tournament, Kerala's Women started off with a dominant victory over Andhra Pradesh 78-39, as two Suryas from each side battled against each other. Kerala were led by Surya PR, who scored 19 points, while Jeena PS added 17. For AP, A Surya scored 23 in the loss. In another dominant showcase of talent, Tamil Nadu's women doubled the output of Uttar Pradesh to blow them out 72-36. Sunita led all scorers on the game with 20.

In an early Men's game, Indian Railways took a 10 point lead over Chhattisgarh in the first quarter, and held on to their advantage till the very end en route to a 76-66 win. M. Mishra (25) and H. Singh (16) were leading scorers for Railways, while AP Singh (20) and Kiranpal S (18) were the high scorers in a losing effort for Chhattisgarh.

The Indian basketball fraternity celebrated 'Indian Basketball Day' on Sunday, December 28th in honour of the late Harish Sharma's birthday. Senior BFI officials such as RS Gill, Ajay Sud, Nandini Basappa, K Govindraj, PJ Sunny and Naresh Aneja (FIBA Commissioner) spoke on the occasion and recalled Sharma’s contribution to the sport. Sharma had been instrumental in inking the long term contract with IMG-Reliance in 2010 that has led to a drastic improvement in facilities for the players, coaches and others involved in the sport.

As part of the ‘Indian Basketball Day’ festivities, two exhibition All Star matches were played that featured the top men and women players in the country. A Slam Dunk contest was also held for the high-fliers in the men’s division which was won by Amjyot Singh from Indian Overseas Bank (IOB), Tamil Nadu. Amjyot, of course, is famous for another dunk earlier this year against China that capped off India's historic win over China at the FIBA Asia Cup.

India's Senior national men's 3x3 team, comprising of Pratham Singh, Yadwinder Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Amrit Pal Singh, were felicitated for their silver-medal winning effort at the Asian Beach Games in Phuket earlier this year.

Selected Scores

  • Kerala (Surya PR 19, Jeena PS 17) bt Andhra Pradesh (A Surya 23) 78-39 (27-6, 18-9, 11-14, 22-10).
  • Tamil Nadu (Sunita 20, Ramya 15) bt Uttar Pradesh (R Gour 13) 72-36 (17-4, 16-12, 23-16, 16-4).
  • Indian Railways (M Mishra 25, H Singh 16) bt Chhattisgarh (AP Singh 20, Kiranpal S 18, KS Kumar 15) 76-66 (25-15, 17-20, 16-17, 18-14).

December 28, 2014

December 28th named 'Indian Basketball Day' in honour of Harish Sharma

If you live and breathe basketball, every single day is a cause for celebration, for playing or watching your favourite game and for honing your skills. But to further raise awareness for the growing status of the sport in India, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has announced a special day in honour of desi hoops, a birthday for Indian basketball.

(And it's today! Cue the music!)

In honour of the late Harish Sharma, the former CEO of the BFI and the visionary leader who helped Indian basketball take several steps forward during his 11-year tenure at the head of the Federation, the BFI has named today - December 28th - as 'Indian Basketball Day'. Sharma was born on this day in 1958 and passed away at the age of 53 in February 2012.

"What basketball is today is because of Harish Sharma," the BFI communicated through their official social media account, "He is and will always be known as the true Godfather of Indian Basketball. Thank you for all that you've done, you've provided the foundation that Indian basketball needed. It is now up to the rest of us to take what you taught us and build the sport to the top."

The announcement has come been just days before the commencement of the 65th National Basketball Championship for Men and Women - India's biggest domestic basketball tournament - in Bhilwara (Rajasthan).

So if you love Indian basketball, go out and celebrate the game on its first official birthday. Play hoops, watch hoops, and learn about Indian hoops. My word of selfish advice? Start here on this very blog: read through the articles in the past to learn more about Indian basketball events and players.

Starting this year, I will also share a gift with Indian hoop fans every Indian Basketball Day. This year's gift? Here is the full-length video of India's greatest ever basketball victory, the 'Wonder of Wuhan', an upset over Asian giants China at the 5th FIBA Asia Cup in July. There was no bigger moment for India in 2014!

December 24, 2014

Easier said than done: Solutions for the NBA’s worst teams

There are several NBA teams with problems. Some teams are dealing with injuries that have plagued their season. Some can’t score. Some can’t defend. The worst among them can’t do either. Some have a personnel that doesn’t fit together. Others have a personnel that can’t stand the sight of each other. Flirting with masochism, I’m diving nose-deep into the concerns of the NBA’s four worst teams and offering quick and ultimately pointless solutions. Let’s just say that they are easier said than done...

Click here for my full feature on SportsKeeda.

December 22, 2014

Chennai and Ludhiana dominate 2014 Indian School/College League national finals

The confluence of different teams from different Indian cities on the same court created a mishmash of basketball creativity, with each region or city champion determined to prove that their style and talent be crowned as the nation's best. This past week, New Delhi hosted the national finals of the Indian School Basketball League (ISBL) and Indian College Basketball League (ICBL), featuring winning 40 school and college teams in the men's and women's divisions from 10 cities. After seven days of exciting hoops action, the representatives of two cities - Chennai (Tamil Nadu) and Ludhiana (Punjab) - separated themselves from the rest of the pack to win their respective 2014 titles.

After the four finals on Sunday, December 21 at Delhi's Thyagaraj Stadium, the winners were:
  • ISBL Girls: Government School (Ludhiana) defeating Santhome School (Chennai).
  • ISBL Boys: Vellamal School (Chennai) defeating Modern School (Delhi).
  • ICBL Women: Government College for Girls (Ludhiana) defeating Rajasthan College (Jaipur).
  • ICBL Men: Sathyabama Engg. College (Chennai) defeating Kirorimal College (Delhi).
This season's expanded ICBL and ISBL were held over three months across a record 24 cities around India, bringing together 13,000 players from over 1100 institutions. The leagues were organized by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG Reliance.

In the ISBL girls' semi-finals a day earlier, Government School (Ludhiana) had defeated Montfort School (Delhi), while Santhome School (Chennai) got the better of Mallaya Aditi International (Bengaluru). In the ISBL boys' semi-finals, Modern School (Delhi) had to beat Nav Bharti (Ludhiana) to progress to the finals, while Vellamal School (Chennai) proved to be the victors against Bhavan's Prominent (Indore).

In the ICBL women's semi-finals, Rajasthan College (Jaipur) outlasted MOP Vaishnav (Chennai) and Government College for Girls (Ludhiana) defeated Ra Podar College (Mumbai). In the ICBL Men's semi-finals, Sathyabama Engg. College (Chennai) beat Skit College (Jaipur), while Kirorimal College (Delhi) were victors versus Islamia Karimia (Indore).

Apart from the on-court competition, attending players and coaches got a chance to participate in clinics conducted by India's National Senior Men's Coach Scott Flemming and National Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Heffelfinger.

There was also a first-ever national Skills Challenge, including a dunk contest, three-point contest, and more. Delhi's own reggae/dancehall crew the Reggae Rajahs performed at the finals as well.

December 15, 2014

2014 Indian School/College Basketball League National Finals begin in New Delhi

Whatever your city, your school, your college, or your favourite player, there is sure to be enough drama for the basketball fan in New Delhi over the next week. It took three months of action in 24 cities, bringing together over 13,000 players from over 1100 institutions, and now, finally, the Finals are here. The national finals of the expanded Indian School Basketball League (ISBL) and Indian College Basketball League (ICBL) - organized by the Basketball Federation of India and IMG Reliance - tipped off at the Thyagaraj Stadium in New Delhi on Monday, December 15. 40 school and college teams in the men's and women's divisions from 10 cities around India are battling for the ultimate honours: becoming national ISBL/ICBL champions after the finals on December 21.

The revamped BFI-IMG Reliance ISBL/ICBL tipped off in late September this year with ambitious expansion to various new cities and the involvement of many new schools and colleges in the programme this year. The tournament featured teams two different formats for each division in the ISBL and ICBL: the Premier League and the Challenger League.

Each of the winners of the Premier League cities are now in New Delhi vying for the national crown, while the Challenger League winners will be getting a chance to win promotion into the upper league. Four categories of national champions will be crowned from the Premier League cities: Men’s National College Champion, Women’s National College Champion, Boy’s National School Champion, and Girl’s National School Champion.

“These leagues have given a much needed platform for players to garner attention from scouts and coaches and that bodes well for students who aspire to make a career in basketball,” said BFI's CEO Roopam Sharma in a report to “This is the first and most important step in creating a sustainable basketball ecosystem that will nurture and develop talent across India and based out on the turnout at the city levels, I except an exciting and competitive Finals that will help further promote the game. My best wishes to all the national finalists and I hope all the participating teams in both the leagues enjoy themselves and learn more about the game, so they come back stronger next season.”

The total prize money for all the categories is valued at Rs. 43 lakhs. Winnings teams will also be rewarded with court refurbishments at the school or college. Runners-ups will also get support on improving basketball infrastructure in their educational institutions.

“The Indian School Basketball League and Indian College Basketball League are the first national multi-city, pan-India events of their kind and represent a key milestone in the Basketball Federation of India and IMG Reliance partnership," said Ashu Jindal, the CEO of IMG Reliance, "Together, for the past four years, we have been working to grow the sport of basketball and improve the technical quality of play in India; through these leagues, youngsters in over 22 cities have been exposed high quality, structured league competition for the first time. The response we have gotten from schools and colleges is phenomenal, this year an unprecedented 13000 young cagers have participated in the three month leagues and we look forward to reaching out to more players every year."

Apart from the on-court competition, attending players and coaches will also get a chance to participate in clinics conducted by India's National Senior Men's Coach Scott Flemming and National Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Heffelfinger.

There will also be the first-ever national Skills Challenge, which will include a dunk contest, three-point contest, and more.

December 13, 2014

Missing the Point

We might be in the golden era of superstar point guards. But are most NBA teams still missing the point? I look back at recent NBA history to see the team that has gotten it right - San Antonio - and how most high-scoring PGs have taken away from a winning system, instead of contributing to it.

Click here to read my full feature on SportsKeeda.

December 12, 2014

For India, 3x3 basketball should be part of the journey – not the destination

This article was first published in my column for on December 2, 2014. Click here to read the original post. 

Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and Yadwinder Singh, two of the four
members of the current Indian 3x3 team which won silver at
the recently concluded Asian Beach Games, seen here during
the 2013 South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) qualifiers
In the alternate universe of international 3x3 basketball exists a strange and pleasantly surprising reality. In this other reality – across the wormhole of interstellar hoops travel – India is actually one of Asia’s most successful teams, constantly contending for the podium, fielding the best little group of players in the continent, and playing with unmatched confidence.

In the mainstream basketball universe, India is a hoops underdog, ranking 61st in the world and usually finishing in the bottom rungs of Asian tournaments. But, as recent results have shown, the 3x3 format has been a whole different ballgame, as India have collected gold medals and accolades and returned home with their heads held high in pride.

Since FIBA began to hone the official rules of the halfcourt 3x3 game for the international level, India has been one of the federations to take full advantage of the quicker, less popular style of the game, sending out their best players to tournaments that other nations usually reserved for players outside the regular national team system. India has won the 3x3 basketball gold medal twice (once for men and once for women) at the Asian Beach Games since 2008, including our Women’s squad defeating China for the gold in China’s home court in Haiyang in 2012. In May last year, India’s Women won the FIBA Asia 3x3 gold in Qatar. A week later, India’s under-18 men and women both won silver medals at the U18 FIBA Asia 3x3 championship in Thailand. India dominated the South Asian Beach games, winning double gold for both men and women a few years ago. India’s under-23 men’s team have also won a bronze at the KFC 3x3 international challenge in China.

Most recently, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) sent men’s and women’s squads to Phuket for the 4th Asian Beach Games. The women failed to continue their recent momentum, but the men’s side – featuring India’s top players like Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amrit Pal Singh, Pratham Singh, and Yadwinder Singh – defeated all comers with ease until the Finals, where they lost to Qatar and had to settle for a silver medal.

There is no better feeling for an Indian basketball fan than to see Indian basketball players on the podium, enjoying the fruits of their success, draped with a tiranga flag over their shoulders and basketballs in their palms. Even if it’s “just” 3x3 basketball, it’s still kind of a big deal for the athletes responsible for this success.

Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, the Varanasi-born player who has been the captain of India’s national team for several years and one of India’s best domestic and international level players, has also been part of nearly every senior international 3x3 men’s team that India has fielded since 2008. With Bhriguvanshi in the lineup, India won the 2008 Asian Beach Games gold medal, the 2011 South Asian Beach Games gold medal, and the 2014 Asian Beach Games silver. If there is any singular athlete most responsible for India’s successful results in this modified version of the game, it is him.

“3x3 basketball is a ‘fun’ thing,” he told me in a conversation recently, “You can enjoy basketball playing it. But the “proper”, full version of the game, is of course more important to me.”

As it should be: call me old-fashioned, but 3x3 wins are not satisfying for me as a fan of Indian basketball. I would rather see India beat China in the group stage of the FIBA Asia Cup – and still ultimately finish at 7th place – than see a dozen 3x3 gold medals. The level competitive is just not the same, and the format leaves more room for chance than for the validation of actual talent.

In many ways, 3x3 halfcourt basketball is one of the common formats of the street, casual game. Almost every basketball player has played this modified style of hoops among their friends or pick-up with strangers at their nearest court. What FIBA 3x has done is basically brought official structure to basketball’s unofficial cousin.

In the half-court basketball competition, each team has four players: three starters plus one substitute. Each game is 10 minutes long, with two halves of five minutes each. A one-minute overtime is held if the score is tied at the end of regulation. The shot-clock is 12 seconds, and the scoring limit is 21 points (that is, the first team to 21 wins). No time-outs are allowed: substitutions are made in dead-ball situations.

The games are short, fast, unpredictable, and thus, can be exciting. At international tournaments that feature 3x3 tournaments, you could watch dozens of countries play in a couple of hours, around the same time period of a full-length basketball game. But the unpredictability and faster format of the game also takes away from the full potential of the tactics and athletic abilities that make basketball such a lovable game – something that deters many serious players and fans from taking the 3x3 format seriously.

Which is also why most of the top basketball teams around the world (USA, Spain, Argentina, Lithuania, France) and even the top Asian teams (China, Iran, Korea, Jordan, Philippines) name ‘B’ or ‘C’ or junior players in their 3x3 rosters and save their biggest stars for the version of the game that matters: 5-on-5, full-court, 40 minutes per game. Not India, though, who, in the young history of official 3x3 events, have had no qualms about doubling up the same stars for both formats.

Part of the reason for this is to give India a chance to get a competitive result at such events. The other reason is that India doesn’t have a professional basketball league back home and India’s best players rarely get the international exposure to match top players from other nations. Through the 3x3 circuit, top players like Bhriguvanshi get another rare chance to showcase their skills internationally.
But is there a benefit that can cross over from 3x3 success to the full version of the game?

“It’s a different thing,” said Bhriguvanshi, “And we can’t convert it [3x3 success] to “proper” basketball, because it’s small court, only up to 21, etc.”

Sure, 3x3 has its benefits. It helps to promote the game to a newer, more impatient fanbase, who only have the time or attention span for the shortest blimp of competition possible (call it the ‘twitterization’ of basketball). It brings a more level playing field between players from different countries, and thus every country – be it the USA or India – has a real chance of winning any team. Like T20 remixed the longer version of Cricket to a shorter, faster pace, FIBA wants 3x3 to do the same for basketball.

But, just like there is nothing to match the class and timeless quality of Test Cricket, there is nothing like ‘Real’ basketball success that can be matched by 3x3.

3×3 Basketball is here to stay. Even though the International Olympic Association (IOA) ruled the format out from the 2016 Olympics, FIBA will continue to push the game internationally. 3×3 World Championships and tours are now being heavily promoted by basketball’s governing body. The NBA is boosting it with 3×3 tournaments across India (and Asia). And India’s national teams have begun to participate (and dominate) Asian 3×3 tournaments.

Last year, the BFI launched the first-ever national 3x3 basketball championships in India, holding competitions for Men and Women at the senior and the under-18 level. The tournament became a vehicle to better prepare and scout Indian players for 3x3’s global rise.

India’s growing national and international clout in 3x3 basketball is a wonderful thing, but the last thing that the BFI and Indian players need to do is grow complacent with 3x3 success. If India chooses, we can still occasionally send our best players to international 3x3 tournaments to help expand their international exposure, but like other countries, we should also think about using it as a vehicle to develop youngsters. 3x3 success is one thing, but the BFI cannot boast of gold medals at the Asian Beach Games if they are losing by 30 or 40 to the same teams in full FIBA Asia tournaments.

Despite recent improvements, India are still the minnows in traditional basketball tournaments at the international stage. Good performances at 3x3 tournaments have been a flicker of hope, but this success should be part of the journey, not the destination. Instead of resting our laurels with 3x3, we should use the confidence of those performances to propel our game where it matters.

December 9, 2014

WBFI to hold Wheelchair Basketball workshops and national tournament in India this month

Basketball has its benefits: physical fitness, competitive spirit, social interaction, teamwork, and a sharpening of the mental senses are just some of them. And there's no reason why our favourite sport in the world and its benefits should be limited just to able-bodied individuals. The Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) is looking to bring the joy of the game to disabled individuals this month with wheelchair basketball and boccia workshops across five different cities over the course of two weeks - starting on December 5 - before a national tournament in Chennai on December 20.

The WBFI are conducting the workshops in collaboration with Choice International, the International Red Cross, and other partners.

The workshops are free of cost and are being conducted by international coaches from around the world, including Mark Walker (Australia), Jess (USA), Mike (Nepal), Manoj Soma (UK) and Aram Voerman (Netherlands). Former Captain of the Indian National Basketball Team and Asian All-Star Jayasankar Menon is also extending his support to the initiative.

The workshops were inaugurated at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC) in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi December 5. The Chairman of the ISIC, Maj. HPS Ahluwalia was present at the inauguration and said, “While Wheelchair Basketball is one of the leading international paralympic sports, it is hardly played in our country. We need to promote the sport not only to create professional sportspersons but also for rehabilitating people with disability.”

The workshops aim to increase awareness on the positive impact of disability sports, specifically Wheelchair Basketball and Boccia, among disabled persons in India. The workshops specifically target the disabled persons, coaches, community leaders, referees, physiotherapists interested in disability sports. The organizers seek to use disability sports as a tool to promote equality and access to disabled persons and also, to develop and train disabled sports-persons to enable them to compete at national and international disability sports tournaments.

The workshops will cover various areas on Wheelchair Basketball such as the fundamentals (basic basketball skills with an introduction to the rules of the game), contact, stretching, basic chair skills, ball-handling and passing.

The workshops will be rounded off by a mini-tournament in Chennai on December 20 with the best wheelchair basketball players selected from the workshops competing against each other.

Programme Schedule
  • Delhi: Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC) - December 5-10.
  • Delhi: Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust - December 8-9.
  • Cochin: Mar Athanasius College of Engineering - December 12-13.
  • Pune: Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre - December 12-13.
  • Bengaluru: Sri Kantaveera Indoor Stadium - December 14-15.
  • Chennai: Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium - December 15-23.
Those who want to get involved in the project can contact the WBFI through their website, or the contact information on the flyer attached to this post.

December 8, 2014

2014 NBA Jam National Finals conclude in Pune

For the past three and a half months, 3x3 basketball events have been brewing across the country, pitting the most competitive college teams against each other at the NBA Jam. After a record 16 cities 'jamming' with the NBA and basketball, the finals of the 2014 NBA Jam - the biggest iteration of NBA India's annual college basketball and youth festival - came to a conclusion with the national finals in Pune on December 7. The winning teams from each city eliminated each other before two champions in the men's and women's division stood at the top of the podium on Sunday at Pune's Ness Wadia College.

Between August 18 to December 4 this year, NBA Jam was held in 16 cities in India: Chennai, Guwahati, Cochin, Lucknow, Jaipur, Nagpur, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneshwar, New Delhi, Mumbai, Indore, Hyderabad, and Pune. Nationally, the hoops festival involved more than 650 colleges and 3200 teams. Apart from 3x3 basketball in each city, the NBA Jam also featured music and entertainment competitions like graffiti, DJ-spin off, B-boy dancing, and more.

The National Finals were held in Pune with winners from each city form December 5-7. Punjab Warriors (Boys) and Pune Ballers (Girls) were crowned the national champions. Indian VJ/actor and basketball fan Raanvinjay Singha was present to witness the finals and award the winning teams.

NBA Jam, organized by NBA India, was powered by Jabong and held in partnership with Sony SIX. One of the highlights of the NBA Jam was a guest appearance by three-time former NBA champ Bruce Bowen, who visited the tournament's iterations in Kolkata and Chandigarh last month.

December 7, 2014

Vivek Ranadive and Vlade Divac represent Sacramento Kings / UNICEF visit to LTMC Medical College in Mumbai

Sacramento Kings' owner - Mumbai-born businessman Vivek Ranadive - is currently in India for his first official trip back to the homeland since he became the first Indian to purchase the majority share of an NBA franchise. Ranadive is being accompanied by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, former Kings' legend Vlade Divac, and a host of staff with the team. While most of the trip has been related to the business and sporting growth of NBA and basketball in India, the Kings family - along with NBA India - found time to help make a difference to the underprivileged in Mumbai.

Ranadive, Divac, the Senior Director of Basketball Operations for NBA India Carlos Barroca, and more visited the Nutrition Rehabilitation Ward at the department of Pediatrics, LTMC Medical College Sion Hospital in Mumbai on December 3 in a visit organized in partnership with UNICEF. The Kings are a partner of UNICEF Kid Power – a new programme where as American kids hit their daily activity goals it triggers a donation of RUTF (Ready To Use Therapeutic Food) to severely malnourished children around the world. The group donated RUTF to malnourished children at the hospital.

Kings' President Chris Granger, US Fund for UNICEF staffer Matt Meyersohn, and Kings Senior Director of Communications Laura Braden were also a part of the visit.

December 2, 2014

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver visits India for the first time - with Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and Vlade Divac

It took the NBA's previous commissioner David Stern 29 years of holding office before venturing forth to relatively uncharted waters, visiting India for the first time in 2013, just months before passing on the crown to his successor. Fortunately for the NBA's growing fanbase in the country, that successor didn't wait as long before ticking India off his global checklist. Adam Silver - the new NBA Commissioner who took over from Stern earlier this year - is rounding off his first calender year as the top man in office with his first-ever India trip, to the nation's financial capital Mumbai.

Silver is travelling with a couple of famous friends, too: Sacramento Kings' owner Vivek Ranadive - the Mumbai-born tech mogul who is the first and only Indian owner of an NBA franchise - took it upon himself to be Silver's guide through this hometown. Ranadive obviously has a long-standing personal and professional relationship with his homeland, but this incidentally is also his first time visiting India in a official position after purchasing the majority share of the Kings last summer.

The third major member of the travelling party to India is former NBA and international basketball star Vlade Divac, who enjoyed a long and successful tenure in the league for the Lakers, Hornets, and notably, the Kings. This is the Serbian's first-ever trip to India as well.

In the first official stop of their trip, Silver, Ranadive, and Divac visited the IES School in Dadar, Mumbai on December 2 for a Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA clinic. Nita Ambani - the chairperson of the Reliance Foundation - welcomed the group at the clinic, where they interacted with young fans and got a chance to speak about their vision of basketball's future in India. (all quotes via The Times of India).

"Our goal is to provide children in India with the opportunity to play and enjoy basketball, and I thank the Reliance Foundation for supporting our efforts to grow the game across the country," Silver said at a skills clinic.

Ranadive added, "The way the Junior NBA program is progressing, the day isn't far when an Indian boy or girl will be playing in the NBA or WNBA."

"Reliance Foundation is committed to developing multiple sports at the grassroots level. We are delighted that the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme got off to an exciting start, by reaching out to hundreds of thousands of children in the very first year itself and providing them opportunities to discover and experience the fun and techniques of basketball," said Ambani.

By prioritizing India early in his tenure as commissioner, hopefully Silver has made his intentions clear that the country's untapped potential can truly be a goldmine to develop an exciting future destination for NBA activities. India has a good model to follow in northern neighbours China, where basketball has become the favourite sport of the billion-plus population and a healthy cycle of grassroots-to-elite players system has been churning out for over a decade. Because basketball is still a fringe sport in India, it would be unrealistic to dream of matching NBA's success in China here - but India is still a big enough country with a lot of young fans ready to jump on the league's bandwagon.

A few months ago, I had interviewed Vivek Ranadive for on the future of basketball in India and the Kings. Ranadive had spoken about his plans to learn from the China model to apply in India and why he believed that the country can be a special destination for the NBA. Looking ahead to the trip with the NBA Commissioner, he had told me that, "The goal is really to introduce [Silver] to the Indian market, and to show India that we’re very committed to the market. The NBA has embraced my vision of NBA 3.0, which is, really using technology, globalization, and sport as an agent of good to drive the future of basketball."

(Ranadive had also said that part of the India contingent would be former superduperstar and Kings part-owner Shaquille O'Neal. Unfortunately for all fans of the Big Aristotle, that hasn't happened - yet).

While Stern's trip to Mumbai last summer was primarily a vehicle to push forward an NBA Cares event, Silver's visit - where his first stop was a basketball clinic - signifies a focus on the development of grassroots basketball in India. If India hopes to take the next major step and one day feature a player at the NBA level, this is where the groundwork will have to be laid. With Ranadive on his side - a man who has clearly focused on India as the next big market for his Kings - this visit can be mutually beneficial to all parties.

Including the most important 'party' of all in this equation: basketball in India!

December 1, 2014

Bollywood Showtime: Indian celebrities love the Lakers

If you woke up last night and decided to become an NBA fan, you would be living in a world where Anthony Davis and Marreese Speights were the two best players in the league, the Raptors were the favourites to win the Eastern Conference, and the Lakers were that weird '40-40-40' team (Kobe shoots 40, scores 40, loses by 40). Little would you know that the team in purple-and-gold from Los Angeles are actually one of the most successful franchises in NBA history, winning 16 championships and featuring about half of the NBA's greatest-ever. Five of those championships were collected over the past decade and a half - all partly credited to a certain Kobe Bryant - conveniently during an era when the internet made the world a much smaller place and brought the NBA closer to the Indian fan than ever more.

No surprise then that the Lakers - who already carried with them the legacies of Mikan, West, Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic, and Worthy - are one of the most popular NBA teams worldwide, including in India, of course. So while the likes of LeBron, Durant, and a certain consistently successful Spurs team have ruled the NBA stratosphere over the past few years, Kobe and the Lakers are still kings across the pond in India.

Now, as the NBA expands its outreach in India, it is looking to hook new fans towards the game by using India's most popular bait: Bollywood. Film stars - both superstars and those on the fringes - and the NBA have a neat mutually-beneficial relationship to help each others' visibility. A couple of reoccurring popular names have been cropping up at NBA events in India around the country in recent years, And seeing the photos from these events have brought me to the scientific conclusion that Indian celebrities love the Lakers. Or, Indian celebrities 'love' the Lakers.

One of the common NBA India partners is actress Neetu Chandra (or Neetu Chandraa as her numerologist may have suggested), a long-time supporter of basketball in India as a former Maharashtra player herself. Chandra has a little niche as Taekwondo black-belt holder and basketball fan. She's a regular at the Indian basketball All Star games in Mumbai and now, a regular celebrity attraction at NBA Jam events around several Indian cities. She likes Kobe.

Rannvijay Singh is that guy who was really mean to everyone on MTV Roadies. Now, he's acted in a few Bollywood films and is going to be an army hero for a TV show called Pukaar. He's also an NBA fan apparently who shockingly loves the Lakers and Kobe. NBA India has invited him to several of their events in recent months, including a showcase with former 3x NBA champ Bruce Bowen (where he wore a Lakers T-Shirt, sorry Spurs fans) and of course, NBA Jam. He likes Kobe.

Abhishek Bachchan is a pretty big star right? Amitabh's son, Guru, all the Dhooms, Dostana, Sarkar, Dostana, Happy New Year etc etc etc. Well, did you know that he loves the Lakers? No, he really does, and he's loved them for a while. Since Magic, we hear. He's been to NBA All Games, Lakers games, etc. He was also chosen by Jabong and NBA India to be the celebrity endorser at the NBA's India store launch in Mumbai, where he showed up in a Lakers # 1 jersey (and I thought it was a tribute to Kobe's greatest ever teammate, Smush Parker).

Before Ranbir Kapoor became 'Rockstar', I knew him mostly for the fact that he was once India's second Knicks fan - after me. Well, Ranbir seems to have quit on his roots and joined the purp-and-yellow side, too. He was at a Lakers game in New York a few years ago, and ended up hanging out with Kobe, getting his sneakers, and rooting for the Lakers.

Models/actors Dino Morea and Lara Dutta were a little ahead of the curve of Bollywooders jumping on the NBA bandwagon, but not many people cared back then. The two got VIP access to the Lakers in Los Angeles, hung out with Kobe, came home with a couple of Lakers jerseys, and saw some NBA hoops. It might blow your mind to hear that they like the Lakers too.

But don't fear, Kobe/Laker haters in India. You'll always have Neha Dhupia, who made sure to order a LeBron Heat jersey online from the first chance she got. Is she going to burn it now that he's gone back to Cleveland or join the bandwagon? I predict door number two.

And then there's this... I have no idea where the photograph is from and when it was taken. But it's only India's greatest-ever sportsman Sachin Tendulkar chilling in a Chicago Bulls hat. Considering Tendulkar's younger look here and the quality of this photograph, I'm gonna guess that this was sometime in the 90s, around the same time that the greatest-ever basketball player - Mr Michael Jordan - was turning the Bulls into a worldwide institution. Now if only we could get Jordan and Tendulkar in the same shot for a meeting of the Gods. It's gonna be like when Thor meets Superman.

No matter how depressing that 3-13 record looks to Lakers fans right now, at least they can take some relief in the fact that Bollywood still believes in them. That's gotta count for something right? For the haters, just wait another decade when the young kids from today become the stars of tomorrow and make LeBron fashionable in India just in time for his 40th birthday.

November 29, 2014

Madhya Pradesh (Boys) and Kerala (Girls) win 41st Sub Jr National Basketball Championship in Nashik

After winning a memorable double at last year's Sub Junior Nationals, Chhattisgarh's Boys and Girls had a chance to make it a 'double-double' when both teams qualified for the Finals at the tournament in Nashik (Maharashtra) this year. But their opponents had other plans: In two exciting final games at Nashik's Meenathai Thakrey Stadium on Friday, November 28, Madhya Pradesh (Boys) and Kerala (Girls) teams denied a repeat result at India's 41st Sub-Jr National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls by bringing back the gold their respective states. The two final games marked an end to the week-long tournament featuring 45 of the best under-14 boys and girls teams from across the country.

The tournament was organized by the Basketball Federation and India (BFI) and IMG Reliance along with the Maharashtra State Basketball Association (MSBA).

The boys final was a rematch between Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh from last year. The two neighbouring states - one born out of the other over a decade ago - played in a tough, defensive final a year ago where Chhattisgarh emerged as winners. This was MP's third consecutive boys' final appearance, and finally, they ended their losing streak at the last stand of this competition with a high-scoring finish. After trailing by 13 in the first quarter, MP responded with a bang in the second and trailed by just three at halftime. Behind scintillating performances by Amit Singh Chouhan (31) and Manish Prasad (19), MP continued at their fast pace to stretch their lead out to a 94-82 win. Salim Ali (26) and Saif Ali Khan (24) were the leading scorers for Chhattisgarh.

The women's final was a meeting of familiar foes - Kerala and Chhattisgarh - two teams that marked the most successful junior girls basketball programmes in the country. Chhattisgarh had won every single girls' Sub-Junior title since 2002, an astonishing twelve titles in a row. But their dominant streak finally came to an end on Friday evening. Led by 36 points and nine rebounds by inspirational captain Sreekala R, Kerala overturned a two-point halftime deficit to charge ahead in the third quarter and hold off Chhattisgarh's comeback attempts in the final period to win 78-72. Despite their success at the youth and junior levels, this was actually Kerala's first Sub-Junior nationals victory in the tournament's 41-year history. For Chhattisgarh, Elizabeth Ekka scored a game-high 37 points while Neha Karva added 17.

The Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards at the championship were handed to Kerala's Sreekala R (Girls) and MP's Mani Thakur (MP).

Earlier on in the day, the girls' bronze-medal game became an epic one-on-one encounter featuring two of the most impressive scoring performances ever seen at the national Sub-Junior level in India. Haryana's Meenu and Uttar Pradesh's Vaishnavi Yadav turned the game into their personal playground. Meenu scored a mammoth 65 points - a tournament high - breaking her own record of a 50-point game in the semi-final loss just a day earlier. In response, Yadav had 57 for UP to keep her side in the game. In a close back-and-forth contest, UP bounced back in the fourth quarter after trailing by five to win the game 98-95. In the boys' bronze game, Kuldeep S scored 21 to help Rajasthan defeat Odisha 73-61. Suresh D had 29 for Odisha in a losing effort.

On Thursday, Haryana's Meenu had taken part in a prior one-on-one duel, this time against the tournament's eventual MVP and champion Sreekala R of Kerala. The first girls' semi-final was held between Kerala and Haryana, which the former won quiet comfortably 96-78 after leading by just one at halftime. Once again, the story of the game however was an individual duel. Sreekala scored 42 to help her team win the match while Meenu poured in 50 in a losing effort. For Kerala, Aparna also added 28 in the win. In the other semi-final, Chhattisgarh defeated UP 73-65 thanks to 22 points by Elizabeth Ekka. Vaishnavi Yadav (34) and Shivangi G (16) were UP's leading scorers.

Eventual boys' winners MP fended off their semi-final challengers Odisha were relative ease, 78-61 behind 22 points by D. Raj and 16 by Harshwardhan. Odisha's best performers were Suresh Das (20) and Suresh (18). Chhattisgarh's duo of Salim Ali (18) and Saif Ali Khan (17) were at their best against Rajasthan in a high-scoring win, 96-85. While Chhattisgarh had a small edge to the game throughout, the single-handed efforts of Kuldeep Singh (36) kept Rajasthan contending till the very end.

Final Scores
  • Girls: Kerala (Sreekala R. 36, Aparna Sadasivan 15, Danielie Mathews 13) bt Chhattisgarh (Elizabet Ekka 37, Neha Karva 17) 78-72 (22-18, 13-19, 21-11, 22-24).
  • Boys: Madhya Pradesh (Amit Singh Chouhan 31, Manish Prasad 19, Mani Thakur 13) bt Chhattisgarh (Salim Ali 26, Saif Ali Khan 24) 94-82 (16-29, 28-18, 25-18, 25-17).
Third/Fourth Place Games
  • Girls: Uttar Pradesh (Vaishnavi Yadav 57) bt Haryana (Meenu 65) 98-95 (27-27, 13-16, 24-26, 34-26).
  • Boys: Rajasthan (Kuldeep S. 21) bt Odisha (Suresh Das 29) 73-61 (20-11, 11-10, 20-20, 22-20).
Final Standings Girls
  • 1. Kerala
  • 2. Chhattisgarh
  • 3. Uttar Pradesh
  • 4. Haryana
  • 5. Tamil Nadu
  • 1. Madhya Pradesh
  • 2. Chhattisgarh
  • 3. Rajasthan
  • 4. Odisha
  • 5. Haryana

November 26, 2014

Maharashtra State Basketball Association facing protest from district associations

10 district associations in the state of Maharashtra have joined hands to protest against the Maharashtra State Basketball Association (MSBA), requesting for a removal of MSBA officials for causing irregularities, miscommunication, and the misuse of power. The protest was raised by Shatrughan Gokhale, the secretary of the Nagpur District Basketball Association, in an open letter to the MSBA sent via the media. The letter comes out at a curious time, when Maharashtra's Nashik district is hosting the 41st Sub-Jr National Basketball Championship.

In his letter, Gokhale alleges that several MSBA officials have refused to give up their seats long after the mandatory end to their maximum four-year term and not conducted enough management committee meetings in the past year.

Gokhale's district of Nagpur, along with Bhandara, Gondia, Gadchiroli, Wardha, Amravati, Yoetmal, Washim, Akola, and Buldhana have joined hands officially in the protest. The letter further states that up to five more districts will be joining the dissenting group over the coming days, and memorandums will be sent to the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the Maharashtra Olympic Association (MOA), and the Director of Sports, Pune.

Some excerpts from Gohkale's letter, via

A managing committee meeting is required to decide and conduct the state championships in various age categories, to appoint selection committee and coaches for the national championships, to maintain and pass the regular accounts of association, to discuss and decide on the grievances of players, coaches and various districts and many similar issues.With just two managing committee meetings in its four-year term the MSBA failed to perform the basic responsibility required to run any association.

Our decision to start this drive now is because all the state tournaments being conducted under the banner of MSBA after its term expired in April are unauthorized. Being an affiliated unit we do not have a choice but to play in these unauthorized championships. If we do not participate then our players will be at loss. With no choice left we all decided to start this drive.

Read the full letter here for more of the group's demands to the MSBA.

November 23, 2014

India's top under-14 state teams head to Nashik (Maharashtra) for 41st Sub-Jr National Basketball Championship

Don't equate India's lack of international basketball success to a lack of potential talent: As some of the top late-bloomers in India have shown, it wasn't their talent which was lacking, it was only their timing. To create a revolution in Indian basketball and produce world-beaters from our country, we have to focus on identifying and training the players with the best upside as early as possible. For about a week in Nashik (Maharashtra), fans will get a chance to see the work put in to hone the craft of the youngest members of the Indian hoops fraternity. The Sub-Junior (Under-14) nationals is the youngest national-level basketball tournament in the country: From November 22-28, Nashik is hosting the 41st Sub-Jr National Basketball Championship for Boys and Girls. 27 boys' teams and 25 girls' teams gathered for tip off at the Meenathai Thakrey Stadium on Saturday.

The onus will be on Chhattisgarh - champions in both the boys' and girls' divisions at this tournament last year in Patna - to continue their dominating performances this year, too. Chhattisgarh's girls have won every Sub-Jr title since 2002 (12 in a row!), and last year, their boys' team joined in the celebrations, too. Madhya Pradesh will be another team to watch in both divisions while Tamil Nadu (Girls) and Rajasthan (Boys) have enjoyed stellar performances in this competition in the recent past. Hosts Maharashtra will be out to defend their home court, while this tournament will also mark the debut of Telengana - India's newest state born out of northern Andhra Pradesh - at the national basketball level as an independent team.

The tournament is being organized by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG Reliance in partnership with the Maharashtra Basketball Association.

Participating teams at the 41st Sub-Jr National Basketball Championship

  • Boys: Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Tripura, Karnataka, Mizoram, Telengana, Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal, Delhi, Punjab, Goa, Kerala, Manipur, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh.
  • Girls: Assam, Bihar, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Telengana, Rajasthan, Goa, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Manipur, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Haryana, Gujarat.
Chhattisgarh's Boys team opened up their title defense in style on Saturday, taking a 11-point lead at halftime up to a convincing 75-57 victory over the tough Andhra Pradesh squad. Salim Ali was impressive for Chhattisgarh with 27 points in the win. In a battle of the silver and bronze medalists from 2013, Madhya Pradesh used a scintillating fourth quarter to turn a close game into a blowout victory against Rajasthan. Harshwarohan Tomar had 21 for MP, who won 60-40 after a 16-4 run in the final period of the game.
In a girls' contest of two strong neighbouring southern states, Kerala used tough defense to see off Karnataka 49-27. Sreekala R led the way for Kerala with 23 points in the win, nearly single-handedly equaling the total of her opponents. In their first game as an independent state, Telengana Girls maintained a steady lead over Rajasthan en route to a 50-31 win.

Selected Scores

  • Chhattisgarh (Salim Ali 27) bt Andhra Pradesh (S. Syed 14) 75-57 (23-16, 16-12, 25-20, 11-9).
  • Madhya Pradesh (Harshwarohan Tomar 21) bt Rajasthan 60-40 (12-8, 14-14, 18-14, 16-4).
  • Odisha (Suresh Das 36) bt Uttar Pradesh 66-58 OT (9-17, 17-6, 22-15, 5-15, 13-5).
  • Odisha (Papli Patra 14) bt Uttarakhand 41-25 (14-10, 2-4, 15-6, 10-5).
  • Telengana bt Rajasthan 50-31 (13-12, 15-9, 13-4, 9-6).
  • Kerala (Sreekala R 23) bt Karnataka 49-27 (12-8, 10-10, 10-5, 17-4).
The finals of the tournament are scheduled to be held on Friday, November 28.

November 19, 2014

2014 Asian Beach Games 3x3 basketball: Qatar (Men), Chinese Taipei (Women) win gold; India Men capture silver medal

Basketball may not necessarily be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Thailand's beach paradise Phuket, but it was this very destination that hosted the 4th Asian Beach Games, a 10-day long celebration of various beach sports, which also featured a short 3x3 beach basketball tournament. For four days, 12 men's teams and eight women's teams from all over Asia took part in quickfire half-court basketball games at the Karon Beach in Phuket. On the final day of the knockouts - Tuesday, November 18 - Qatar (Men) and Chinese Taipei (Women) emerged as gold-medal winners.

After a wonderful run through the tournament where India's Men's squad had won all five of their Preliminary Round games, the quarter-final, and the semi-final, they fell by the closest of margins - one solitary point - to Qatar in the Final. India had to thus settle for a silver medal, still an admirable result for the team which finished fifth at the tournament's last iteration in Haiyang two years ago. India's Women - reigning champs from 2012 - could not repeat their success after choosing to send a far less experienced team to Phuket. India lost all three of their games to finish at seventh place.

The Men's final was a memorable affair between Qatar and India, with the latter attempting to win this tournament for the second time after a gold medal back in 2008. In a neck-to-neck game which was decided by just one point, Qatar edged India by the closest of margins - 21-20 - to win the tournament. Boney Watson led Qatar with nine points in the final while India's Vishesh Bhriguvanshi scored eight in the loss.

In a lower-scoring Women's final, Lo Pin scored eight points to help Chinese Taipei defeat China 15-13 and capture the gold medal.

Both the bronze medals were won by hosts Thailand. The Thai women defeated Mongolia 13-7 to win bronze while Thailand's Men edged Bangladesh in a close contest, 17-15.

Earlier in the day, India had shown no mercy to neighbours Bangladesh with a comfortable 21-6 victory in the Men's semi-final. Qatar had secured their place in the Men's final with a 21-16 win over Thailand. In the women's semi-finals, China had defeated Thailand 17-13 and Chinese Taipei had overcome Mongolia 17-10.

India's four-member squad in the Men's competition was led by Pratham Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amrit Pal Singh, and Yadwinder Singh. The star-studded squad - comprising of all players from the senior national men's team - finished the tournament with a 7-1 record with their only loss in the final.

India opened the tournament with a 21-9 win over Bhutan and a 21-4 thrashing of Laos later in the same day. India showed no mercy in front of the hostile home crowd to defeat Thailand 21-4. Their closest Preliminary stage win was against Mongolia, 18-4. India finished off the group stage to finish top of Group B with a head-turning 18-12 win against China. In the Quarter-Finals on Tuesday, India had dispatched Turkmenistan 21-11 before moving on to their semi-final and final contests against Bangladesh and Qatar.

At an average age of 20, Team India sent a younger squad to Phuket for the 3x3 tournament, led by Kavita Kumari, Jeena PS, Poojamol Kochuparambu, and Rajaganapathi Rajapriyadharshini. Despite some exciting young talent on offer, Indian eves failed to impress, finishing bottom of their group with three losses and failing to qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament.

India first game in Group A was also their best, but despite a strong defensive performance, they couldn't do enough to prevent losing 13-11 to the Philippines. Over the next two games, India also lost to China (18-12) and Mongolia (21-12). They finished the tournament 0-3 and at seventh place overall.

Final Standings

  • 1. Qatar
  • 2. India
  • 3. Thailand
  • 1. Chinese Taipei
  • 2. China
  • 3. Thailand

November 17, 2014

Hometown Hoops: Watching Finals of the Indian School Basketball League in Varanasi

To those who have been closely following national-level basketball news in India, you would have known about the expanded Indian School Basketball League (ISBL) and the Indian College Basketball League (ICBL) launched by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance this year. The two leagues have expanded to 22 and 21 Indian cities respectively this year, with the new seasons of the leagues beginning around the end of September. Perhaps the most encouraging fact about the expansion was that the well-organized events were now set to be held not just in India's bigger cities but also in the Tier 2 or Tier 3 markets. The potential of basketball fever spreading through to the nation's grassroots through these leagues is immense.

One of these smaller markets is Varanasi, the tiny but culturally/politically important little city in Eastern Uttar Pradesh which has given rise of some of the best Indian players in recent years, including Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Trideep Rai, Divya Singh, Prashanti Singh, Akanksha Singh, and many more. The city also happens to be my hometown, and thus, obviously holds a extra-biased place in my heart. Varanasi was one of the cities chosen by the ISBL and the ICBL in their expansion this season; in both the leagues, Varanasi was placed in the 'Challenger League', the lower division where the best teams can have a chance to be promoted to the 'Premier League' depending on their performances.

Last night - November 11th - I happened to witness the ISBL Varanasi city finals, held at Sunbeam School-Bhagwanpur. Earlier in the day, Sunbeam School-Varuna (Girls) and Sant Atulanand (Boys) had already clinched the bronze medal at the city championship.

In the Boys final, Uday Pratap Inter College streamrolled passed DALIMS-Rohania 93-68 to win gold medal. The girls final was a much closer affair, where the hosts Sunbeam School-Bhagwanpur survived a neck-to-neck matchup against Rani Murar Kumari Ballika Inter College for a 34-33 victory. Sakshi Singh of Sunbeam-Bhagwanpur (Girls) and Dheeraj of Uday Pratap College (Boys) were named 'Best Players' at the tournament.

It was awesome to see next generation of potential basketball stars out of a city that has already produced so many great international talents for India recently. Hopefully, one of the young players from last night will also get a chance to breakthrough at the big stage in the coming years. Varanasi may be known for the ghats, the Ganga, it's temples, and its saris, but it's now time to add the city's hoops pedigree to the list, too.

November 15, 2014

A New NBA season for a New India

Anticipating a transformative year for NBA fans in India

This article was first published in my column for on November 3, 2014. Click here to read the original post.

Pau Gasol is one of the many NBA stars to have visited India in recent years.
Photo: Karan Madhok

I remember the first time I watched the NBA on TV. It was the mid-90s and I was more interested in watching Duck Tales on Doordarshan than ‘alternative’ games like basketball on Star Sports. The definition of sport used to begin and end with cricket. Although I’d heard of names such as Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, they hardly meant anything to me.

I remember catching a brief glimpse of a regular season game between the Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic, featuring stars like Karl Malone and Penny Hardaway. A few years later, my interest spiked when the Los Angeles Lakers signed this rookie named Kobe Bryant, who was making every basketball fan excited for the future. I began to play basketball more often, and thus, I cared more about the highest level of the game. The names seemed larger than life: Payton. Iverson. O’Neal. Rodman. Miller. Robinson. Garnett, and more.

I watched the Jazz once more in 1998. This time, they were in the NBA Finals, and by sheer luck, it happened to be the final game in a Bulls uniform for a certain Michael Jordan. I saw the steal, the push-off, and the last shot. The seeds of a love affair had been sowed. A year later, Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Marcus Camby, and Larry Johnson carried the eighth-seeded New York Knicks to an improbable Finals’ appearance, and in the process, the team won me over as the primary object of my affection.

Those who have followed the NBA in India from the early internet or pre-internet days will attest: it wasn’t the easiest love affair to have. We were limited to two or three early morning live games a week. We got our hands on SLAM Magazine occasionally, played NBA Live 99 on our computers, and waited 10 minutes each time on a dial-up network for the old website to load.

It was all worth it though, because the challenge of access made us treasure the NBA even more. There were no casual fans: you either cared deeply about the NBA or you had never heard about it at all. While many of my friends discussed Sachin and Ganguly or The Undertaker and Kane, I wanted to jump like Vince Carter and pass like Jason Williams.

Fast forward to the present day, and the smaller, more connected new world has made life wonderfully easier for the new Indian NBA fan. The internet has been a boon. Now, even thousands of miles away from Los Angeles or New York, you can follow your favourite players minute-by-minute updates on social media like never before. NBA highlights are only just a couple of YouTube clicks away. The League Pass has made almost any game accessible live through the course of the season every day. There is no bit of news, rumour, or meme that escapes the attention of a fan.

TV broadcasts have improved dramatically, too. From the time of two games a week, Sony SIX and Ten Sports double and tripled that number, and now, we are at the apex of NBA viewing options in India: Last year, Sony SIX signed a deal with the NBA to broadcast an NBA doubleheader nearly every day of the season, showing up to 14 games live weekly. That schedule is likely to continue again this year, making an NBA game as essential part of an Indian breakfast as that cup of masala chai or filter coffee.

Perhaps the biggest step forward over the last half decade is how, instead of the Indian fan constantly reaching out to find the NBA, it’s the NBA that has reached back to find the Indian fan. The NBA’s presence in India has grown steadily over the past six years. Now, the NBA has an India-specific website, an office in Mumbai, and staff dedicated to further help grow their presence in the country. Over the past six years, dozens of NBA players have visited India to hold clinics, take part in charity events, and promote the game.

There was a time when finding an old Michael Jordan poster among scraps in a random stationary shop in Mussoorie was one of the highlights of my year. Those days are long gone. From social media interactivity to regular, easy access to all types of NBA related information, jerseys, and other products, nothing is too out of reach for a fan anymore. The power of the NBA’s most popular teams and superstars have made names of places like San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Cleveland seem almost as familiar as Ranchi, Aurangabad, or Coimbatore. The NBA has taught me – and many other fans – more about North American geography than any school-teachers ever could have.

Once known only among small niche circles, basketball has become one of the fastest-growing sports in India. Viewership of live NBA games – according to NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco – went up by over 200 percent last year. NBA India has close to half a million fans in India on Facebook. Everything – from jersey and merchandise sales to celebrity endorsements – is on the upswing in India.

The new Indian NBA fan lives in a world where an Indian (Vivek Ranadive) owns an NBA team (Sacramento Kings). That owner has plans to bring the NBA’s Commissioner for a trip to India next month and is looking forward to hosting India’s first-ever NBA exhibition game.

When I asked Ranadive a few weeks ago about why he felt that India can be a special destination for the NBA and basketball, he replied, “I think that basketball is destined to be the premier sport of the 21st century. It’s a game that can be played by boys, by girls, indoors, outdoors, by one person, a few people, in cities, in villages, in rich countries, poor countries. It doesn’t require a lot of space. I don’t expect it to surpass cricket as the national pastime [in India], but I think it can be a strong number two... I think basketball is perfect for the Indian situation…”

Ranadive’s Kings also made Indo-Canadian Sim Bhullar the first player of Indian descent to sign with an NBA team. Bhullar was cut from the team recently, but his brief flirtation with the NBA opportunity brought even more attention towards the Indian fanbase. Although Bhullar was born and bred in Canada, the NBA and the Kings made sure to highlight him for his Indian heritage, and he was invited by Ranadive to be a part of the ‘India Day’ parade in New York this Independence Day. 

It is in this exciting new environment that the new NBA season begins over the pond in North America. Just like it has been over the last few years, I’m excepting another transformative season for NBA fans in India, where the numbers of online followers, TV watchers, merchandise customers, and most importantly, NBA-inspired basketball players in India will all rise.

Indian basketball fervour will never match China, where it is estimated that there are 300 million basketball fans. While it will remain a niche activity here in comparison to cricket or football, NBA basketball is carving out its own unique space in the Indian sport ‘fanosphere’. Rest assured, there is much optimism in the air for Indian NBA fans and the future is much brighter than the past.

If you’re already an old fan of the game, rejoice, for we are at the cusp of the NBA’s golden years in India. If you’re not on the NBA bandwagon, now would be a good time to jump in. Just like the English Premier League (EPL) before it, the NBA is primed to become one of the favourite foreign leagues for more and more mainstream Indian sports fans to follow.

When I look back to 20 years ago, it’s strange to imagine a world where NBA access to me was limited to little more than a couple of games per week, old trading cards and repeat broadcasts of ‘Space Jam’. Today, it gives me immense pleasure to see a large number of Indian fans embracing the game and to see their love affair become into a smoother ride. Like Ranadive said, basketball can be perfect for the Indian situation. I hope that 20 years from now, the NBA would have helped the rise of basketball as a sport across every city and village in our nation.