March 31, 2015

New Zealand basketball player Casey Frank will be in Bollywood film Mohenjo Daro

Students of ancient Indian history are familiar with the archaeological ruins of Mohenjo-daro, which are an ancient archaeological site of one of the largest cities of the Indus Valley civilization, founded over four and a half thousand years ago in 26th century BC. It was one of the world's earlier urban human settlements, and the region now lies in Sindh, Pakistan. Now, about four millennia after the end of the Indus Valley civilization, Bollywood has decided to take its crack at recreating the lifestyle (and the drama, action, romance, and comedy, too, of course) of our forefathers. Set to be produced by Disney India, the film Mohenjo Daro - directed by Ashutosh Gowariker and starring Hrithik Roshan - is set to be released sometime next year

IMDB summarizes the film as "A period adventure and love story set during the Indus Valley Civilization". Every adventure and love story needs a hero (Roshan), a heroine (Pooja Hegde), and a supporting cast (Kabir Bedi, Arunoday Singh, Kishori Shahane). But the adventure needs a good villain, too, and that's how - somehow - the director Gowariker stumbled upon a 6-foot-8 professional and international basketball player from New Zealand.

Meet Casey Frank, a 37-year-old American-born New Zealander who has played professional basketball in New Zealand and Australia for the past 15 years and been a regular fixture for the 'Tall Blacks', New Zealand's national squad. In an interview with Stuff recently, Frank spoke about getting an opportunity to play the 'big bad' in Gowariker's period drama. He spent around six weeks in India shooting the film with the crew, the principal photography of which was done in Bhuj, Gujarat.

Frank grew up in America, going to college in Northern Arizona, and declaring for the 1999 NBA draft where he was undrafted. He moved to his paternal home country to play professionally and was naturalized by New Zealand's national team as well. Frank has played in two FIBA World Championships in Japan and Turkey, and last year's FIBA World Cup in Spain. He was part of New Zealand's silver-medal team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. He's a four-time New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) champion and will return to play for the Super City Rangers this year.

So, while you're enjoying a romantic recreation of ancient history and being blasted by the inevitable Hrithik Roshan song-and-dance routine, keep your eye for the 6-foot-8 bearded kiwi in Mohenjo Daro as well. I'm not sure if they had basketball courts at Indus Valley, but since this is bound to be a creative twist at history, hopefully Frank gets a chance to play some early-civilization hoops too. If you've been a closer follower of his blog, you'll know that Roshan has, um, 'mastered' the art of Bollywood and Basketball in the past.

March 30, 2015

Basketball Federation of India has two opposing executive committees headed to conflict

Sports needs leadership, and leadership - in a democratic system - needs politics. But when politics overshadows the sport it is supposed to be leading, the sport is tarnished.

Several weeks ago, the Basketball Federation of India's (BFI) Secretary-General Ajay Sud resigned from position. Behind him, the BFI divided in disaray, with two separate factions staking claim of authority over leadership of the federation. As the BFI's Annual General Meeting (AGM) loomed, the two factions called two separate meetings last week and selected two separate executive committees to head the BFI. Now, the two teams are likely headed to conflict and a court case.

Last week was the culmination of a tense power struggle which has embroiled the attention of everyone connected with the BFI, with the front-office politics garnering much more attention than actual basketball operations. For the past three weeks senior journalist at The Hindu and Sportstar Kamesh Srinivasan has done a masterful job at reporting this painful hoops theater via his blog. Even as it seemed absurd that the same federation would host two separate meetings with two separate groups of individuals for the same job positions, as the days passed by and various voting members of the BFI pledged their divided loyalties one way or the other, the absurd started to become the reality. Finally, on March 27 and March 28, separate AGMs were held in Bengaluru and Pune respectively and two separate executive committees were selected, each claiming their legal right to the throne.

The BFI is the governing and controlling body of basketball in India, and is responsible for the development and promotion of the sport at all levels. BFI has been involved in conducting camps, clinics, events, and training sessions at its academies for the development of basketball. It is the body responsible for fielding India's national basketball teams. BFI came into being in 1935 and took complete control over Indian basketball in 1950.

On Friday March 27, the BFI faction led by K Govindraj held their AGM in Bengaluru, with the support of outgoing president RS Gill. At this meeting, Govindraj replaced Gill was elected as BFI's president, Teja Singh Dhaliwal was named Senior Vice-President, Chander Mukhi Sharma was named Secretary-General, and V Raghothaman the Treasurer. This meeting abolished the posts of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Deputy CEO, which were previously held by Roopam Sharma and Prem Pal Singh respectively.

Govindraj is a former player and also serves as the secretary of the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA). While he was selected BFI president in Bengaluru, former president Gill declared that this AGM was held under the ambit of the federation’s constitution. Observers from the Government of India, Government of Karnataka and FIBA Asia kept a close watch. "As per our constitution, only the president can call for a meeting and preside over it, and I was here for today’s meeting and all the other senior office-bearers were present too," Gill said, reported The Hindu. Gill also deemed the second AGM meeting illegal.

On Saturday March 28, the BFI faction led by CEO Roopam Sharma held their AGM in Pune. At this meeting, Poonam Mahajan was named the first-ever woman president of the federation and the youngest president of any sports federation of India, at 34. Sharma was elected as the BFI's Secretary-General, and Mukut Medhi (Secretary of Basketball Association of Assam) was named the new Treasurer.

Mahajan, a politician who is also the BJP national secretary and MP from the Mumbai North-Central Lok Sabha constituency, was also voted unanimously as the Maharashtra State Basketball Association's (MSBA) first woman president a few months ago. According to The Hindu, from the 32 affiliated units of the BFI, 22 took part in the Pune AGM. The daylong meeting was attended by 40 members of the 62 eligible voters. This meeting also had observers from the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) (Virendra D Nanavati), Government of India (Virendra Bhandarkar), and FIBA Asia keeping a close watch.

In the spirit of perfect diplomacy, the FIBA Asia overseer at both meetings was the same person: Mageshwaran Saba.

According to 'Team Sharma', some of the voting members at the 'Team Govindraj' meeting in Bengaluru didn't have voting rights while some were from barred units, and therefore, their decisions should not count. Gill refutes this claim. Team Govindraj used the BFI's constitution as well as the government guidelines from the 2011 Sports Code to claim that the CEO has no authority to appoint a returning officer or call a meeting, and thus, the Team Sharma meeting in Pune in itself was illegal. Sharma's CEO position had been created specifically for her husband - Harish Sharma - several years ago, and passed on to her after Harish's death. The position was outside the realms of normal sports federation seats such as Secretary-General, President, or Treasurer, all of which have to be rotated routinely and are part of the democratically voted structure created in Indian sports.

So what happens now?

The New Indian Express wrote yesterday that, with both the sides refusing to back down from their position, the issue may go up to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). Senior IOA officials have shown concern at these developments and (quoting The New Indian Express) even said if the issue was not settled, then the matter would end up in court.

Meanwhile, real Indian basketball begun this week, too, with the tip-off of the 2015 Federation Cup in Pune on Sunday, March 29. For now, it is Team Roopam presiding over the tournament. But in the long term, it is clear that this divide is going to break apart Indian basketball operations from the inside, with some of the member states reporting to one side, some to the other, leading to no real resolution.

A court case seems to be the likely scenario, and hopefully, a resolution is reached to determine the true leaders of the federation. Indian basketball has suffered with mismanagement for years, and this conflict threatens to stall progress of hoops in the country even further. For the players, coaches, referees, and fans of the game who care about the sport and not the back-office politics, the hope will be that, whoever wins the legal battle will actually be interested in Indian basketball more than furthering their own political clout.

UPDATE: The Hindu reported today that 'Team Govindraj' has received recognition from FIBA as the office-bearers of the BFI. The Govindraj Group has also changed the 'authorized signatories' of BFI's bank account and has initiated the process to take over BFI's physical office in New Delhi. This is far from the end of the conflict, however, as the matter is slated to be held in the Delhi High Court.

March 29, 2015

2015 Federation Cup tips off in Pune today amid BFI political drama

Usually, basketball news is what you receive when you search for news about basketball. Elementary, isn't it? Well, not in India. Embroiled with different factions fighting among each other to gain the control and power that comes with the leadership of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), Indian basketball has taken a backseat to Indian basketball politics. So much so that, the BFI itself seems to have been more interested in promoting their elections on their website rather than promoting the 29th Federation Cup All India Basketball Championship for Men and Women, one of the nation's top state/club level tournaments, which is tipping off in Pune (Maharashtra) today.

To briefly recap the off-the-court drama in recent days, two rebelling factions of the BFI selected two opposing executive committees to run the federation this week: one led by K. Govindraj and Teja Singh Dhaliwal in Bengaluru, the other by Poonam Mahajan and Roopam Sharma in Pune. But if you guys are done with your power-struggles, maybe its time to think about what you're actually fighting for: the basketball.

The Federation Cup pits India's most successful recent clubs or states against each other. Therefore, in the Men's division, the participating teams will be chosen from the eight best club sides from India's top ranking states in the previous National Basketball Championship, while the Women's teams will be represented by the eight top rankings states or railway units themselves. The 29th Federation Cup, organized by the BFI in association with Maharashtra State Basketball Association (MSBA) and Pune District Basketball Association will be held at Shiv Chhatrapati Krida Sankul in Mahalunge, Pune from March 29 - April 2.

ONGC Men - representing Uttarakhand - who have won the last two Federation Cup trophies, will be looking forward to making it a three-peat in Pune this year. Last year's women's winner Chhattisgarh, who are also the two-time reigning national championship winners, will be hoping to retain their trophy, too.

According to an update on yesterday, the tournament will be inaugurated on today by Girish Bapat, Cabinet Minister and BFI's first woman president (or so says one BFI faction) Poonam Mahajan.

BFI's political drama threatens to once again shift the focus and the privileges to the politicians sitting on the sofa rather than the players sweating it out on the court, itself. Hopefully, through the course of the Federation Cup, the country's most talented players are able to remind us why we love the game of basketball. For the actual basketball.

March 22, 2015

Hoopdarshan Episode 1: Introducing Hoopdarshan with Scott Flemming

Welcome to Hoopdarshan, the first ever podcast on Indian Basketball! On the first episode of Hoopdarshan, hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok introduce you to the podcast and interview our inaugural special guest, Scott Flemming, the Head Coach of India's Senior Men's National team. Flemming speaks about leading India to their first-ever victory over Asian powerhouses China last year, previews the national squad ahead of this year's FIBA Asia Championship, discusses some of the team's best players, and brings us up-to-date with his grassroots efforts around the country.

Hoopdarshan aims to be the true voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Follow Hoopdarshan on the following mediums and keep your eyes and ears ready for future updates and podcasts!

- iTunes Podcast store: Hoopdarshan
- Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud
- On Twitter: @Hoopdarshan

UPDATE: Hoopdarshan is now on iTunes podcast as well! Please use this link to subscribe to us,  or search for us on the iTunes Podcast Store. Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW! 

March 21, 2015

Too Many MVPs

As the NBA season reaches its climax, who’ll win the crowded MVP race?

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on March 11, 2015. Click here to read the original post.

There are essentially two types of races in every walk of life. The first type is really not a race at all but a massacre, a dominant performance by one individual far and above ahead of all competitors. The second type is the real contest, a neck-to-neck battle between several individuals which is decided only in the final moments.

In recent years, the race to the NBA MVP has been less of a contest and more of a one-man show, with one individual ultimately stamping his dominance over the narrative of an entire regular season. Despite early competition, LeBron James always ended up with the lion’s share of the votes as MVP in four of the last six years. Kevin Durant won 95 percent of available first-place votes en route to last season’s MVP award. Even Derrick Rose’s MVP campaign four years ago was almost a thunderous sweep, as he took 113 of the possible 121 first-place votes in 2011.

But, with about a month to go to the end of the 2014-15 regular season, a curious thing is happening with the NBA: unlike past years, there has been no single alpha dog to rise on the top of the pile. Usually, the MVP race is competitive and debatable till the mid-way point of the season, after which a clear most valuable player emerges on the court and in the mind-set of the fans and media. But, even midway through March, the race this year is still a genuine neck-to-neck contest, with five legitimate challengers emerging from all over the league.

There have been various reasons for this. Until last year, the league’s best players were divided into two talents: those who were named LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and those who were not. The NBA had a lot of great players, but KD and LBJ were great on a historic level. It had seemed as if it would take several more years before someone other than these two would win the MVP award. This season, however, with LeBron starting slow in Cleveland and Durant playing less than half of the games due to injury, other, younger superstars are breaking the duopoly.

A new world order of young stars has arisen in the league, like Stephen Curry and James Harden, who have mastered the art of dominating from the perimeter in unique fashions. This is a league where more three-pointers are being attempted and made every season, and the abilities of Curry and Harden to deftly create the three-point shot for themselves and others is leading to direct success for their teams.

But LeBron James’ all-around brilliance in the last few months is proving that it is never wise to count down the four-time MVP. LeBron is shooting up the MVP charts even as his primary contender in recent years – Kevin Durant – has reeled to injuries this season. Durant’s absence has left the door open for his teammate Russell Westbrook, who has steadied the ship over in Oklahoma City with mind-blowing basketball all season.

None of the players above can afford to take a breather, because out in New Orleans, 21-year-old phenom Anthony Davis is making some history of his own and hoping to crash the future into the present.

As we get closer to the season’s end and playoff seedings become a top priority, expect the MVP contenders to up the ante even further to deliver for their teams. The next five or six weeks are going to provide a breathless race to the finish as a multitude of stars sprint the final lap to stake their claim at the Most Valuable Player award.

Here are the top five contenders, in order of whom I believe has the best claim at the throne right now. Coincidently, all five of these players rank in the top five on the NBA’s scoring list, leading their teams by example on the offensive end every night.


James Harden: In recent years there has been so much chatter about what Harden can’t do that we have forgotten all the brilliant things that he is actually capable of. Let’s face it: Harden is a relatively poor defender and can spoil the purists of basketball aesthetics by his penchant for flaying and drawing fouls on the opposing end. Harden is averaging 27.1 points per game (second in the league), 7.1 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game, all of which are career-highs, and he has the NBA’s third-highest PIE rating (19.0). He has helped lead the Rockets to a 43-20 record, third-best in the Western Conference at this point.

It is the team success, and Harden’s responsibility for it, that is most remarkable and the strongest argument for why Harden has been more valuable than any other player in the league this season. The Rockets have won over 68 percent of their contests and have done so with Dwight Howard only playing in 32 games. Harden has the league’s best Win Shares, meaning that he has contributed more to adding a number of wins for his team than any other player in the NBA.

Stephen Curry: For the majority of the season, the Golden State Warriors (50-12) have been the NBA’s best team, although the Atlanta Hawks have been neck-to-neck lately. GSW’s success can be largely attributed to the continuing dominance of Stephen Curry, who is enjoying one of his best seasons as a pro with averages of 23.8 points (fifth-best in the league), 7.7 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game. Curry is also leading the NBA in steals (2.2 spg) and is second in free-throw percentage (90.3 %). Calculating a net rating of the difference a player makes per hundred possessions on both ends of the floor, Curry ranks atop all the players in the league – as a matter of fact, the top five in this statistic are all Warriors! Curry is also ranked fourth in Player Efficiency Rating (18.0) in the NBA.

The Warriors are loaded with talent. Klay Thompson blossomed into an All Star this season, Draymond Green is playing like a Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) candidate while Andrew Bogut mans the middle next to him. Harrison Barnes is back on a road to steady development, and their two highest-paid players – David Lee and Andre Iguodala – are coming off the bench. This team is among the NBA’s best in both defensive and offensive rating. While a lot of credit should to go to the deep pool of talent that surrounds him, Curry is the engine that makes the system run from the point position, creating for himself and others with considerable ease.

LeBron James: Around mid-January, LeBron James returned after taking off eight games, the longest stretch of games missed in all of his career. Until then, the ‘King’s’ return to Cleveland had been questionable, as the team struggled around mediocrity and LeBron looking mortal for the first time in about half a decade. But the rest was exactly the refresher James needed: since his return, James is back to his best, averaging around 27 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds per game, and leading the Cavaliers to 21 wins out of 26. With his help, the Cavs (41-25) are shooting up the East standings and are close to securing second place in the conference.

LeBron has set a high standard for his performances, and even his brilliance is starting to look regular. Through the course of this season, he’s averaging 26.0 points (third-best in the NBA), 7.3 assists, and 5.8 rebounds. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on his side, the Cavs are loaded, and the relative weaker East has given the team and LeBron time to find their rhythm. That rhythm seems to be strumming along beautifully now and LeBron will be hoping that he can stake his claim at a fifth MVP trophy.

Russell Westbrook: We may not survive to see a supernova explode close in front of our eyes, but in Russell Westbrook, we just may have the closest thing. There is nothing in the league like Westbrook, who is playing with an unmatched fierce intensity every night and keeping the Thunder in playoff contention out in the cut-throat West, even in the absence of Kevin Durant. After his career-best 49 point performance vs. the 76ers, Westbrook officially became the league’s leading scorer with a career-high 27.4 points per game. He’s also averaging 7.1 rebounds (career high), and is top five in the league in assists (8.3 apg) and steals (2.1 spg), PIE rating of 19.2%, and countless mean scowls per game. Westbrook has the NBA’s best assist percentage too, meaning he’s creating more often for his teammates than any other player in the league. After his unbelievable 49-16-10 night, he became the first player to collect four consecutive triple-doubles since Michael Jordan.

The only reason that he isn’t a clear MVP favourite is the performance of his team. The Thunder are 35-28 at this point, finding themselves eighth in the West, with the chasing Pelicans tethering right behind them. MVP awards are rarely considered for players struggling for their playoff survival, even though the team has a much better record in the games where he has played (30-18). If Westbrook can help the OKC rise further up the conference – and remain more valuable than his returning teammate Durant – he may well hijack the MVP trophy this year.

Anthony Davis: And before anyone else becomes comfortable, here come ‘The Brow’ to crash the party. It’s true, the Pelicans (36-29) are fighting for a playoff spot right now, but the only reason that this otherwise sub-standard roster finds itself in contention is the 21-year-old prodigy in the middle. Davis is enjoying a monster year, posting the league’s highest PIE rating (19.6) while posting a PER of historical greatness (31.66). He’s scoring 24.5 ppg (fourth-best in the league), leading the lead in blocks (2.8 bpg), and changing the game on both ends of the floor.

Like Westbrook, the numbers are eye-popping and the contributions to win-shares by the player are worth consideration. Unfortunately, also like Westbrook, Davis can’t be seriously considered as a front-runner with a team not in the post-season. But if the Pelicans can finish the season strong (they’ve won 9 of their last 11) and sneak into the playoffs, I believe that Davis definitely becomes a dark-horse contender to become the youngest-ever MVP in history.


So when the votes are counted at the end of the season, who will win this wacky race? The smart money would be to bet on the players on higher-ranked teams like the Warriors (Curry), Rockets (Harden), or Cavaliers (James). But don’t count out the chances of Westbrook and Davis if they continue to post monster individual performances and help their respective squads make a dramatic late-season surge.

While the eventual outcome remains difficult to predict, one thing’s for sure: with James Harden, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis all playing at a mesmerizingly high level, nearly every night in the NBA for the remainder of the season can provide us with a heroic performance. Brace on tight for greatness!

March 19, 2015

Introducing 'Hoopdarshan', the first podcast on Indian Basketball!

The pen is mightier than the sword. But sometimes, a rudimentary recording device can blow the ink out of even the mightiest pens.

And on that note, we would like to introduce to you Hoopdarshan, the first-ever podcast on Indian Basketball. Hosted by Kaushik Lakshman and myself, Karan Madhok, Hoopdarshan aims to be the true voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too.

On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game. Expect Indian basketball's biggest superstars, expect the movers and shakers of the industry, and sometimes, expect random family and friends who have something important/hilarious to say. More than anything, expect the unexpected!

And we have started off with a bang: for the very first podcast recorded last night, Kaushik and I spoke at great length with Scott Flemming, the Head Coach of India's Senior Men's national basketball team. Look out for the inaugural episode with Coach Flemming to be posted very soon.

The podcast seemed like a natural next order of business for me: I've been writing about and closely following Indian Basketball for over half a decade on this blog. I'm an Indian Basketball writer, and have worked with the Basketball Federation of India. I currently write for several different websites and publications, including the NBA's official website in India, SLAM Online, SLAM Magazine, and SLAM China Magazine, for India's top sports portal, and I have a column on the excellent Indian basketball website Ekalavyas.

My colleague, co-host, and friend Kaushik Lakshman is a sports junkie who has been playing basketball since he was 12. He's been on his school and college teams and now continues to play for a club in Bengaluru. His favourite NBA team is, sadly, the Los Angeles Lakers, (but he did manage to remind me that they're doing better than my Knicks). Lakshman is a huge football fan, particularly of Real Madrid (another affection we share), and has naturally drifted his fanhood to Madrid's basketball team and European hoops, too. Lakshman is part of another weekly podcast, a show about Real Madrid, Merengue Bites (On twitter: @Merengue_Bites).

Also, I want to give a special shout-out to one of my closest friends from childhood and the designer of the Hoopdarshan logo, Dhondup Roder. Roder is a talented Bhutanese graphic designer who you can follow on twitter at: @dhondupr. Check out his visual art page 'The First Beautiful of the Day'.

As Kaushik and I wade the early waters of this new challenge, expect a few rough edges in the early episodes of the podcast; but we hope to get better with time and provide listeners with an informative and entertaining listen over the next few weeks.

So what now? Follow Hoopdarshan on the following mediums and keep your eyes and ears ready for our first podcast dropping soon. Go India Basketball!

- iTunes Podcast store: Hoopdarshan
Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud
- On Twitter: @Hoopdarshan

UPDATE: Hoopdarshan is now on iTunes podcast as well! Please use this link to subscribe to us,  or search for us on the iTunes Podcast Store. Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW! 

March 17, 2015

Ajay Sud resigns from post of Basketball Federation of India's Secretary-General while the BFI divides in disarray

After several years of holding court as the Basketball Federation of India's (BFI) Secretary-General, Ajay Sud surprisingly resigned from his position earlier this month. Sud's resignation has come around a time of disarray for the BFI: with their Annual General Meeting (AGM) about 10 days away, factions within the federation that governs basketball in India have been divided. It is a problem that roots within a power and leadership struggle at the helm of the BFI and showed its effect when two separate circulars were sent to state basketball secretaries about the date and location of the AGM this year.

Around four years after becoming the Secretary-General, Sud has resigned from his post, and there are suspicious that the conflict and pressure within the BFI - especially in regards to the AGM - may have led Sud to this decision. While there are some claims that it was originally planned for the AGM to be held in Bengaluru on March 27, the new circular on the BFI website claimed that the AGM instead will be held in Pune (during the Federation Cup) on March 28.

For sporting bodies in India, the Secretary-General is one of the senior-most positions of operation. Federations like the BFI are led by a triumvirate of the President, Secretary-General, and Treasurer. All three positions have a maximum-allowed time of service and the Secretary-General is chosen by a vote by the executive committee, made up of secretaries of the state federations around India. Up to around 2011, the federation's Secretary-General was Harish Sharma, but the BFI created a new position – CEO – for him, which could be exempt from the maximum eight-year term of service and is not answerable to the federation’s president (RS Gill). Sud then replaced Sharma as the Secretary-General. After Sharma's death in 2012, his wife Roopam Sharma took over as the BFI CEO and has since held the position that gives her the power without a government-mandated time limit.

Within the BFI, senior leaders had discussed to now end the CEO position and degrade Roopam Sharma to the (non-permanent) Secretary-General position at the AGM; this could be the reason why those in support of Sharma as the CEO would be willing to a different annual meeting than those who were against it.

Sports journalist Kamesh Srinivasan - who has long-covered basketball for The Hindu and Sportstar - exposed the news about Sud's resignation and the split within Indian basketball on his blog a few days ago:

... a communication to the members was sent on February 28 about the AGM, with a promise that the details would follow shortly, as advised by the BFI president. However, the secretary general of the BFI, Ajay Sud, sent a circular on March 2, stating that the AGM would be held in Pune on March 28. Perturbed at having to go against the original understanding and directive of the president, the secretary general tendered his resignation the same day, after sending the circular.
"On moral ground and taking responsibility for what has happened, I extend my resignation... ", wrote Ajay Sud, in his communication
to the president, with copies to all the members of the association.

"I was pressured by some people to change the venue of meetings to Pune for which I gave my consent without the approval of President under
my scanned signatures on 2nd March 2015. As this action of mine was not according to my conscience and moral values... I resigned from the post of Secretary General", clarified Ajay Sud on Thursday.

The president RS Gill, who has served three terms in office and will be stepping aside after the AGM, took charge of the situation by sending the circulars to the members and also appointing a Returning Officer for the election to be held in Bengaluru on March 27, as he derived the powers to do so in the absence of the secretary general, as per the Constitution of the BFI.
However, the BFI with its headquarters in Delhi, swung into action and called the actions of the president as ‘illegal’ and ‘unconstitutional’. It has also sought the intervention of the Union Sports Ministry and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), stressing that the president had no authority to act the way he had done.
"Under the given circumstances, the President should have called for an emergency meeting of the Executive Board to discuss the status and
to take the consent of the General House", wrote CEO Roopam Sharma, emphasizing that she had the "sole legal authority to represent BFI including all correspondence as per the constitution of BFI".

I suggest that you read the full post by Srinivasan that had earlier brought this entire issue to light.

In India, the sports development code – formed by the Ministry of Sports – only allows a maximum of eight years for principal office bearers of a sports federation. During the past decade, Harish Sharma was the overruling ‘father’ of BFI, and thus, Indian Basketball as a whole. The BFI created the CEO position for Sharma, explaining that it was created specifically to keep him in a position of influential leadership. But in early 2012, at just the age of 53, Harish Sharma passed away, leaving the leadership of the BFI in temporary disarray. Instead of reverting to the old constitution (without a CEO), the BFI named Harish’s wife – Roopam Sharma – as the federation’s new CEO a few months later. Without a government-mandated time limitation for this position, Roopam – who is also a Deputy GM of Air India (Ground Relations) – is still the CEO, and may continue to remain so. She and her Deputy CEO Prem Pal Singh remain responsible for the majority of BFI’s decision-making, and thus, for the fortunes and future of basketball in India.

While the BFI has expanded its grassroots reach over the last few years with massive school and college leagues across dozens of Indian cities, there remains some dissatisfaction among federation insiders who believe that the current administration is failing to focus on a long-term development plan for the game.

At the AGM - wherever it's held - the BFI will elect new leaders and executive committee. While Sharma fights to a) keep the AGM in Pune and b) keep her CEO position, she can also count on the support of associates elected as representatives in other states who have had her support to win their state-level elections.

A prime example of this is in Maharashtra, where the experienced previous secretary of the Maharashtra State Basketball Association (MSBA) M. Venkatesh did not find a place for himself in the new structuring of the state federation last month to the surprise of many who respected his work for leading the development of basketball in Maharashtra and nation-wide. BJP politician and Mumbai North Member of Parliament Poonam Mahajan was voted unanimously as the MSBA’s new president while; Venkatesh was excluded was the entire 15-member executive committee. The General Secretary and President of each state federation in India gets a vote at the national level in choosing the BFI's general-secretary. With favourable individuals at the helm of the states, the BFI leadership can hope to extend their hold of the national power structure.

Sud has unwittingly become the latest pawn to fall in this elaborate game that is more chess than basketball. When I interviewed him a few months ago, Sud had told me that he would definitely be trying for another term as Secretary-General at the AGM, but had added that, "There is a lot of politics going on in the BFI,". Now, a few weeks before the event itself, he has counted himself out of the running. He now serves only as the secretary of the Himachal Pradesh Basketball Association (HPBA).

Photo courtesy:
Meanwhile, Venkatesh - who remains as one of the Vice Presidents of the BFI - has said that there is much work to be done to save the future of basketball in India.

“We should have a long-term plan,” Venkatesh told me, “We have foreign coaches, but our coaches should not be idle. They should always been doing something. We have plan for the Asian Basketball Championship (ABC) two years ahead every time. Who has to make the plan? Grassroots training isn't targeted or planned, either. That is the future of basketball in India. But we are continuing with the same old people and not getting any better performances at the ABC. When Harish Sharma was there, he was Secretary-General, the CEO of BFI, the Secretary-General of Middle Asia Zone, member of FIBA Asia, and IOA president. Today we don't have any Indian representation in FIBA Asia, Middle Asia etc."

Last summer, when India’s Men’s national team overcame the wildest odds and 40 spots of FIBA ranking to defeat the mighty China for the first time in the nation’s basketball history, it seemed that basketball in India was ready to take a great leap forward. American Head Coach Scott Flemming had successfully inspired the underdog side through self-belief and team-spirit to challenge several more talented teams at the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan (China) and ushered in a promise of international success ahead.

Unfortunately, back home in their own country, India’s basketball heroes have returned to a different kind of team. To a broken federation of associations that are running the sport in India and allowing internal politics to stunt the growth of India’s basketball potential. Fans of the game will hope that there is a quick and clean resolution to the power struggle at the top and the BFI returns to the path of thinking about the sport, instead of thinking about itself.

March 15, 2015

Income Tax and Southern Railway win 2015 All India Jeppiaar Basketball Trophy

Several of the top club teams in India headed down south to Chennai to take part in the fifth installment of the Jeppiaar Trophy All India Invitational Tournament, a championship that brought together 11 teams in the Men's and Women's divisions to the Jeppiaar Institute of Technology (JIT) in the city. After six days of basketball featuring some of the best present and future stars in the country, Income Tax (Men) and repeating title winners Southern Railway (Women) ended the tournament as champions after the final day on Saturday, March 14.

The participating teams at the 2015 Jeppiaar Trophy were:


Pool A: Vijaya Bank, KSEB, Sathyabama University, Income Tax.
Pool B: Indian Army, Air Force, JIT.

Women: Southern Railway, JIT, South Central Railway, South Eastern Railway

In the Men's final, Income Tax defeated Vijaya Bank 67-59. Income Tax's Vinay Kaushik scored 22 points in the final for his team's victory and was named the Player of the tournament. The Women's tournament was only held in round-robin fashion in the group stage. Southern Railway finished undefeated in the Women's group and were thus named champions, with South Central Railway and South Eastern Railway finishing second and third respectively.

The last iteration of this tournament was held back in 2013, with IOB (Men) and Southern Railway (Women) emerging as winners.

Before the tournament, JIT created a preview video about the tournament and the Men's and Women's home teams. You can check it out here.

March 14, 2015

Chhattisgarh basketball coach Rajesh Patel enters India's Limca Book of Records

The Limca Book of Records - India's popular answer to Guinness - has been around for 25 years, and people who have broken records in everything from 'Longest Hair' to 'Most People in a Selfie' for years now. Many of us grew up on the series of books, and it has now become - along with its corresponding website - a great database for great (or strange) things that Indians have achieved.

Unfortunately, this blog's favourite pastime/addiction - basketball - only found scarce mentions in the book over the past quarter century. Last year, 13-year-old LS Sivashree from Madurai entered the Limca Book for dribbling two basketballs simultaneously for six kilometers. And two years ago, chronic record-breaker Prof Dr S Ramesh Babu from Bengaluru made his 50th Limca Record by making 100 basketball shots in just 4 minutes and 32 seconds.

The Limca Book may not have been hunting basketball records, but when someone achieves unavoidable excellence in the sports, their feat virtually hunts itself. This was the case of heralded Indian basketball coach Rajesh Patel, who has been coaching girls' basketball teams at all levels for the state of Chhattisgarh for decades now. Those in the basketball community in India already know that Patel's magic has made Chhattisgarh into one of the true powerhouses of the sport in India. And for his unmatched collection of trophies and medals since the inception of Chhattisgarh in 2000, he has earned his way into the 2015 Limca Book of Records.

Patel now holds the Limca Record for 'Most Successful Basketball Coach'. The girls’ basketball team from Chhattisgarh under his guidance has won 43 gold, 14 silver and 21 bronze medals at the national level. His most recent success was the second consecutive gold medal at the 65th Senior National Basketball championship earlier this year.

Working at the coach at the Bhilai Steel Plant and as the Head Coach of all of Chhattisgarh's State women's teams, Patel has invested over 30 years into the game. He has led Chhattisgarh to extraordinary success, dominating the Sub-Junior (U14), Youth (U16), and Junior (U18) national tournaments, and most recently, winning back-to-back championships in India's largest domestic basketball meet - the Senior Nationals - in 2014 and 2015. The girls' in Patel's programmes have overcome underprivileged backgrounds, a patriarchal society, and the the case of 2015 national MVP Poonam Chaturvedi, a brain tumour, all to become India's fiercest women's basketball team and go on to earn a better future for themselves through government jobs (that sponsor basketball) and India's national team. He has worked with close to eight thousand young players in the state. For his contributions to grassroots basketball in India, Patel was felicitated at the FICCI sports summit in 2010.

Recently, there were even reports that Patel and his Chhattisgarh Women's team could be the subject of a Bollywood film!

If there's anyone who deserved to be a basketball 'record-holder' in India, it's Patel. Hopefully, the Limca Book of Records can expand their basketball records section for the future (currently, it's only one of the options under 'Other Events') and soon, other worthy record-setters and breakers in Indian basketball can find their achievements promoted through the book/website too.

March 12, 2015

Rolling Stones: Which players have played for the most NBA franchises?

During his stint with the Nuggets last year, super-scoring guard Nate Robinson joked that he wants to be the first player in NBA history to play for all 30 teams. By the time he signed a 10-day contract with the Clippers last week, Robinson's counter was 'just' at seven. At age 30 with his skills dwindling, it's unlikely that Robinson will survive in the league long enough to fulfill this 'dream'. But there are players who have indeed been the NBA's true 'rolling stones', changing teams through trade or free agency almost as often as the calender changed years.

These players are the mirror opposites of the likes of John Stockton, Kobe Bryant, Reggie Miller, or Tim Duncan, of legends who have spent their entire career faithful to one franchise. Nope, these are the players who were unsettled for the entire course of his career, never finding a permanent home, and yet, being in the league long enough to be (briefly) wanted by several different teams.

Chucky Brown: 12

Chucky Brown was an NBA professional for 13 years, and somehow, he managed to play for 12 different NBA teams as well as two CBA teams and a team in Italy in this stretch. Drafted 43rd by the Cavaliers in 1989 (the team he eventually ended up playing for most) before being waived in 1991. After that, he was signed and waived by the Lakers, briefly played for Pallacanestro Firenze in Italy, was signed by the Nets, then signed by the Mavericks, and waived by the Mavericks. He played a couple of years in the CBA for Grand Rapids Hoops and Yakima Sun Kings, before making his NBA return. He was signed and re-signed by the Rockets, traded to the Suns as part of the Charles Barkley trade), signed by the Hawks, Hornets, and Spurs over the next few years, waived by the Spurs, signed back to the Hornets, then to the Warriors, made a return to his original drafters in Cleveland, and then played a few months with the Kings before retiring from the NBA.

Brown's career highlight was being part of the Houston Rockets when they won the second of their back-to-back titles in 1995. His best individual season was in 1995-96 for the Rockets when he averaged 8.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

Jim Jackson: 12

Unlike Brown, a career-backcup, Jim Jackson had the talent to entice teams to hold on to him. But after playing for 12 different teams in 14 years, it seems that Jackson's talent was considered just good enough to be trade bait, but never good enough to be a franchise cornerstone. Jackson was picked fourth overall in 1992 with the Mavericks and played his first five NBA seasons - the most stable period of his career - in Dallas. In 1997, he was traded to the Nets after five successful but injury-riddled years with the Mavericks. From then on, Jackson was moved to the 76ers, and then moved again to the Warriors before signing as a free agent by the Trail Blazers. He was traded from the Trail Blazers to the Hawks, from the Hawks to the Cavaliers, and after his contract expired, signed to play for the Heat, Kings, and Rockets in the early 2000s. He was traded to the Hornets, then traded to the Suns, and then waived by Phoenix. Jackson played his final stretch of his career for the Lakers in 2006.

A former college star, Jackson played the best basketball in his early seasons with Dallas, highlighted by a season where he averaged 25.7 ppg (fifth-best in the league) in 1994-95. Unfortunately, he was never the player after his ankle injury but still managed to enjoy a long and decent NBA career, averaging 14.3 ppg over 14 seasons in the league.

Tony Massenburg: 12

Tony Massenburg wardrobe could only be the basketball jerseys he had played professionally in. Aside from the 12 NBA squads he suited up for, the big man from Maryland also played for teams in Italy, Spain, and Puerto Rico. Drafted 43rd by the Spurs in 1990, he was waived just a year later. Massenburg signed to play for the Hornets, played brief stretches for the Celtics and Warriors. From 1992-94, Massenburg took his game abroad, playing for Pallacanestro Reggiana in Italy and Unicaja Málaga and Barcelona in Spain. He returned to the NBA when he was signed by the Clippers, and then drafted by the Raptors in the 1995 expansion draft. He was traded to 76ers a year later, signed for the Nets, went back to the Celtics, and was then traded to the Grizzlies, where he played his longest stretch. He was an added piece in the Steve Francis trade that sent him to the Rockets, before making a return to the Grizzlies a year later. Even then, the moving wasn't done, as the Vancouver Grizzlies then shifted homes to Memphis with Massenburg. In his last few seasons, he signed to play for the Jazz, Kings, and the Spurs, before retiring in San Antonio in 2005. After a failed NBA comeback in 2007, Massenburg played the last professional hoops of his career for Capitanes de Arecibo in Puerto Rico.

Massenburg's last NBA season brought him his only championship ring as a backup for the San Antonio Spurs. Individually, he enjoyed a decent stretch in Vancouver; in 1998-99, he scored a career-high 11.2 ppg to go with 6 rebounds as a regular starter in the lockout season for the Grizzlies.

Joe Smith: 12

A dozen teams around the league have tried and tested the 'Average Joe', but Smith - despite the regular movement through the course of his career - was anything but average at one point in his career. The College Player of the Year in Maryland was the number one pick by the Warriors in 1995 and started off his career by fulfilling his high expectations, averaging 17 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for two and a half seasons with Golden State. But after being traded for the first time to Philadelphia, his numbers plateaued and then began to decline. Smith played for the Timberwolves and Pistons for the next three years before going on a major flurry of trades that make him into one of the most-traded players in NBA history. He went from Timberwolves to Bucks (in a trade that brought Minnesota Sam Cassell), from Bucks to Nuggets, from Nuggets back to 76ers (in the Allen Iverson trade), was signed by the Bulls, traded from Bulls to Cavaliers, by the Cavaliers to the Thunder, was signed back the Cavs, then the Hawks, and then the Nets, and then traded from the Nets to the Lakers where he retired in 2011.

After making the All Rookie First Team in 1996, Smith never adjusted to life on the trading block, and perhaps the constant movement affected his approach to the game, to. He still finished his career averaging 10.9 points per game.

Mike James: 11

Mike James had had one of the most interesting basketball journeys, as a late bloomer who went on to become an entertaining NBA player for over a dozen years. Undrafted in 1998, James played for the USBL side Long Island Surf before looking for basketball opportunities overseas. He played for UBC Sankt Pölten in Austria and ESPE Châlons-en-Champagne and SLUC Nancy Basket in France before returning to America to play for the CBA's Rockford Lightning in 2001. In 2001, he finally got his big NBA break with the Miami Heat signed him as a free agent. James was then signed by the Celtics, traded to the Pistons, signed by the Bucks, traded to the Rockets, traded to the Raptors, signed by the Timberwolves, traded back to the Rockets, traded to the Hornets, traded to the Wizards, and then waived. He played in China (Zhejiang Golden Bulls), Turkey (Aliağa Petkim), and the D-League (Erie BayHawks) before playing for the Bulls again. Over his last three seasons, he has played for the Bulls, Mavericks, and the D-League's Texas Legends, where he is still active.

Mike James will be remembered as one of the most-overachieving undrafted players in the league, and in his heyday in Toronto, scored 20.3 points while dishing out 5.8 assists in 2005-06. James also played a backup role for the title-winning Pistons in 2004.

Kevin Ollie: 11

Now known for being an NCAA-title winning coach at UConn, Ollie can perhaps credit his understanding of basketball systems and players to the number of coaches and teammates he had during his 13-year NBA career. After playing two years for the Connecticut Pride, the undrafted Ollie was brought to the NBA by the Mavericks in 1997. For years, Ollie learnt how to pack light, being signed and let go by the Mavericks, Magic, Kings, the Magic again, 76ers, Nets, the 76ers again, and the Bulls. The Bulls traded him to the Pacers, he signed back with the Bucks, was traded to the Sonics (in the Payton-Allen trade), signed by the Cavaliers, traded to the 76ers once more (his one true NBA home), signed by the Timberwolves, and returned to his former Sonics who were now the Oklahoma City Thunder. He finished his career in OKC in 2010.

Ollie was known to be a great leader and professional throughout his career, even though he never averaged more than 8 ppg (while with the Sonics) in his career.

March 11, 2015

Former NBA player Shandon Anderson is chief guest at Bengaluru Sports Fest today

File this bit of news in the 'Random' shelf. Bengaluru's Jain University's four-day sports festival - VIE 2015 - will come to a conclusion today. For the last few days, the festival has welcome over 900 participants from 40 colleges all over India and 2 colleges from Sri Lanka in Cricket, Basketball, Table Tennis, Badminton, and Volley Ball events. At the closing ceremony of the festival on Wednesday, March 11, VIE will also welcome a former NBA player: Shandon Anderson.

It is unclear how Anderson, who retired in 2006 after being part of Miami's championship-winning squad, networked his way to Bengaluru with Jain University, but he's said to be in the city this evening as a chief guest for the festival's conclusion. Following the well-patented custom of all chief guests at every Indian sporting event, I'm predicting that Anderson will be involved in making speeches, shaking hands with players in the middle of the court, sitting on a sofa court-side, and enjoying copious iterations of chai.

Anderson played in the NBA for a decade after becoming the 54th pick by the Utah Jazz in 1996. He played for the Jazz, Rockets, Knicks, and finally, the Heat, where he played limited backup minutes to the Dwyane Wade / Shaquille O'Neal led championship team. His best season was in 1999–2000, when he averaged 12.3 points per game with the Rockets. His career average is 7.8 points per game.

Fans in Bengaluru who want to catch a glimpse of the former NBAer should head to the Kittur Rani Chenamma Stadium in Jayanagar from 6 PM today. Guests of honour at the event will also include Bengaluru South Member of Parliament Ananth Kumar, Jayanagar MLA BN Vijay Kumar, and more.

March 4, 2015

Philadelphia 76ers to hold Indian American heritage night on March 7 vs Hawks

As the influence and numbers of the Indian diaspora over in North America grows, so has the appreciation grown for the community as a fanbase by the NBA. Over the last few years, the Golden State Warriors, the Sacramento Kings (both due to the influence of Vivek Ranadive) and the Orlando Magic have held regular Bollywood or India themed nights at certain regular season games. This weekend, the Philadelphia 76ers will be getting a slice (or a tukra) of the action.

Main Line Indian Association (MLIA) - nonprofit cultural organization whose mission is to share Indian culture in Philadelphia & the western suburbs - announced yesterday that the 76ers will be hosting an Indian American Heritage Night on March 7 in a regular-season game against the Hawks. According to the flyer, a Smithsonian exhibition 'Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shaping the Nation' and a halftime performance by award-winning dance group 'Aatma'. The special night is being held just a day after the Indian festival of Holi.

Another bit of good news is that our friends from Crossover Basketball and Scholar's Academy - who have been holding annual 'Hoops Creating Hope' programme in Chennai for several years - have also been invited to attend the event/game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, no amount of good Indian karma or jadoo mantar is likely going to save the 76ers on court in this one. Philadelphia (13-47) vs. Atlanta (48-12) is going to be a battle between the second-worst and the best in the Eastern Conference. And I use the term 'battle' loosely because it will probably be a slaughter of Mahabharat-esque scales.

Meanwhile, the person who designed the invitation/flyer above (probably planned months ago) should've checked NBA news a little before releasing it this week. Reigning rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams, alas, is now a Milwaukee Buck, as the tanktastic 76ers continued to clear out their roster to ensure that as little winning can be done this season as possible. On the flyer designer's defense though, it still makes more sense to have an image of Carter-Williams than 48 future draft picks.

Anyways, it's great to see another NBA team celebrating Indian culture and Indian people in their community. With Indian-born owner Vivek Ranadive hovering over matters out in Sacramento, the influence of desi-ness in the league is bound to keep increasing.