April 29, 2015

Interview: India's Satnam Singh declares for NBA Draft, discusses his improvements and options ahead

These are exciting times if you're a seven-foot-plus Punjabi guy that plays basketball. Earlier this month, the 22-year-old 7-5 Canadian-Punjabi Sim Bhullar became the first player of Indian-descent to play in the NBA when he featured for the Sacramento Kings. Just a few weeks later, India may get their first citizen a step closer to the world's finest basketball league. 19-year-old 7-1 talent Satnam Singh Bhamara - who hails from the Ballo Ke village in Punjab but has perfected his skills at the IMG Academy in Florida, USA - has now declared for the 2015 NBA Draft.

Bhamara, who has represented India at the the Senior and Youth levels multiple times as a teenager already, is one of the finest basketball talents to ever come out of the country. His fascinating story saw him emerge as a farmer's son from the tiny Ballo Ke village in Punjab at age 10 to quickly become one of India's hottest young talents in less than four years. At 14, Bhamara was selected by the IMG on a scholarship programme to learn the game further and play at the IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He has been there since 2010, only to return to India for holidays or to play in occasional national/international tournaments.

Last week, Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel reported that Bhamara - after finishing High School - was not able to secure a college scholarship and thus decided to directly explore the NBA draft. Yesterday, the NBA made it official when they announced the list of early entry candidates for the 2015 draft, which included Bhamara.

"I've declared for the NBA draft," Bhamara told me via a Skype conversation from Florida earlier this week, "Currently, I'm taking part in pre-draft training with three other prospects at IMG. From the next month, I have to go and do practices and pre-draft workouts with a number of NBA teams that are showing interest in me."

Bhamara said that he has been offered a lot of assistance in the process of learning and game and moving forward with his NBA fans by IMG coaches Dan Barto and Kenny Natt, the latter of whom was India's national team basketball coach from 2011-12 and played Bhamara in several international tournaments.

"My coaches suggested that I should try for the NBA draft," Bhamara said, "I've spent the last year practicing and working out, playing with Coach Natt's IMG team. My coaches have been training me hard. I think I've never practiced this hard in my life. I've felt like I've been training in the army, like the Khalsa Army!"

Bhamara is currently in Florida at IMG Academy, where he played for the post graduate team and averaged 9.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in less than 20 minutes per game for the No. 2 team in the country. He drew recruiting interest from Purdue, Pittsburgh, USC, USF and UMass. In his report, Pete Thamel opined that Bhamara's game is considered to have a bigger upside than his Canadian-Indian predecessor Sim Bhullar. But despite his basketball talents, he couldn't secure a college scholarship in the United States.

"My grades weren't good enough for college," Bhullar told me, "I was asked by many people why I'm bypassing college, but the grades were a challenge. I could barely even speak English when I first came here. [His English is much more proficient now] I'm sure that if I had started earlier, I would've made it to college here."

Despite the academic setback, Bhamara is confident that he will be ready for the elite challenge that the NBA will bring.

"I've improved my speed, running up and down the court, and my shooting and post-play have both improved a bit," he said, "I've learnt how to react to different situations in the court, 24-second situations, 10-second situations, all types of tense situations. My coaches have told me that I'm ready for the NBA. In High School games here, I get guarded by three defenders each time, but in the NBA, I will be single-guarded because my outside shooters will be better. You can't leave them open, and one-one-one, I can work the man who's guarding me and have the power to go past him."

Around this time a year ago, Sim Bhullar - who played two years of NCAA D1 college basketball for New Mexico State - also declared for the NBA draft, before going undrafted, playing in the Summer League for the Kings, and eventually, heading to the NBA's Development League (NBDL). Bhamara is adamant that, if his NBA gamble doesn't work out, he will stay in the USA to continue striving for a shot at the top level of the game.

"If NBA team doesn't work out, I hope to try with the D-League, and then try for the NBA again," he said, "I want to try here in USA: this is where the level of basketball is the highest. I'm familiar with it. If I try to go play basketball in a league in another foreign country, I'll have to learn another language and get suited to another lifestyle, and it may get complicated."

Ultimately, Bhamara hopes to inspire others from India - especially those from far-out parts of the country outside of mainstream reach - to explore their NBA dreams, too.

"I want 10 more players to come out of India after me," he said, "I don't want to be the only one to be there. I want to work it out there and prove myself so that 10 more will come, and 20 more after that. I want to open a road in India for basketball. I'm from a small village, there could be others like me in small villages or towns in India who can dream of playing in the NBA."

I asked him if he had told his parents the news of his NBA declaration yet.

"They will only get the good news when I make it to the NBA!"

Ambitious words from a talent young man - but does he have enough to challenge the best and brightest basketball players in the world? Bhamara is currently not high in the picture of this coming summer's top draft prospects (the respected website DraftExpress.com ranks him at 94th) but he could change all that if he can impress scouts at the pre-draft workouts. Thamel added in his report that Bhamara has managed to stay injury free this past year and has shown improvements in shooting with both hands, being a reliable free throw shooter, and acting as a defensive presence. His weaknesses are his agility and lateral movement, writes Thamel, things that he can focus on as a professional for the next few years.

There will be hundreds of prospects competing for the same dreams that Bhamara strives for, but few - if any - will have a more intriguing story. At 10, he was farming in a tiny Indian village and told me that he didn't know the difference between basketball and volleyball. At 19, he finds himself working out with NBA teams and fighting for a spot in the world's finest basketball league. Regardless of what happens ahead, he has already improved and achieved beyond his wildest dreams. Indian basketball fans will be wishing that he can keep the momentum going so that he can become the first Indian player in the NBA and become a role model for millions others back home. Hopefully, his parents get to hear some good news, soon!

April 28, 2015

Full Schedule: Sim Bhullar - first NBA player of Indian descent - to visit India and launch Reliance/NBA Jr. Elite National Camp

The rumours that began about ten days ago now been confirmed official: Sim Bhullar - the first NBA player of Indian descent - will visit India next week. NBA India yesterday released Bhullar's full schedule for the visit from May 2-7. Bhullar, a Canadian citizen, will visit Mumbai, New Delhi, Amritsar and Chandigarh to inspire and coach Indian youth. He will also tip off the first Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Elite National Camp in Greater Noida on May 4.

Bhullar, who became the first player of Indian-descent after he played for the Sacramento Kings in three games on a 10-day contract in early April, will visit India May 2-7 to promote the growth of basketball and inspire children to stay active and healthy by playing the game. The 7’5” center will help train the top 140 youth from across India who participated in the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, the NBA’s premier grassroots event.

"I am very excited to travel to India to see firsthand how basketball’s popularity has grown and to meet young basketball players across the country," said the 22-year-old Bhullar, "Hopefully, sharing my story will help inspire young Indians to pursue their dreams on and off the court, just as I have."

Bhullar's India Schedule
  • May 2 - Mumbai: Fan interaction, City Tour.
  • May 3 - Mumbai: Appearance on Sony SIX's IPL Extra Innings show.
  • May 4 - Noida: Inaugurate the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Elite National Camp.
  • May 5 - Amritsar: Visit to the Golden Temple and Pingalwara, a home for individuals suffering from incurable and terminal diseases, to which Bhullar’s family will make a contribution.
  • May 6 - Chandigarh: Visit to Chandigarh to conduct a Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA clinic for 150 children at New Public School.
  • May 7 - Noida: To celebrate the final day of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Elite National Camp.

The inaugural Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Elite National Camp, which consists of skills training, competitions, games, fitness training and team building exercises, will be held in Noida May 4-7. The camp is the culmination of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA program that promotes health, fitness and an active lifestyle through basketball, and teaches the values of the game such as teamwork, sacrifice, discipline, dedication and sportsmanship. Since 2013, the program has reached more than one million youth in 1,000 schools in eight cities. The NBA has also trained more than 1,000 PE teachers, and donated more than 15,000 basketballs and 300 rims to partner schools. As part of the program, NBA legends Bruce Bowen and Muggsy Bogues, and WNBA players Swin Cash and Tamika Catchings have visited Chandigarh, Kolkata, Kochi, Ludhiana and Mumbai to conduct basketball clinics for players and coaches.

Bhullar, who has family ties in Punjab from where his parents immigrated to Canada in the 1980s, has been to India several times before. This time - thanks to his NBA debut - it will be his most high-profile trip. The big man has always been the center of attention, but now as the first Indian-origin face in the NBA, it should be a triumphant welcome back to his ancestral homeland.

April 27, 2015

Contracts of India's Foreign basketball coaches Francisco Garcia and Tommy Heffelfinger not extended

While the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) attempts to juggle controversies and power struggles threatening to tear apart the nation's governing and controlling body of basketball from within, budgeting issues and internal changes of philosophy have struck another blow to the game: two foreign coaches - Women's National Team Head Coach Francisco Garcia and Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Heffelfinger - did not receive extensions to their contracts with the BFI and will end their tenure with India Basketball by the end of May.

The decisions to not extend the contracts of Garcia and Heffelfinger were taken by the contingent of the BFI currently being led by Poonam Mahajan and Roopam Sharma. The federation is currently facing a fracture in its top structure: two opposing executive committees have chosen two different presidents/secretaries from two different meetings to form the leadership group. Sources inside the BFI have said that the Mahajan/Sharma contingent made the decision to discontinue the coaches' contracts because they are short on money (since the bank accounts are controlled by the competing Govindraj team) and felt uncomfortable about disagreements that the staff members had with the leadership and direction of the Mahajan/Sharma team.

Garcia, a Spaniard, was hired by the BFI two years ago to helm India's Senior Women's team. Garcia enjoyed a relatively successful two year stretch, famously helping India finish at a best-ever fifth-place at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and helping a younger side to a bronze medal at the 2014 Lusofonia Games. Later in 2014, Garcia also coached the team to a 6th place finish at the Asian Games in Incheon. He has been active in taking his knowledge to the grassroots level, coaching players and other coaches at various events around the country over the last few years.

"The best thing was that we created a system of play," Garcia told me as he looked back to his achievements with Team India over the past two years, "When I first came here, the players were used to another kind of system. Now, players understand the game lot better. To reach that point is the best achievement for a coach. As a team obviously to win our first-ever game in FIBA ABC's Pool A and finishing 5th (best in Indian basketball history), ranking India 5th in Asia (best in history) have been huge. We got bronze medal at Lusofonia games with an under-22 team and we competed very well at Asían Games without three key players from the ABC."

Garcia added that his best memory in India, no doubt, was working with the players. "They were always open to new things and always tried their best, even in the bad days," he said.

There seems to be no clear plan of who will carry on the reigns of the Women's national team system after Garcia leaves. Starting at the end of August this year, the FIBA Asia Championship for Women - the most important international tournament for Indian basketball - will tip off in Wuhan (China). India will lose their Head Coach only a few months before this crucial tournament and thus, lose the continuity that he had built within.

As usual, there is a good chance that the Women's team will not receive the international exposure and experience needed to prepare for this tournament. "Main thing lacking is the competition of the players throughout the year," Garcia said, "There is no professional league and little international exposure."

"Additionally, our players have to strengthen their inside game to show up to the next level."

Garcia has received offers from another national teal in Asia and a team in Iceland. "I don't know, life is unpredictable," he said, "All can change in seconds."

Seeing another change at the top ultimately hurts the national team players the most, who have lacked continuity in leadership. Ever since the IMG Reliance deal with the BFI, the National Women's team has had three different foreign coaches in less than five years: Tamika Raymond, Pete Gaudet, and Francisco Garcia. With Garcia's contract expiring, will there be a fourth one in stow soon? Garcia's two years have brought some improvements in the team's performances, but more importantly, created a structure that was pointing towards steady improvement for the future, too. With a change in coaching, there will be a change in system, and thus, another hiccup in the development of basketball.

Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Heffelfinger, who arrived from the USA to build Indian basketball's S&C programme last year, had a two year contract with an option at the end of his first year. The BFI was to conduct a formal review of his work and determine if they would like to keep him for second year. The BFI claim they did the formal review, but an inside source told me that nobody from their leadership (CEO or Deputy CEO) spoke to Heffelfinger for three months prior to his termination or answered any emails he sent for same time. His first year ends 31 May, 2015.

Heffelfinger has shown commitment to making Indian basketball players stronger, fitter, and better versed in the appropriate diet and training regimes required for excelling in international basketball. Strength and conditioning has long been a problem for India compared to top Asian teams. Getting rid of Heffelfinger will further set India back in this regard.

India's Men's team Head Coach Scott Flemming - who joined me a few weeks ago for a conversation on the inaugural episode of the Hoopdarshan podcast - is continuing with his position for the foreseeable future.

April 26, 2015

Bold Playoff Predictions: 15 fool-proof guarantees for the 2015 NBA post-season

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on April 16, 2015. Click here to read the original post.

During my school-years in Mussoorie, there was a man who had set up a little fortune-telling business near the hill-station’s Jhula Ghar. Every day, he would lay out a carpet on the side of the street and sit behind it, waiting for gullible and interested tourists. On the carpet in front of him were dozens of small green envelopes, each of which held a card, and each card carried on it hand-written messages that told you your fate.

But the man himself wasn’t a fortune-teller, he was just medium. The real prophet was a talkative old parrot that waited in a cage on the carpet next to the man. All the man needed was your name, your city, and your date of birth, which he would then communicate to the parrot and then release it from its cage. The parrot would trot out on the carpet, sift through the envelopes, and then pick out the appropriate one. For its Nostradamic services, the parrot would receive a little snack from the man.

And for a small fee, you would have a card with your fortune scribbled in Hindi. Sometimes it would be positive, sometimes it would negative, and every time, it would be interesting. The whole transaction was a complete scam, but the entertainment it provided was well worth its cost.

Consider me your Mussoorie parrot today, and consider the NBA playoffs to be our subject. Through some knowledge, experience, and gut instinct, I’m here to evoke my inner fortune teller and hand you 15 little envelopes, each with a fool-proof guarantee for the 2015 NBA post-season.

1. Kyrie Irving will have one game with 35 points and 0 assists.

Welcome to the playoffs Kyrie. The Cavaliers have mostly solved their early-season on-court chemistry issues between Irving, LeBron, and the rest of the crew. But the pressure of the playoffs is going to coerce Kyrie to some of his old, chuck-first, pass-later habits again. I expect there to be a game where Irving will become a victim of the moment, over-shoot, and stagnate the offense. The Cavaliers will lose that game. And LeBron will have to publically call him out to set things back in order again. 

2. Paul Pierce will talk trash (and then back it up).

This is what Paul Pierce does. He spits Truth. Before the Wizards start their playoff series against the Raptors, Pierce said that Toronto don’t fear him because they don’t have the ‘it’ factor. I expect more trash-talk from The Truth in the playoffs. Although I can’t say if the rest of his Washington teammates will rise to the moment, Pierce himself will back up his words and enjoy some big moments against the Raptors, just like he did last year

3. Pau Gasol will complain about being benched in the fourth quarter.

Coach Thibodeau likes the duo of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson for their defensive ability in closing out games. Just like Carlos Boozer for several years prior, Pau Gasol is the new offensively talented starter in the Bulls’ lineup. Unfortunately for Gasol, he will be ignored in a close game – a loss for the Bulls – while he sits and pouts on the bench. He will complain about it publically to the media, and then bounce back by delivering Chicago a win in the very next game.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo will dunk all over someone.

Goodbye to the nice-guy ‘Greek Freak’, welcome to the uber-talented young monster. Antetokounmpo, in his first trip to the playoffs, will announce his arrival to the rest of the world with an earth-shaking dunk that will serve as a warning to all present and future opponents, just like he did to the Knicks last week.

5. The Splash Brothers will have 20-25 point quarters.

You already know what Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are capable of. They are the finalists of this year’s Three-Point contest. One of them is an MVP candidate who recently hit 77 threes in a row at practice. The other has had quarters of 37 and 26 points in the season already. And they share the same backcourt. At more than one time in the offseason, expect Curry and Thompson to have separate moments where they will ease to 20-25 points in a single quarter. SPLASH!

6. Chris Paul will hit someone in the nether regions (and get away with it).

Chris Paul is the best pure point guard in the league and an All Time great competitor. He’s also one of the sneakiest players in the league, with the um, questionable ability to get away with minor infractions that many of his peers and opponents are punished for. I expect CP3 to get away with at least one hard shot at an opponent’s family jewels, but the moment will be so carefully orchestrated that Paul will survive any official backlash.

7. Damian Lillard will not repeat last year’s heroics.

Lillard enjoyed a major breakout in the First Round series against the Rockets last year, including hitting the biggest shot of the year that advanced Portland to the Second Round. Unfortunately, the same heroics aren’t going to be repeated against the Grizzlies – one of the league’s most tenacious defensive squads – this year. Memphis are going to target Lillard on the perimeter from the very first game and reduce him to an inefficient shell of himself.

8. Rajon Rondo will play his best basketball in years.

It’s been several years since we’ve seen the phenomenon called ‘Playoff Rondo’, but guess what, he’s making a comeback. The Rondo and Dallas marriage has been rocky to say the least, and many believe that the experiment has failed. But the past will not matter when the playoffs begin, and under the bright lights and pressure, I expect Rondo to shine again, piling up at least one triple-double and playing with new-found energy. With free agency looming, this will be the perfect opportunity for Rondo to prove his worth to future suitors.

9. Anthony Davis will flirt with a quadruple-double.

With sheer will, The Unibrow carried the underdog Pelicans into the Western Conference playoffs, only to be presented with a nightmare First Round matchup against the Warriors. But don’t expect him to back down anytime soon: Davis has enjoyed some monster scoring, rebounding, assists, and blocks games already this season, and in the playoffs, his performances will hit an even higher barometer. I’m predicting a game where he will single-handedly carry the Pelicans with about 35 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists, and 8 blocks. But the Pelicans will still lose that game.

10. Pop will annoy Doc.

Gregg ‘Pop’ Popovich, meet Glenn ‘Doc’ Rivers. The most exciting series of the First Round will pit the Clippers against the Spurs, and two of the league’s most popular head coaches against each other. The difference, of course, is that Popovich has a greater ability to be relaxed under pressure, while Rivers has a tendency to overreact and feel victimized from time to time. There will come a time when Pop will get under Doc’s skin – probably through the Hack-A-DeAndre tactic – and the psychological advantage will favour the Spurs.

11. Kyle Korver will make Twitter overuse the fire emoji.

Kyle Korver has just completed a memorable season, becoming and All Star and shooting around 49 percent from both the field and behind the three-point line. If you were a regular Twitterer in the NBA-spere, you will be aware of the online explosions and reactions Korver’s hot-shooting streaks for the Hawks. Now, as the playoffs bring more deserved attention to Atlanta, Korver’s shooting escapades will be cause bigger over-reactions on social media, and soon enough, his name will simply be replaced by the ‘fire’ emoji.

12. Every Cavaliers loss will be blamed on Kevin Love and David Blatt.      
Cleveland is now The Land of King LeBron James, and all are his subjects. No one dare question or disagree with His Highness, and all must remain on his corner. LeBron will choose which coach is allowed to speak to him (Tyrone Lue) and which players to be his loyal comrades (Kevin Love not invited). Despite some frictions, the Cavaliers have a great team and will go far in the playoffs. But they won’t be perfect, and every time they lose, the scapegoats will be the two men who aren’t in complete harmony with James: Blatt and Love. 

13. Kyle Lowry will learn the Canadian national anthem.

Kyle Lowry has been a legend for Raptors fans, and hence by extension, for many Canadian basketball fans this year. He signed a long-term contract extension to stay in Toronto, was voted in as a starter for the 2015 All Star Game, and helped lead the team to a franchise-best 49 wins. Recently, former Wizard Gilbert Arenas mocked on Instagram that Raptors players don’t know the Canadian national anthem. I expect Lowry to take this insult personally and dramatically bellow out ‘O Canada’ before the next home game.

14. Hack-A-Dwight will get Dwight benched.

Dwight Howard has barely played this season, and the Rockets are more comfortable without him, anyways. Of course, the big man’s talents – particularly on the defensive end – are going to be incredibly valuable for the Rockets’ post-season push. But at some point Coach Kevin McHale will decide that the rewards won’t be worth the punishment, and keep Howard bench for long stretches of close games when he starts missing too many free throws.

15. Spurs vs. Warriors will be the best series of the post-season.

We will have to wait till the Western Conference Finals for this, but when it happens, expect the basketball version of a supernova as the Spurs and the Warriors – two of the league’s most talented teams – finally face off. The Spurs are the defending champions who will be peaking at the perfect time to win a repeat title, playing beautiful basketball through ball-movement and featuring the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, and more in starring roles. The Warriors, meanwhile, have finished the season with 67 wins and have been one of the most successful regular season teams in NBA history. They have been one of the NBA’s top two teams in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And between Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and David Lee, they feature one of the most exciting and deep rotations fans have seen in ages. Only one team will win this incredible series, but together, they will play captivating basketball. The eventual NBA Finals will seem like a let-down in comparison. 

April 22, 2015

Indian Railways basketball coach Aparna Ghosh given lifetime achievement award by Calcutta Sports Journalist Club

Aparna Ghosh has been one of the most accomplished players and coaches in Indian basketball, playing for the national team for 16 years and going on to become a highly-successful coach for Indian Railways. On Tuesday, April 21, the Calcutta Sports Journalists' Club announced that Ghosh will get the lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the game. Ghosh will be officially conferred the award at a ceremony on Thursday, April 23.

Ghosh also won the Dhyan Chand award in 2002, and is one of only two basketball coaches in India to receive this honour. It is India's highest award for lifetime achievement in sports and games, given by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India.

Ghosh has led Indian Railways women to a myriad of success for several years and currently serves as the Sports Officer at RSPB of the Railway Board. In 2010, she was one of 10 Indian coaches invited to the George Mason University (GMU) for a coaching camp.

April 20, 2015

Federation Games

The best way to solve Basketball Federation of India’s power struggle? A game of basketball, of course!

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on April 9, 2015. Click here to read the original post.

Ms Poonam Mahajan (left) and Mr Govindraj are the two nominated Presidents
in each of the rival factions. Photo Courtesy: Ekalavyas

The stage was set for a showdown when two opposing factions of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) called two separate Annual General Meetings (AGM) in two different cities on two different days. The purpose of both these meetings was to select a new executive committee – including a new BFI president – for the federation that governs all things India Basketball. And that is exactly what happened. In Bangalore on March 27, in a meeting led by former president KS Gill, the Karnataka State Basketball Association’s secretary K Govindraj was elected president; in Pune on March 28, in a meeting organized by BFI CEO Roopam Sharma, the chosen president was Poonam Mahajan.

Two meetings. Two presidents. Two executive committees. One federation. With neither side willing to back down, it has become clear that the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) will have to step in to resolve the issue. A legal battle in court might be the next chapter in this ugly drama.

But what if the problem was resolved on a different kind of court? After all, ‘Team Roopam’ and ‘Team Govindraj’ are each fighting for the throne to lead Indian basketball. Somewhere along this political fight, basketball itself seems to have been ignored. Maybe the best way to solve the Basketball Federation of India’s power struggle is just a game of basketball.

Introducing… The Basketball Game for Basketball, where the competing factions of the BFI play step out on the basketball court for one 40 minute contest to decide it all.

This is a (mostly) a work of fiction.


Three years ago, the BFI dedicated the Mastan YMCA basketball courts in Mumbai to the memory of former Secretary-General and CEO Harish Sharma. Sharma was the leader of the BFI and the CEO position had been created specifically to keep him in a position of power. Other positions like Secretary-General, President, Treasurer, and the rest of the Executive Committee have to be elected on the basis of a vote at the AGM. There is a time limit of how many years any one individual can keep hold of a senior committee position. After Sharma’s death in 2012, his wife Roopam Sharma was made CEO (instead of the position being abolished) and the divide within the BFI grew wider: some supported her, others didn’t. Of course, this means that he newly named Harish Sharma Basketball Courts in Mastan, Mumbai should play host to The Basketball Game for Basketball.

Team Govindraj

Starting 5: K Govindraj (President), Teja Singh Dhaliwal (Senior Vice-President), RS Gill (former President), Chander Mukhi Sharma (Secretary-General), V Raghothaman (Tresurer).

Bench: Ajay Sud, D.R. Saini, Shafiq Shaikh, Bhupendra Shahi, L. Suren (Vice-Presidents), Shakthi Singh Gohil (Associate Secretary), Norman Isaac (Executive Committee Member).

Team Roopam

Starting 5: Poonam Mahajan (President), Roopam Sharma (Secretary-General), Mukut Medhi (Treasurer), RS Chahal (Senior Vice President), Prempal Singh (Associate Secretary).

Bench: Nandini Bassapa, Ashok Kumar Sahu, Rajesh Patel, Ajeet Singh Rathore, Dalbir Singh Kharab, Vinod Vachani (Vice Presidents), Ashok Rangeen (Associate Secretary).

First off, Team Roopam must be praised for diversifying the gender field and featuring two women in the starting lineup (Mahajan and Sharma) and one off the bench (Bassapa). They also have youth on their side, kind of: 34-year-old Mahajan is the youngest president of any Indian sports federation. Both teams have some great Indian coaches and former players but Team Govindraj may be a little more athletic (I’m using the word ‘athletic’ in its broadest definition possible).

Team Roopam may have some home court advantage, specifically because of Mahajan’s Mumbai connection (she is the BJP national secretary and MP from the Mumbai North-Central Lok Sabha constituency) and because of the Maharashtra State Basketball Association (MSBA) support that Mahajan brings as the first women president of the MSBA. Mahajan has a lot of political clout and had a powerful father Pramod Mahajan, whose one-time aide was none other than the late Harish Sharma, Roopam’s husband. By extension, the overall political advantage goes to the president-secretary general combination of Mahajan and Roopam Sharma.

Team Govindraj may have the legal advantage, however. As per BFI’s constitution and the India’s Ministry of Sports code, only the president of a federation can call an AGM, and thus, the meeting in Bengaluru – held under the guidance of departing president RS Gill – was technically the only ‘legal’ one. Team Govindraj also scored a major win when FIBA – the international body that runs basketball around the world – recognised them as the rightful office-bearers of the BFI.


Usually, the illustrious names that have been mentioned above do their best at every major Indian sports event to find the most comfortable sofa seats courtside, sip in the finest local chai, and make sure that there is an extra timeout called in every top game so that they can be introduced midcourt to the diligently lined-up players. But this time, it will be the VIPs taking the court while our top players sit on the bleachers and watch. Unhappily.

With more aggressive intent to their side, Team Roopam try to control the pace of the game, running and gunning from the get go and trying to put as many points on the board early in the first quarter. There are a lot of turnovers, bad passes, and individuals attempting to play one-on-one hero-ball, but due to the sheer number of their attempts and their opposition’s slow start, Team Roopam are able to take a double digit early lead.

But as the game moves along, Team Govindraj grind the pace down to their comfort level and defend hard in the post. The game takes an even uglier twist as neither side is able to make their field goals anymore. There are a lot of stoppages, and with the help of the free-throw line, Team Govindraj crawl back to tie the game by halftime.


The score-keepers seated on the side are representatives from the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) and judges from the Delhi High Court. Despite their best efforts, they have a difficult time keeping track of the awry field goal percentages from both sides.

Meanwhile, representatives from IMG Worldwide and Reliance Industries – the partnership of the two powerful companies that brought sponsorship rights to the BFI five years ago –watch and judge the game from the sidelines, scouting for the finest prospects to work with to help develop the game in India in the future. IMG-Reliance have been hoping to help the BFI launch India’s first professional basketball league, a process that seems to have been suspended consistently over the past few years. Other sponsors are present too, watching the tamasha, as are representatives from the NBA and NBA India, who have vested interest in the long-term development of the sport after these intriguing Federation Games.

The camera pans from the sponsors and CEOs to the other end, where India’s best players and coaches – the individuals who should actually be the stars of the Indian basketball story – are seated. About 10 months ago, Coach Scott Flemming and his team’s top players like Amrit Pal Singh, Amjyot Singh, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, and more helped India get a historic first win over China at the FIBA Asia Cup. Two years ago, India’s Women’s team – represented here by Coach Francisco Garcia, legendary player Geethu Anna Jose, Anitha Paul Durai, Jeena PS and others – helped India finish at their best-ever fifth place at the FIBA Asia Championship for Women. Jose was even conferred an Arjuna Award  this year.

(None of these accolades are mentioned of course because Indian basketball achievements weren’t the top priority at this basketball game).

Hundreds of more children, all of whom are basketball enthusiasts hoping to become stars for India and abroad, sit terror-stricken on bleachers around the stadium. Many concerned coaches reach over to them and cover their eyes to save them from the horrors ahead.

Second Half

Both teams start the second half with their more experienced players. For Team Roopam, coaches like Chhattisgarh’s Rajesh Patel, India’s junior coach Vinod Vachani, and Delhi’s Ashok Rangeen pit their collective strategies together to get some easy baskets for their team. For Team Govindraj, president Govindraj himself shows some moves from his playing days for Karnataka, while L. Suren rises off the bench to provide some defensive stops. Unfortunately, Team Roopam’s marquee player – president Poonam Mahajan – is confounded by the game that she is supposed to be presiding.

As the audience is subjected to a fourth quarter that no one wishes to watch, the game turns contentious, with the referees’ whistles threatening to steal the spotlight. An outlandish number of calls start going Team Roopam’s way, who opponents complain are winning the advantage due to political threats and blackmail. Team Roopam are unable to take advantage of the opportunity, however. The FIBA Commissioners presiding over this game – who have recently recognized Team Govindraj as the rightful office-bearers of the BFI – neutralize the refereeing scandal with imbalanced overseeing from their end.

By the final whistle, neither team has put up a particularly impressive score, all the players on court have picked up flagrant and technical fouls, and none of the fans are having a good time.

Final Whistle

Nobody is sure who won the game, but everyone knows that basketball lost.

April 19, 2015

2015 NBA Playoffs - Expert's Bracket Challenge - Round 1

Since my friends and I are sitting here and typing on our computers - instead of being at a pre-game shootaround at an NBA playoffs game - you can probably infer that none of our hoop dreams have (yet) come true. But hey, who said that only NBA players can have the fun of competition during the playoffs? For the next few months, as the NBA Playoffs progress to give us the 2015 champions, I have joined ranks with fellow fans and experts of the NBA in India - Akshay Manwani (@AkshayManwani) and Kaushik Lakshman (@_kaushik7) - to have a little competition of our own. Let me introduce to you the 2015 NBA Playoffs Bracket Challenge, where Akshay, Kaushik, and I unleash our inner prophets to predict each series of each round in the playoffs.

The rules, as suggested by Akshay: Each of us will get +2 for getting the series result correct. Additionally, if we get the scoreline right, we get a bonus of +1. I will publish the results of the first round predictions as a separate blog at the end of the first round. Then there will be a new blog post for our predictions for the Conference semi-finals and so on. So keep yourselves updated and feel free to give us your own predictions in the comments section at the end of this post.

(Akshay, Kaushik, and I recorded our thoughts on the NBA season and the growth and popularity of the league in India on Episode 2 of our Hoopdarshan podcast a few weeks ago. Check it out!).

So without further ado, here are our bold predictions for the first round:

Eastern Conference:

Atlanta (1) v Brooklyn (8):

Akshay’s pick: Brooklyn had a good run to end the season, going 17-13 since the All-Star break to make it into the playoffs. But the Hawks just have too much firepower even without Thabo Sefolosha. They blanked the Nets 4-0 during the reason and I expect things to be no different in the playoffs. Hawks win 4-0.

Karan’s pick: Atlanta finished the season 60-22 at the top of the Eastern Conference, while the Nets (38-44) only sneaked into the playoffs on the last day of the season. But Brooklyn can take heart in the fact that they have actually been in better form than the Hawks in the final stretch of the season. Ultimately, Atlanta’s system, team-play, and shooting should be good enough for a series win. Hawks win 4-2

Kaushik’s pick: This is probably the easiest pick to make. Brooklyn Nets apart from a late season run headed by Brook Lopez, have been a truly horrible team and are in the playoffs only because of the (L)eastern conference. Hawks have tailed off a bit compared to how they dominated January, but will still have too much to handle for the Nets. Hawks win 4-0.

Cleveland (2) v Boston (7):

Akshay’s pick: The season series scoreline, surprisingly, went 2-2 between these two teams, but don’t read too much into that as Kyrie Irving didn’t play in both the Cavs’ defeats while LeBron and Kevin Love also didn’t figure in the last loss. However, the Celtics may still infuriate the Cavs by playing small ball, but eventually Cleveland will come through. Cavaliers win 4-0.

Karan’s pick: I’ll give Boston and their exceptional coach Brad Stevens some credit here, but ultimately, the Cavs won’t have to sweat too much to win this series. Beyond LeBron, they are relatively playoff inexperienced (including Coach Blatt), so this series will be important for them to learn the pace of the game for tougher post-season battles ahead. Cavaliers win 4-1.

Kaushik’s pick: The Celtics have been a nice feel good story in the last month or so. They are a team so devoid of stars and are only here because of exceptional coaching and super effort from the players. Unfortunately NBA doesn’t have very many Cinderella stories. The Cavs are a freight train right now and will be too good for the young Celtics. Cavaliers win 4-0.

Chicago (3) v Milwaukee (6)

Akshay’s pick: Milwaukee have done well this season despite the season ending injury to rookie Jabari Parker in December 2014. They also are the second best defensive team in the league behind Golden State. But the Bulls are buoyed by the return of Derrick Rose and have too much firepower in their arsenal to lose this series. Bulls win 4-1.

Karan’s pick: The Bucks have shocked everyone in the league by finishing at .500 even without Jabari Parker. Unfortunately, their youth and inexperience will play against them against the deep Bulls. Chicago is loaded with multiple weapons from top to bottom of their roster and won’t even have to over-work Derrick Rose too much to win this series. Bulls win 4-1.

Kaushik’s pick: Great turnaround from Milwaukee from where they finished last season and Kidd has done a great job with this young team, but this team is still a couple of years away from peaking. Chicago on the other hand is a loaded monster. With Rose back, and their team deeper than ever, it feels like they’re built like a team meant for the playoffs. Bulls win 4-1.

Toronto (4) v Washington (5)

Akshay’s pick: Easily the best first-round matchup in the East as a top-5 offensive team (Toronto) takes on a top-5 defensive team (Washington). Both teams also have near identical records post All-star break, with Toronto going 13-16 and Washington going 13-15. The key for me is Paul Pierce. His experience and Washington’s big men – Nene and Gortat - give the Wizards the edge. Wizards win 4-3.

Karan’s pick: Both teams are the dictionary definition of mediocrity, of playing good but not great basketball and being too inconsistent to truly be contenders. I think that the series will go the full seven games, and will see some heroic individual performances by both the talented backcourts (Lowry and DeRozan, Wall and Beal). Ultimately, ‘The North’ should win their first playoffs series since 2000. (!!!!) Raptors win 4-3.

Kaushik’s pick: It doesn’t speak much about the conference that this is the best matchup of the first round. Both these teams, so similar in storylines, have dragged themselves to the end of the season and neither is really a force for later on in the post-season. However, I think Toronto still has a little more fire and experience from losing last post-season and will nick this one in a close series. Raptors win 4-3.

Western Conference:

Golden State (1) v New Orleans (8):

Akshay’s pick: Anthony Davis has been a star for the Pelicans all season long and the team will look to him to carry their fortunes. But in Golden State, they have an opponent, which is the best team in the league by some distance, with All-Star players and a deep bench. Warriors win 4-0.

Karan’s pick: The Warriors have been a historically good squad this season, and will continue to play at the highest level on both ends of the floor. All signs may point to a Warriors' whitewash, but the Pelicans will have the best player in the series - Anthony Davis - and I think he will be able to lead them to at least one win. Warriors win 4-1.

Kaushik’s pick: This is going to be such a fun series. I don’t think the Pelicans will actually win, but Anthony Davis. That’s all that needs to be said really. Davis is a beast, and has the perfect tools of a big man that can trouble Warriors’ small ball front court. There will be a couple of close matches, but Warriors ultimately are too good and too deep for the Pelicans. Warriors win 4-1.

Houston (2) v Dallas (7):

Akshay’s pick: This could be interesting if Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis can make things work for Dallas in the backcourt. Also, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is known to spring a surprise or two with his strategies in the playoffs. The Rockets are also missing the underrated Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley. But in the end, James Harden and Dwight Howard should do the job for the Rockets. Rockets win 4-2.

Karan’s pick: I have faith that the brilliant Coach Rick Carlisle will find a way to make Rondo, Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, and former Rocket Chandler Parsons work out for a huge upset. Houston are struggling with various injuries and will be exposed for having no offensive direction beyond what James Harden. As the series progresses, I think Dallas will contain Harden, negate Houston’s other options, and score an upset. Mavericks win 4-2

Kaushik’s pick: Houston Rockets or Harden Rockets? My MVP pick for the season has single handedly carried the Rockets to the second seed! This team may not look deep but Harden is having a career season and the Mavericks don’t have enough in my opinion to stop him. Rondo isn’t a good fit, Dirk doesn’t seem like Dirk and they’re not as deep as they have been in prior runs. Rockets win 4-1.

LA Clippers (3) v San Antonio (6)

Akshay’s pick: The best matchup in the first round across conferences, vindicated by the 2-2 season series scoreline. The Clippers have players in their prime, but the Spurs have experience and a terrific young player in Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers are lacking in bench strength but have home-court to make up for it. My head says Spurs, but for once I will go with my heart. Clippers win 4-3.

Karan’s pick: I expect Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to play the series of their lives to finally win a playoff series; unfortunately, the Spurs have more than enough experience in thwarting star-driven teams that break down without multiple options and depth. The Spurs have been in scorching hot form primed for another deep post-season run. This will be a tough series for them, but ultimately, I think they will pull out an upset and advance. Spurs win 4-2

Kaushik’s pick: OMG! Why is this match up so early in the playoffs?! Both teams are ON FIRE at the moment and are meeting only because of another dumb NBA rule. Paul is balling right now and the Clippers starting unit is one of the best there is. Spurs too look great led by the monster that is Leonard. This will be a close series, but I pick Spurs because of their experience and depth. Spurs win 4-2.

Portland (4) v Memphis (5)

Akshay’s pick: This could have been a terrific series had Portland been completely healthy. Right now they are just too banged up, with the season ending injury to Wesley Matthews being the biggest handicap for the Trail Blazers. Memphis has also won all four regular season meetings. Grizzlies win 4-1.

Karan’s pick: Portland seems to be snake-bitten with all the injuries they have suffered in the lead up to the playoffs. Memphis have been out of form slightly in recent weeks too, but they are a team built to capitalize on slowing down in the post-season, and they should be able to get through to the second round. Grizzlies win 4-2

Kaushik’s pick: Portland were my dark horse pick for the title had they been fully fit but Mathews’ injury is just so tough that I can’t see them going too far. Memphis themselves haven’t been very impressive in the past couple of months but I think they’ll have too much grit and grind that will help overcome the beaten down and seemingly cursed Blazers. Grizzlies win 4-2.

  • Akshay Manwani: 0
  • Karan Madhok: 0
  • Kaushik Lakshman: 0

April 18, 2015

Hoopdarshan Episode 3 - Vishesh Bhriguvanshi and the lifestyle of Indian basketball stars

On Episode 3 of Hoopdarshan - the first-ever Indian basketball podcast - hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok catch up with Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, one of the most talented and experienced players of India's national team and a dominant force for India at the domestic stage. Bhriguvanshi reveals the worldview of being a top basketball player in India, discussing why he chose basketball as a profession, his greatest national and international experiences, and his love for good ol' dal-chawal.

Bhriguvanshi (26), from Varanasi, is one of the most accomplished players in Indian basketball today. He has been a key component for India's national Sr. Men's team for nine years,holding the role of captain for the majority of his time. He has played in three FIBA Asia Championships, two Asian Games, and was one of India's top players in the squad that defeated China at the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan last year. Bhriguvanshi has also won gold and silver awards at several FIBA Asia 3x3 events for India. Domestically, he has won five of the last seven Senior National Championships with Railways and with ONGC, his current employers.

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.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

April 17, 2015

Sim Bhullar - NBA's first Indian-origin player - will visit India next month

Several years ago, the Bhullars of Canada took another trip home to their land of origin, Punjab. Like they usually did for every trip back to India, the Bhullars took along their children, too. Two of those teenage children - Sim and Tanveer Bhullar - had now grown into mammoth seven-footers, both with a promising future in basketball ahead for them. Even though few knew of the Bhullar family in India back then, Sim and Tanveer still managed to receive their fair share of attention when they visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Being a pair of seven-footers would do that.

"I was last back in India about five years ago and it was pretty crazy, it was different, and I really enjoyed it!" Sim told me in an interview last year, "I remember going to Golden Temple, which was huge and really crowded. I remember that we were swarmed by a huge crowd of people who took photos – and they didn’t even know who we were!

A half dozen years have passed since then. Sim Bhullar is set to return to India, and for the first time, will be recognized for being more than just a really big guy.

10 days ago, Bhullar, who had spent most of the last few months playing for the NBDL's Reno Bighorns, entered an NBA game for the Sacramento Kings, and thus became the first-ever player of Indian-descent in the NBA. It wasn't an earth-shattering performance, and his NBA contract lasted just 10 days, three game appearances, two points, and a rebound. But in his small way, the big man was able to break the barriers for the people of Indian community around the world, and also give birth to Mahatma Grande.

Bhullar's contract with the Kings has now expired and the team - owned by Indian-born tech mogul Vivek Ranadive - finished far from qualifying for the 2015 NBA playoffs. It is now being reported that Bhullar will be spending a part of his extended vacation back in his parent's birth-land: India.

Via Duane Fonseca for The Pune Mirror:

Sim Bhullar, the first and only Indian-origin player ever to debut in the National Basketball Association (NBA), will visit India early next month. Bhullar is expected to travel to the country with his sister and is due to touch down on May 2 or a day later.

The 22-year-old has a packed schedule during his week-long India sojourn. And apart from spending time at promotional events in Mumbai, his itinerary includes visits mainly to Delhi and Amritsar to see the Golden Temple.
In Mumbai, Bhullar will do promotional work for the Reliance Foundation, who have a multi-year tie-up with the NBA to promote the sport at the grassroots. He is expected to conduct a clinic for school kids in the city and is also expected to put in an appearance at an Indian Premier League (IPL) game either here or in Delhi. The dates of events he will attend are yet to be finalised.

The NBA has long been interested in capitalizing on Bhullar's racial heritage as the first desi to play basketball at a high level, and even though he's a true-blood Canadian in every sense (he represented Canada's U18 national team at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in 2010), the league as well as the Sacramento Kings have emphasized on his Indian roots a lot more. Like it or not, that is just part of the business, and in the long run, it may help to inspire a large potential audience in India to show more interest in Bhullar, the Kings, and the NBA.

From the report above, it seems that Bhullar will take part in both public and private events. The Reliance Foundation have a deal both with the NBA in India and with IMG in sponsorship of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), and it won't be surprising if they promote him as the first Indian face in the world's best basketball league. Despite being a 7-foot-5 giant, Bhullar was a sort of an underdog in his journey up to the professional level. Not all of us are blessed with his size, but hopefully during his trip, Bhullar is able to connect with young Indians and inspire them to turn their dreams into reality, too. I also hope that this trip is just the beginning of Bhullar's connection with both the NBA and with India: if he is able to continue improving and secure a longer NBA career, there may be many more promotional visits to come in the future.

It seems like Bhullar will be returning to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, too. You can be damn sure that he will be crowded by curious onlookers again; but this time, I'm hoping that a handful in that crowd show up in 'Bhullar 32' Kings jerseys!

April 16, 2015

Upset Watch 2015: My NBA playoffs first-round preview

We have entered the zone of straight-up best-of-seven knockout series. And beyond the single game edge that every ‘home’ team will have in each series, nothing from the past will matter anymore. Like every year, I present a preview in terms of percentage probabilities; as in, the probability of an underdog (away team) to upset the favourite in every series (home team) in the First Round. It’s an inexact science, occasionally wrong, but I promise you, thoroughly entertaining. Here – in ascending order of least probably upset to most – is my preview of all the series in the First Round.

Click here for full feature on SportsKeeda.

April 10, 2015

More wins, less hype: The consistent dominance of LaMarcus Aldridge

He may not get the hype that is showered on many of his peers, but LaMarcus Aldridge has long been one of the most dominant bigs in the league and his consistency has helped keep the ship steady for the contending Trail Blazers this season. Ultimately, like other players with greater ambitions, Aldridge will eventually be judged and remembered for what he does in the post-season: if he can lead his team to greater, consistent playoff success, casual fans are going to get to know him a whole lot better, too.

Click here to read full feature.

April 9, 2015

The Birth of Mahatma Grande

After years of climbing up the ranks, from High School to College to the D-League, 7-5 Canadian giant Sim Bhullar finally saw his NBA dream becoming a reality: he was signed to a 10-day contract by the Sacramento Kings last week and made his first appearance in 16.1 seconds of action against the Timberwolves last night. It was a nice moment that a only a handful of basketball players ever get to experience: the feeling of putting on an NBA jersey, stepping on an NBA court, and finding his name permanently enshrined in the box scores of NBA history.

But of course, you know the story by now, and you know why Bhullar's 16.1 seconds were more significant than most others. With one small step on court, Bhullar took a giant leap for desis worldwide, becoming the first player of Indian-origin to ever play in the NBA. Unlike the usual hungama and tamasha that we Indians like to associate with most of our accomplishments, Bhullar's appearance was largely subdued. His entire debut was only a shade longer than the maximum length of an Instagram video. He touched the ball just once (inbounding it to a teammate), and finished with a box-score of ducks 0-0-0-0-0. A day later, Bhullar scored his first two points in one and half minutes of action in the Kings loss to Utah. And with these humble beginnings, another NBA barrier was broken and a giant was born.

Bhullar's status has soared in recent days, too, with strong performances in the D-League to provide him his foundation and the Kings' contract taking his popularity through the roof. Basketball-loving Indians from India, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and in every nation on every continent on the globe who have long dreamt of the day that one of their own – a desi – would achieve the highest benchmark of the hoop dream and play in the NBA, and in Bhullar, they finally saw that dream achieve reality.

Of course, there is a shade of cynicism amid the optimism, too. The Kings are owned by the NBA's only Indian-born owner, Vivek Ranadive, and thus it has no surprise that the franchise chased him after the draft, assigned him to their affiliate D-League team, and signed him for the NBA (after their own playoff hopes were finished) just in time for the annual Sikh Community Appreciate Night. There have also been voices, such as the excellent Amar on SLC Dunk, who say that the NBA has overstated Bhullar's Indian connection to reach out to the billion-strong population in India instead of focusing on his Canadian basketball roots. It will be up to him to prove that he can be a useful NBA contributor and more than just a publicity stunt - and I believe that he has the skill-set and potential to continue proving his doubters wrong.

Nothing can take away Bhullar's achievements, as he gave his blood, sweat, and tears to the game and made the most of his combination of talent and size to realize his individual hoop dream. The son of Punjabi immigrants to Canada has now played and scored in the NBA. Many more players of Indian-descent - and hopefully of Indian citizenship - will do it after him, but he will always be the first. That first moment on court lasted just 16 seconds, but that's 16 seconds more than you, me, or any other player with some Indian in his blood-stream has ever played.

So let's celebrate the big man's milestone and feast on some butter chicken (like I ever needed an excuse to do that!). Let's get down with the Sikh-Ness! Let's celebrate the birth of Mahatma Grande, the greatest nickname that the giant Canadian-Indian could have possibly asked for (word to @scottostler). Sim Bhullar has finally broken the desi-NBA barrier; hopefully he can inspire many more to follow in his footsteps and bring a lot more masala to our favourite basketball association.

April 8, 2015

Jonathan Rego becomes India's first FIBA agent

Basketball is becoming more and more an international sport, not just in terms of the spread of the game to different countries, but also in the manner of how there are no borders anymore for basketball professionals on the globe. As opportunities grow, players from across the world are crossing international boundaries to ship their talents to leagues in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Oceania, and of course, Asia, too. But global basketball transactions are a complicated process, and FIBA - the world's governing body of basketball - have employed the use of player's agents to handle the business of the game between players, teams, leagues, and nations.

A few weeks ago, Jonathan Rego became the first Indian to be certified as a FIBA agent, after passing the necessary qualifications at the FIBA House of Basketball in Mies, Switzerland.

Originally from Mangalore and raised in Abu Dhabi, Rego (32) now works in Mumbai as the senior manager of operations of the ISL's Mumbai City FC. He is also working on a few sports exchange programmes with international universities, where he says he is starting with a basketball programme to test the waters before moving on to other sports. Additionally, he is looking to put together a team with the hopes of managing a franchise in the future Indian professional basketball league.

Rego previously worked for CAA KWAN and GLOBOSPORT. During this time, he managed and executed nearly every NBA India event 2008-2013, working at both grassroots and mainstream events across the country. Rego also covered the NBA All Star Weekend for NBA India in Houston in 2013.

"I hope to give Indian basketball players the opportunity to make a living playing professionally," Rego said after receiving his FIBA agent credential, "Thus, encouraging parents to allow and encourage their kids to pursue basketball seriously, leading to the proliferation of basketball in India, and eventually making it a global basketball superpower."

India doesn't have its own professional league yet, but we definitely have a number of talented players who deserve to play at the professional level. Playing abroad may be the only option for many at this point, and it will only be with the help of FIBA agents like Rego that our best players can wade through the complicated process of finding teams and conducting transactions to make that option into a reality. Hopefully, as basketball talent grows to make India a stronger hoop-playing nation, the business side of the game continues to evolve and mature as well to provide a backbone that helps the players succeed at the highest levels.

Duke win 2015 NCAA National Championship, edging Wisconsin in the Final

With just minutes left in the biggest college basketball game in the year, we were no closer to a decision than we had been at tip-off. Duke and Wisconsin were tied at 56-56, back to square 1, and both teams had the final three and a half minutes of the game to decide the winner. Eventually, the result came down to which team held their nerves under pressure the most, and this turned out to be the Blue Devils, playing under a coach who had experienced this moment a handful of times before already. Led by a clutch performance by point guard Tyus Jones and the leadership of Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke won their fifth national title - all under Coach K - with a memorable 68-63 triumph over Wisconsin at Indianapolis on Monday, April 6.

Click here to read full feature.

April 6, 2015

The Mighty Duck

This article was first published with the cover story of the 143rd edition (2015 - No. 4) of SLAM China magazine. Here is my original English version.

Stephon Marbury’s evolution has helped create a basketball dynasty in Beijing

It’s a rare moment when an icon and a community find perfect resonance with each other, a bond that eventually offers unconditional love from one to another. Watching a Beijing Ducks game in Beijing – especially during the playoffs at the MasterCard center – provides a glimpse of that type of resonance. On nights when Stephon Marbury is heroically carrying the Ducks to victory, pushing the team forward with big performances every night, the city parallels his passion and intensity off the court. Both of them feed into each other, until they make a monster that few in the CBA can conquer.

Last week, Marbury led Beijing to their second consecutive CBA title and their third in fourth years, deservedly winning the Finals MVP award. He’s now 38, and has played for nearly two decades professionally in Minnesota, New Jersey, Phoenix, New York, Shanxi, and Foshan. But it was in Beijing that the star point guard finally found fulfilment, and in return, the city made him a basketball deity.

“This is home,” he tells SLAM a few days after celebrating the title victory – his third – in Liaoning, “Beijing is home. America will always be home. But this is where my life is at, here in China.”

Marbury has shown Beijing and China love, and China has showed him love back. After over five years playing and living in the country, he has also overcome the early trials and tribulations to find peace, both on and off the court.

“It was a trying time because it was all brand new,” he says of his early years in China, when he went from being an NBA star to a point guard from Shanxi and Foshan, “I was ready to do something different and be a part of something different. I wanted to evolve to a new area in my life and in basketball. It was a trying time because of the culture barrier and not being able to speak the language and not being able to communicate. But for the most part it was cool, because I knew it was just part of the experience.”

“I understand the culture now,” he adds, “I love the food. I now know why people do what they do when they do it. Even though I can’t speak the language as well as I would like, I know a little bit more than when I first came here. It’s just growth.”

The growth off-the-court corresponded to success on-court, and with the Ducks, Marbury found a clique that finally brought him championship success. Part of the reason is team continuity, as the Ducks have had the same two foreigners (Marbury and Randolph Morris) and much of the same roster over the last four years.

When I ask him what the secret is to the team’s success, he says that it has always been about looking ahead. “[It’s about] our preparation from the beginning of the year. So now, our focus is on the next year. Everyone is aware of what we have to do for next year. We’re enjoying the championship but in the back of our mind we know that we have more work to do. We know where have to get better, where we have to improve. No one is relaxing right now. Everyone loves this feeling. We like winning. For the most part, everyone is conscious of living in the moment of now, but knowing in the future what we have to do to continue to stay stable as one of the top teams.”

And of course, having a city that resonates and encourages him and his teammates every moment of every game helps, too. “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again,” Marbury stresses, “I think they – Beijing – are the best fans on the planet. The energy that they bring towards the players and the atmosphere in Wukesong is different and it’s rare. And it’s consistent throughout the whole game, not in spurts or just the fourth quarter, it’s all throughout the whole game. They’re very knowledgeable, they understand the game, they know when someone’s shot isn’t going, and they know when someone needs to be encouraged. All of that contributes to why they are the best fans. You can’t really put a price tag on that or compare it to anything. I know the energy that they gave me from the way that they go about cheering for us.”

NBA and foreign players have played in China before Marbury, and they’ll come to play in China after he retires, but there may never be anyone like him again, an individual who embraced the culture and a city and they embraced him back. And as he basks in the afterglow of another CBA title, Marbury sets his eye ahead for more success in China and with Beijing in the future.

“I wanna win more championships here,” he says, “It’s fun right now. It’s fun to be winning, and you’re driven to continue to work hard to keep winning”