June 29, 2016

FIBA held New Competition System workshop for Indian Basketball in New Delhi


In case you haven't heard, FIBA - the world's governing body of basketball - will introduce what it calls the 'New Competition System' from next year. From 2017 onwards, the method of qualification for major FIBA worldwide events and the Olympics will change, as will the FIBA calendar and some of the continental tournaments (such as Oceania joining Asia). These are significant changes which will prove useful to provide countries such as India a longer qualification process for the FIBA World Cup and more visibility back home as India will get the opportunity to host several qualifying games.

To help familiarise the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) with the new system, officials of FIBA Asia's head office hosted a workshop in New Delhi on Monday, June 28. Several leaders of the BFI's executive committee attended this workshop. The workshop introduced the various elements of the New Competition System and also brought the top BFI administration up to date on the tasks ahead for the National Federation.

Via FIBA.com
"India's potential for growth in basketball is obviously enormous. India has always been on FIBA's radar for pushing the agenda of basketball development. This workshop is another step in that direction," said Mr. Hagop Khajirian, FIBA Regional Director-Asia.
"The New Competition System provides a great platform for Indian basketball and basketball in India to go the next and higher level in all areas. It's true that the results coming out of Indian basketball have not always matched the potential. But we in FIBA truly believe that time has come for India to make use of the opportunity," he added.

The workshop was also attended by representatives of the Indian Olympic Association and the Ministry of Sport in the Government of India.

"We have certainly not performed up to the expected levels. This workshop is an eye-opener in that sense," said Mr. K Govindaraj, BFI President.
"It's also a wakeup call for us in the BFI to shrug off the cobwebs and start delivering to the Indian basketball fan what he truly deserves," added Mr. Chander Mukhi Sharma, BFI Secretary General.

Here is a snappy video explaining the New Competition System for Asia.



It's heartening to hear BFI members admit that India is not performing to the expected levels and is tangled in bureaucratic cobwebs. Admitting is the first step. Now, they have to get up and do something about it. India cannot afford to waste its basketball potential year after year. The new FIBA competition system could bring a lot more attention to basketball in India. Fans need a competitive product, with players who are well coached, in good shape, and who will defend the national flag with pride. The BFI will need to ensure that India has the infrastructure to handle the upcoming schedule of international FIBA matches.

FIBA believes in India, as the country's potential could make it a big and lucrative market for basketball in the future. Now, India needs to honour that belief and deliver from its own end.

June 26, 2016

Book Review and Interview: Stanley Thangaraj takes a deep dive into the culture of Desi basketball in America


Long before Sim Bhullar became the first person of Indian-descent to play in the NBA and Satnam Singh was the first Indian drafted to the world’s finest basketball league, a bunch of South Asians - Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Nepalis – in the US and Canada met together in a sweaty gym for pick-up basketball in Chicago. And in Atlanta. And Dallas. And New York. And Vancouver.

They were Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs. But more importantly, they were guards, forwards, and centers. They married their uniquely South Asian backgrounds with the thoroughly 'American' pastime of pick-up basketball. They created a world of their own to define themselves as both thoroughly desi as well as a part of the larger American hoop culture. On the court, their differences disappeared. The religions, languages, and ancestral nationalities didn't matter. They all shared a single hoop dream, and they relied on an inflated orange basketball and those sweaty gyms to to achieve that dream.

In his book Desi Hoop Dreams - Pickup Basketball and the making of Asian American Masculinity (New York University Press, 2015), Stanley I. Thangaraj arranges a marriage of his two areas of interest - Anthropology and Basketball - for a deep dive into how South Asian American men - desis - express their masculinity, cultural differences, and identity through basketball. The book is a revealing read that shatters many stereotypes of South Asian immigrants in the US and Canada and takes a scholarly look at how a subsection of the desi population found solace in basketball at both the grassroots level as well as the national stage in Indo-Pak Tournaments.

Thangaraj, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the City College of New York, has been intimately involved with the subject matter he now studies for decades. Thangaraj was born in Madurai (Tamil Nadu) in 1974 before his father, a professor of Theology, was recruited to Harvard University in Massachusetts in 1979. Thangraj was raised between India and the US, and the impact of the Bird-McHale-Parish era of the Boston Celtics left a major impact on him. A desi hoop dreamer was born. He played basketball in High School and discovered the Desi-American hoop circuit in college. He took part in Indo-Park Networks (IPN) around the country, specifically in Atlanta where he spent over 20 years, and in Chicago which has hosted IPN National tournaments since the '80s. Between 2006 and 2010, Thangaraj decided to focus his anthropological research on South Asian basketball culture in Atlanta, Chicago, and beyond, the observations and conclusions of which eventually led him to pen Desi Hoop Dreams.

South Asians have a long and proud history in the US, with many immigrants coming from India, Pakistan, etc. finding their niche fields of medicine, science, finance, engineering, and computing. But in Desi Hoop Dreams, we meet a subset of desis who refuse to be limited to the stereotypes - positive or negative - of the Indian 'model minority' in the USA. While their parents generally earned their respect through their intellectual superiority, here we meet a new generation of desis who want to prove themselves as physically imposing, too. Phrases like "man up" and "be a beast!" aren't just encouraging hollers during a basketball game; they are mantras to prove one's athletic strength and superiority both on and off the court.

Thangaraj balanced playing and researching in both casual and serious pick-up games, and the result is a fascinating insider look the complicated world of South Asian American basketball. His wide net of pick-up basketball characters reveal the complex inner relationships and pressures that come with being a South Asian athlete at a pick-up game. We meet South Asians originating from dozens of countries, including those from Africa, the West Indies, and Europe. We follow Muslim Americans to basketball courts in Masjids and discover the changing attitude of identity politics before and after 9/11. The author discusses how basketball eventually defines the culture of many of these players outside the court too, in social settings such as night-clubs.

The book also doesn't pull any punches from the dark side of what Thangaraj calls are the 'Brown Out' basketball communities. The communities he follows and studies often present moral contradictions in their cultural and gender understanding of identity. The book takes a sharp look at how the 'Brown Out' group immerses or excludes itself from other races in North America, women, and homosexuality.

The height of desi basketball culture collides together at the IPN in Chicago, which features some of the best South Asian basketball players and teams from US/Canada. Thangaraj witnesses how basketball helps in uniting desis on the court, and why the game addresses the complexities of masculinity among a diaspora of desis who are challenging racial stereotypes on the court.

I got an opportunity to briefly interview Stanley Thangaraj about Desi Hoop Dreams this week.

Hoopistani: What initially motivated you to work on this project?

Thangaraj: I came to Atlanta in 1988 and as an immigrant kid, and I was one of the only South Asians in my school. I didn't fit in, but I found basketball. The game was, racially, black or white for me until I got into college, and it was then that some friends invited me to the Indo-Pak Tournament (IPN).

I loved IPN basketball and I was offered to study it as an athlete in a PhD programme at the University of Illinois. I was so excited. I could spend all my time now just balling, although being a researcher does limit some of the things you could enjoy.

I wanted to highlight the complex, complicated lives of South Asian Americans. I wanted to present their lives and their dreams as a way to move beyond the simple portrayals of them as "nerds" or "terrorists" in USA media. I wanted to represent them on their own terms and showcase their lives on their terms.

Hoopistani: Having played in white/black basketball circuits and exclusively desi ones, how would you say that the format or style of the game is different among Desi-Americans?

Stanley Thagaraj. Photo by: Tau Battice
Thangaraj: If you look at spectrum of players in desi communities, you would say no, there is no difference. Only difference is that ethnically exclusively spaces have a lower level of play, because many of these young men haven't gone through organized basketball. These young men bring those histories with them. They know what it means to be stereotyped and marginalized. They bring that burden and baggage. When they ball, its a chance to ball on their own terms.

But you have a lot of guys who make it to the IPN tournament who have incredible talent and have played at the High School or Collegiate level in the States. They can compete in any sporting space in the US.

Hoopistani: Why would you say basketball, specifically more than other sports or activities, is able to play such a major role in some desi men to define their masculinity?

Thangaraj: Most of these young men did not choose basketball as their first sport. A lot of them were playing soccer, baseball, American Football. But basketball became unavoidable. In 1984, Michael Jordan entered NBA. By the late 80s, he became the most visible symbol of what it means to be cool and be a man. By the '92 Olympics, the 'Jordan' brand took over the world. Basketball became the most dominant way of what it means to be an urban man. Most of these young men grew up in the cities, and to them, to stake a claim as an 'urban citizen' meant playing basketball.

Plus, basketball is the most accessible sport. You can assemble a basketball hoop in no time and you can play anywhere. You can't do that with baseball and American Football.

Hoopistani: The book goes into great detail about the differences among desis themselves: North Indians, South Indians, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, etc. Back home, these differences are a major factor of division between these communities. Were you able to see basketball become a uniting factor for these different communities in the USA?

Thangaraj: Yes and No. Basketball is a uniting force in the way that, very rarely, do you have a space where people of so many South Asian backgrounds share the space. We had South Asians from West Indies, Kenya, UK, India. Basketball brings together these communities that may not meet in any other space. It allows us to think that the Indian and Pakistani conflict doesn't translate here to the US.

When you are an incredible basketball player and are down with hanging out with ethnic or religious others, you get to play. For example, the Hindu and Muslim players of two teams - Maryland Five Pillars and Maryland Cobras - came together to form one strong team. The Chicago Domeinators became a team of Muslims and Sikhs together. Sports opened up doors for interpersonal interaction. If you can ball you can open any door you want.

One difference is the newly-arriving immigrant, whom they call the 'fob', who I've seen that the players have been reluctant to share their space with. It is ironic that the same players who have been minorities then turn around and create limits to sharing spaces across different generations of immigrants to the US.

Hoopistani: What are your thoughts on Indian basketball? India's most popular sport is cricket, which isn't exactly the most physical of sports unlike basketball, which you described in great depths in your book as a physical, tough sport that men believe can define their masculinity.

Thangaraj: Playing cricket is not seen as masculine in the US, but it is grounded in masculine identity in India and Pakistan. There is so much energy and growth in the conflict and rivalries in the sport there. In South Asia, it represents the 'best of men', but not here.

However, With increased immigration of desis here, cricket is rising. ESPN sometimes shows cricket in the USA because it is another opportunity for them. Now there is an affluent group of South Asians in the USA with potential to bring in more capital. This is a strategic move to open up the market for new consumers.

Basketball in India certainly as a lot of potential, even though there is some corruption and problems with infrastructure and coaching. The NBA is spending a lot of money in developing the game there. I witnessed the improvement in the talent level first-hand playing ball in South India several years ago. Athletically, India has the potential, no doubt. Players like Satnam Singh and youngster Prince Pal Singh have emerged out of Punjab in recent years. There 1.3 billion people, so, there will definitely be some great basketball talent.

June 16, 2016

Jeppiaar Institute of Technology (Chennai) to send basketball contingent to USA for IMG Academy camp


One of India's top institutions for basketball talent and results, the Jeppiaar Institute of Technology (JIT), is now striving to help its top players get even better. JIT, which is based in Sri Perumbadur just outside Chennai in Tamil Nadu, is sending four of its best players and their head coach to the world-famous IMG Academy facility in Brandenton, Florida, USA for a five-week training camp from June 17 to July 23.

The four JIT athletes (all from Tamil Nadu) and coach will be hosted at the IMG campus. JIT's Managing Director N Marie Wilson will join the contingent to Florida.

The IMG Acdemy is famous for having an incredibly varied and holistic programme for a range of sports. Most importantly for India, this is the same academy that trained and educated Satnam Singh for five years, the big man who became India's first player drafted into the NBA last year. Its basketball programme has produced Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls) and Michael Beasley (Houston Rockets), among other professional athletes.

The partnership between JIT and IMG was facilitated by Pursuit India, the talent management division of Ekalavyas Consultancy. To help improve JIT's (already dominant) performances at basketball events and championships in India, JIT's MD Wilson worked with Pursuit's Vishnu Ravi Shankar to help land JIT players to the summer basketball camp at IMG.

The IMG experience for these players from JIT will be invaluable in teaching them to be more compatible with a different and more strenuous brand of basketball. The technical experts of IMG, with their case-to-case evaluation of players might also be able to offer more of an insight than other coaches in India who might not have the same equipment or time to do so.

"The objective is to develop skill sets that will allow the players to compete at the Inter-University and Inter-College levels," Wilson said. He hoped that this turns out to be a pioneering decision, which will be replicated in the future, while also stressing that he would like to prepare the players to play in professional leagues should such opportunities present themselves.

Pursuit's Shankar added, "It’s a great step forward by Mr. Wilson and the management at Jeppiaar. Even five weeks at an academy like IMG can do a world of good for young players and help them become future stars." He also said that he hopes that other universities will be able to identify this as an opportunity and will opt for it going forward.

JIT contingent for IMG Academy's Summer Basketball Camp
  • Anantharaj Eswaran (19)
  • Jeyavenkatesh Kothandaraja (20)
  • Navas Jaleel (17)
  • Muin Bek Hafeez (20)
  • Coach: Ravishankar
Muin Bek Hafeez, one of the players making the trip shared his excitement, "My teammates and I are excited about learning from players and coaches who have experience in the NBA and I hope that this will help me in my career going forward."

June 14, 2016

Maharashtra's Pritish Kokate chosen for U15 international camp in Qatar


14-year-old post-player Pritish Jitesh Kokate has been selected to take part in an U15 international basketball camp in Qatar from June 18-22, 2016, reported Ekalavyas. Kokate, who is six-foot-tall, will be joined by Indian coach Vibhor Bhriguvanshi at this camp organized by the Qatar Basketball Federation.

Born in Pimpri-Chinchwad in the Pune district, Kokate has been playing basketball since the age of nine. For the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons, he was part of the Maharashtra State Team (SGFI) and has been the captain of the Sub-Junior squad.

The International Basketball Camp in Qatar is open to kids between the ages of 12-15. It will include an interenational U15 Coaching Clinic & Certification for Bhriguvanshi. The camp will be useful for education and the development and upgrading of basic skills of players, and participation and interaction with players from different countries.

June 12, 2016

Upcoming Bollywood film 'Half Girlfriend' will feature a lot of basketball


If you've paid attention to any of my work the last couple of weeks, you would've noticed that I called attention to the 1998 Bollywood classic Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and its influence and legacy on Indian Basketball. The super-hit film will be remembered for the awkward and flirtatious basketball romance scenes between Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. KKHH, followed by Koi Mil Gaya and Dhoom 2 have been the only mainstream Bollywood films to feature basketball in a major way. And considering their box office returns, all three discovered that basketball in Indian cinema apparently equals to big bucks.

It seems now, perhaps, that another Hindi film is finally willing to take a chance on hoops again.

Based on a book by India's highest-selling English novelist Chetan Bhagat, the film Half Girlfriend - scheduled to be released in April 2017 - is currently being shot in New Delhi. Production information has revealed that Half Girlfriend's star pair Arjun Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor have both been honing their hoop skills as basketball will be a used as a major plot device in the movie.

I haven't read Half Girlfriend, because Chetan Bhagat writes as well as James Harden plays defense, but a quick Wikipedia search of the book's plot reveals that much of the story is about a protagonist who makes it to St. Stephen's College in Delhi on the sports quota as a basketball star. Eventually, the common love of the game leads him to an on-again/off-again relationship with his love interest (his half girlfriend).

Arjun Kapoor, who plays Madhav Jha in the film, has spent the last month training on the court to make his basketball scenes more realistic (Shah Rukh, Hrithik, Kajol, and co. have so far shown how wrong basketball scenes can go in India if the actors have no clue how to play the game) and it seems to have paid some dividends. A few days ago, he tweeted a short video of his practice scenes in Delhi and announced that more 'Basketball Diaries' from the film's shooting will be coming soon. International stunt and sports director Robert Miller has been working to train both Arjun and Shraddha Kapoor to make the basketball scenes look realistic for the film. Much of the filming of the basketball scenes in Delhi have been taking place at the SRCC college court.

It's admirable to hear that the film's director Mohit Suri and the star actors are putting in a genuine effort to make the basketball scenes in Half Girlfriend more memorable. However the rest of the film turns out to be, I hope the hoop scenes can inspire another generation of ballers like KKHH inspired players 18 years ago. And if basketball's charmed effect on the Indian box office is any indication, Half Girlfriend may already have sealed its success story.

June 11, 2016

Kuch Hoops Hota Hai


The surprising legacy of a Bollywood classic on Indian Basketball

This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on June 1, 2016. Click here for the original feature.

It’s 1998, and there are only two types of basketball fans in India. Those who know everything about Michael Jordan. And those who know everything about Shah Rukh Khan.

It’s 1998. Michael Jordan, the greatest player of his time – and as history would remember it, the greatest player of all time – had just hit his ‘final’ shot to win a dramatic NBA title over the Utah Jazz in the summer (Two years later, he would return to pro basketball in a Wizards uniform). It would be title number six for MJ, and for basketball fans in India, the image of Jordan hitting the game-winning shot would leave an indelible imprint forever.

It’s 1998. Shah Rukh Khan, the biggest Bollywood star of his time – and as history would remember it, the biggest Bollywood star of all time – would star in the super-hit film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the first introduction of basketball to a mainstream Indian audience. To Bollywood fans in India, the image of SRK awkwardly dribbling against his eternal screen love-interest Kajol would leave an indelible imprint forever.

*

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai didn’t take place in India. Sure, we’re told that the two major settings of the film – the High School and the summer camp – are Indian, but nothing about them, except the language and the occasional sari, was truly desi. Instead, the film finds itself in a parallel perfect world created by first-time director Karan Johar, a world where East and West collided, where Rani Mukerji knew her shlokas as well as she knew her rock-n-roll. Where High School looked like a scene from the Archie Comics. Where there was no serious crime or poverty or politics. Where the most pressing issues to humanity were love triangles.

Where basketball – not cricket – was India’s favourite sport.

There is an adage among hoop analysts that the ‘NBA is a copycat league’, that a winning system shapes the next generation of teams around the league. This is why big men were all the rage for the Celtics, Rockets, and Pistons in the 80s, the hunt for athletic shooting guards began following Jordan’s dominance in the 90s, and small-ball became the blueprint for teams when the Golden State Warriors perfected the model.

Success breeds imitation, and the adage is no different in Bollywood. So, as he was coming off of a role as Aditya Chopra’s assistant director in the 1995 Bollywood classic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, 26-year-old Johar decided to adopt the formula of DDLG into his directorial debut. Also featuring the Shah Rukh and Kajol combo, DDLG became one of India’s most successful and its longest-running film. During the montage of the hit song ‘Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye’, Khan gave a brief glimpse of his on-screen basketball “skills”, as he awkwardly dribbles and dunks in the rain.

How to make the perfect Indian romantic comedy? A pairing of India’s hottest on-screen couple, Khan and Kajol? Check. Exotic foreign locations and expensive international brands? Check. An unstoppable soundtrack with cross-generational hits? Check. Love triangles? We got two of them. The ‘coolness’ of the West in a clash with Indian sanskriti? All day. More basketball? Hell yes!

The roles of the main cast of characters in KKHH seemed well-defined. A traditionally ‘hot’ girl, a ‘tomboy’ girl, and the loveable guy in the middle. Kajol, the typecast ‘tomboy’, was dressed in the early posters of the film cradling a basketball with her hat on backwards. Here – Johar seemed to be saying – is a girl who does ‘cool’ the way those in the West seem to do it.

Johar put together this recipe and created and perfect Indian blockbuster for its time. Upon its release, KKHH was the most successful Indian film of 1998 and one of the highest- Bollywood films ever. It ran in Indian cinemas for 52 consecutive weeks. Overseas, it grossed more than any other Indian film had ever had until that point. It dominated the Indian Filmfare Awards in Jordanesque fashion, winning Best Film, Best Director (Johar) Best Actor (Khan), Best Actress (Kajol), Best Supporting Actor (Salman Khan, in an important cameo), and Best Supporting Actress (Mukerji).

KKHH caught Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in the primes of their careers as they went on to remarkable fame in the Hindi film industry. Khan, in particular, developed to become the most bankable and popular Bollywood actor worldwide. After directing the hit debut, Johar made some of the most popular and lucrative films in contemporary Bollywood history, including Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Kahbi Alvida Naa Kehna, and My Name is Khan

The legacy of KKHH is cemented forever for Indian audiences. But beyond the romance, the comedy, the hit songs, and the fashion trends it set, KKHH also brought basketball into the mainstream Indian consciousness. The basketball scenes from the movie introduced novices to the sport, while fans and players felt validated that their niche sport had briefly become a national sensation.

*

KKHH’s used basketball as a major plot device, unlike any Bollywood film before. Anjali (Kajol) and Rahul (Khan) are best friends who bond over basketball. Johar’s hoop-romance even pre-dated the 2000 Hollywood film Love and Basketball. However, while Kajol and Khan covered the flirtatious ‘love’ part well, there wasn’t much attention paid to the duo actually learning any real ‘basketball’ skills.

Never mind that. Early in the movie, we see Anjali and Rahul play in a full-court one-on-one game in a closed gym at their school (Khan was in his early 30s while playing a High Schooler, because Bollywood said so) that soon becomes extremely testy. Rahul, who always gets dominated by his platonic friend Anjali, resorts to cheat and foul to gain advantage. Anjali clearly wins this matchup and holds both a physical and a mental advantage over Rahul. Khan’s super-high, slow, one-handed dribble would go on to haunt Allen Iverson forever.



The scene also establishes questions over gender roles, which develop as a parallel story-line through the course of the film. Anjali is accused of crying like a girl, and then complains that she doesn’t want to be called a girl anymore. She is the third wheel in the romance between Rahul and Tina (Mukerji), but later in the film, when she makes her transformation to a more traditionally ‘feminine’ woman, Rahul is both attracted to her new avatar while simultaneously missing his tomboy, basketball-loving old friend.

Divya Singh, former captain of India’s women’s team and now a junior international coach, recalls how the basketball scenes and, specifically, Anjali’s character, reminded her own youth, when she was that rebellious athlete in Varanasi’s conservative society fighting to play a ‘boy’s game’.

“I remember it clearly,” Singh told me. “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was the third movie I had ever seen. I was a junior player for Uttar Pradesh back then and all the senior players used to say that me and Trideep Rai (Varanasi-bred former India Men’s basketball captain) used to play and fight like Anjali and Rahul! Some of those fights even got really serious, and people in Varanasi used to joke that it was our story!”

“I truly loved that movie when it came out!” she added. “I could really relate to it, because I was a tomboy like Anjali. But I also used to laugh at the way Shah Rukh and Kajol played – they should’ve at least learnt how to play basketball for the movie!”

*

But it’s a scene in the second half of the movie that eventually went down in Bollywood Basketball lore. Rahul and Anjali are now ‘grown up’ and estranged. Tina, Rahul’s wife, is dead, but not before passing on a message to her daughter – also named Anjali – to help reunite Rahul with his old friend. The film shifts to the summer camp (‘Camp Sunshine’) setting, where the daughter is finally able to facilitate this reunion (I’m grossly over-simplifying here. Go watch the movie).

Except now, things are different. Anjali isn’t the tomboy anymore: she has exchanged her athletic gear for a ‘feminine’ sari and seems to have given up on her basketball past. Anjali is also now engaged to Aman (Salman Khan). The old friends find it hard to connect again. It’s awkward.



Basketball to the rescue! The daughter is aware of the friendly basketball rivalry between Rahul and Anjali from their past and, through some trickery and reintroduction of gender stereotypes (“girls can’t play basketball?”) she’s able to get Rahul and Anjali to shed their formalities and reprise their long-standing basketball rivalry at an outdoor court.

The one-on-one, full-court game, appropriately titled on YouTube as the ‘Basketball Affair’, is iconic, influential, and hilarious. Rahul keeps on his formal shirt and tie. Anjali plays barefoot in her sari (here are a couple of people taking David Stern’s Dress Code to much greater heights), which, in 2016 would’ve definitely been sponsored by Under Armor. After some flirtatious trash-talk, the game begins.

There is obviously no referee in this game, and Rahul is allowed to commit multiple violations in each possession. Anjali, at the 3:20 mark in the video, steals the ball, but must fix her sari before taking a jump-shot (#IndiaBasketball). Of course, no ‘sexy sari’ moment is complete without potentially-scandalous waist touching, and Rahul obliges, heightening the sexual and competitive tension between the two. Even though it’s a full-court game, both seem to be shooting at the same basket. Frustrated by Rahul’s sneaky improvements (and continued use of gamesmanship tactics to get unfair advantage), Anjali brings him down with a foul that would’ve made Bill Laimbeer proud. The two begin to argue the same way they used to as High Schoolers. Anjali gets flustered. The kids begin to chant that “girls can’t play basketball” (WTF?). Everyone laughs at Anjali.

Cue song. Cue romance.

*

There have been several great moments in basketball and Bollywood, and I wrote about them in greater detail for my blog six years ago. KKHH wasn’t the first Bollywood movie to incorporate basketball, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

“The basketball quotient in KKHH was a novelty at the time,” recalled Jamie Alter, Sports Editor of Times of India Digital and one of India’s premier 90s Bollywood experts. “It has not been paralleled since, with the buffoonery shown in Koi Mil Gaya and Dhoom 2’s (lame) attempt to make basketball in the rain sexy.” 

“In 1998, basketball to the mainstream Indian audience was probably limited to Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls versus Utah Jazz and some very rare ONGC v Punjab games on Doordarshan,” he added. “So KKHH went a fair way in putting basketball into at least one segment of the public’s conscience, even if it was hardly authentic. There hasn’t been anything like that replicated with such dedication - though even now, thinking of Shah Rukh and Kajol bobbling along with a basketball makes me chuckle - and no heroine has tucked in the fall of her sari so emphatically as Kajol did during the summer camp face-off.” 

In 2003, Hrithik Roshan would star in Koi Mil Gaya, which borrowed inspirations from ET, Forrest Gump, and Space Jam in its basketball sequence. Roshan and his team ­- the ‘Paandavs’ – receive special powers from an alien called ‘Jadoo’ to dominate their rivals. Please pay special attention to the 7:58 – 8:09 mark in the video, where Roshan completes pretty much the greatest move ever: he intercepts a shot, jumps, does three body flips in mid-air to land his feet on top of the oppositions rim, and then drop the game winner. Incredible.

Three years later, Roshan would be showing off his questionable basketball skills again, this time as super criminal Aryan in the film Dhoom 2. Roshan plays a one-on-one game in the rain with Aishwarya Rai, which also doubles as a metaphor for the international heist lifestyle. It’s in this scene that he drops the immortal line – which currently serves as the opener to my Hoopdarshan podcast: “Yeh international game hai Sunehri. Deemag se khela jata hai, gussey se nahi” (This is an international game, Sunehri. You have to play with your mind, not your anger).

But KKHH, indisputably, had the biggest impact. Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, captain of India’s men’s basketball team, recalled how many of his small town and village acquaintances were introduced to the game of basketball itself because of the film alone.

“This was the first time that basketball was shown in a big Indian movie,” Bhriguvanshi told me “It became a ‘cool’ thing because basketball was looked at as a fancy game, and we felt even better because there were two big stars playing our favourite sport. I had many school friends who didn’t know what I did for a living until I said that I play ‘basketball, just like that movie!’”

Divya Singh agrees about the film’s impact, too. “A lot of youngsters started playing basketball after that movie. And they started dressing like Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, too. It became a style statement.”

*

It may still be a smaller sport relative to cricket, but basketball is a lot more popular in India than it was 16 years ago. India continues to steadily improve at the international level and even pulled off a historic win over China in 2014. The NBA has made major inroads in India, opened up an office in Mumbai, and has set up grassroots programmes the country. An Indian – Satnam Singh – has even been drafted into the NBA. Suffice to say, the Indian mainstream recognizes basketball as more than that vaguely ‘western’ way of Rahul and Anjali to flirt in KKHH.

Yet, the film’s continuing legacy on Bollywood and basketball is undeniable. Amar Acharya, an Indian-American and a well-known NBA blogger and masthead for SLC Dunk, told me continued familiarity with Bollywood helped him share something with other NRIs (non-resident Indians) of his age, and with desis around the world. But the basketball angle in KKHH took it even further.

“Basketball in KKHH codified in my mind the possibility of basketball being a medium infrastructure sport for the middle and upward economic classes of my motherland,” Acharya said, “In a place of cricket, Kabaddi, and field hockey, there was something that could be a step up – a sport for the developing classes who themselves were stepping up in line with greater educational opportunities, and a better life than their parents before them.”

If basketball in KKHH can represent aspirations for a better future, there could be better days ahead. The big screen adaption of Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend will have its young lead stars Arjun Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor exploring the cocktail of basketball and Bollywood romance. Meanwhile, the real life story of Chhattisgarh’s successful women’s basketball team will be an inspiration for another future film produced by Lara Dutta.

Alter believes that KKHH remains Karan Johar’s defining movie and the one that helped define, much like its predecessor DDLJ, the landscape of modern Hindi film romances. “So did basketball play a role in shaping the images of two of Bollywood’s biggest stars, and undoubtedly the modern era’s most famous on-screen couple? Absolutely.” 

*

Even after the iconic summer camp basketball scene, the KKHH basketball love story doesn’t end before one more twist. The game rekindled the Rahul-Anjali friendship, and even laid the groundwork for future romance. But things change when Anjali’s fiancĂ© Aman Mehra – played in a memorable cameo by the other Bollywood superstar in the film Salman Khan – makes a surprise visit to Camp Sunshine on a rainy evening.



Rahul, in his forlorn depression, does what all hoop fans do at moments of stress: he hits the court. Aman sees him practicing, and is terribly impressed by Rahul’s awkward basket followed by uncoordinated bounce ups of the ball. In a weird American accent (Aman is an NRI living in London and that was Salman Khan's “research”) he says, "Wow wow wow, amazing man, too good, just like Michael Jordan, my man, you're too good."

And with that, he brings the basketball premise of KKHH full circle, perfectly marrying Bollywood's 'Badshah' Shah Rukh with the baddest badshah to ever hit the basketball court: Michael Jordan. Everyone, including India’s most famous actor in one of the biggest films of All Time, wanted to be Like Mike.

Fast forward. Tears are shed. One wedding is replaced by another. Cue song.

*

1998 was the summer that Jordan retired, and everyone – from Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson to LeBron James and Kevin Durant – tried to fill the void. In their own way, Johar, Khan, Kajol, and everyone associated with KKHH tried to fill a void, too. Where Jordan’s Bulls dynasty ended, the Johar and Khan dynasty began, starting with KKHH and continuing through to a whole host of similarly-themed romantic comedies.

Soon enough, directors influenced or opposed to Johar’s formula found success in Bollywood. By 2016, Michael Jordan and Shah Rukh Khan became crying memes and kids wanted to grow up to be Steph Curry.

But KKHH was never forgotten, and its magic was never duplicated. And as a legion of Indian players and fans will attest, the film’s legacy continued to have an unexpected, memorable impact on Indian basketball.

June 9, 2016

Three young Indians chosen for NBA's Basketball Without Borders Asia 2016 camp in Australia


Bringing together the best youth basketball talents in the Asia-Pacific region for an elite camp, the NBA's Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Asia 2016 camp is set to be held in Melbourne (Australia) from June 23-26. Three promising Indian players - Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, Aashay Verma, and Sahil - have been chosen for the four-day camp, which will also feature numerous current and former NBA stars. The 2016 BWB Asia is being coordinated between the NBA, FIBA, and Australia's National Basketball League (NBL).

All three Indian players will be a part of the top 45 male players - born between 1999-2001 - selected from 17 countries for the training scheduled to be held at Dandenong Basketball Stadium in Melbourne.

In the Indian contingent, Poiyamozhi is clearly the most exciting prospect. The shooting guard from Tamil Nadu recently captained India's U18 squad as they won the South Asian Basketball championship in Bangladesh to qualify for the FIBA Asia U18 Championship. Poiyamozhi has been part of Tamil Nadu's back-to-back champion junior squad and was India's shining bright spark at the FIBA Asia U16 championship last year. Aashay Verma is a 7-foot-2 center from Hyderabad and Sahil represents Punjab. All the three were selected from various BWB camps conducted by the NBA-India across the country.

A large number of NBA players and legends - especially those with Australia connections - will be mentoring the young players at the camp, including Aron Baynes (Detroit Pistons, Australia), Dante Exum (Utah Jazz, Australia), Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz; Australia), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks, US), and Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs, Australia). NBA legend David Robinson, his former Spurs teammate Bruce Bowen, and former All Star and Raptors' Assistant Coach Jerry Stackhouse will be coaching at the camp, too. President of the World Association of Basketball Coaches Patrick Hunt will serve as camp director.