May 31, 2010

NBA Finals: Celtics, Lakers, History...

No one expected it at mid-season, and no one in their right mind expected it when the playoffs began. Sure, the Lakers were always the favourites in the West, where the debate contiunally raged on about who would finish at second place. The East was supposed to be the Cleveland LeBrons, um, Cavaliers to lose, and if they did lose it, it was most likely going to be the Magic. Most likely.

I predicted a Cavaliers-Lakers final in February, and I predicted it again when the playoffs began around six weeks ago. The Lakers are here, the LeBrons are back home. Instead, every Laker's favourite (not) opponent the Boston Celtics, after finishing a humble fourth in the Eastern Conference seedings, beat down Wade and the Heat, LeBron and the Cavs, and Dwight Howard and the Magic to surprise everyone and reach the Finals again.

So here we are, looking over the 12th NBA Finals meeting between these two legendary franchises. I almost titled this piece "Celtics and Lakers ARE the NBA", and that wouldn't have been too far off. These two teams have won 32 of the 63 NBA championships between each other, and after this one, it will be 33 of 64. That is about 51.6 percent. They are also the last two champions, Celtics beating the Lakers in 2008, and the Lakers winning over the Magic last year. I'm feeling like its the mid-80s all over again. Bird. Magic. Pierce. Kobe. Garnett. McHale. Gasol. Abdul-Jabbar. etc. etc. etc.

But before I delve into this incredible finals match-up, let's talk about the Conference Finals a little bit. I predicted both the Celtics and Lakers to beat their opponents, and although both the series started to look like potential easy pickings, Magic and the Suns showed enough life to keep things interesting.

When the Magic took on the Celtics, I had a feeling that Celtic Ubuntu was going to be too much on the softer Magic squad. Dwight Howard is a strong player, but he is not a tough player. Celtics easily (more or less) breezed through the first three games, which were mostly a nightmare for Dwight Howard. And for Rashard Lewis (who scored 15 points TOTAL in those three games). And for Vince Carter (those missed free throws in Game 2 will haunt him forever). Jameer Nelson showed some sign of resilience, and under his lead, Magic won the fourth game in overtime, and (with the help of some dodgy refereering) took Game 5 in Orlando. Although Boston looked old and beaten, they were back up to their old tricks in Game 6 and easily closed out the series to become Eastern Conference Champions.

Rondo continued his steller play in this series, but he was helped greatly by an improved Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Pierce, specifically, is looking extremely dangerous and poised to take over the Finals. Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins, and Glen Davis all did an awesome defensive job on Howard, and Wallace and Davis showed up on the offensive end, too. Plus, when Nate Robinson took over in Game 6, I momentarily lost my sense of reality. Nate friggin Robinson, the Knick sideshow, whose only real success has come in the Summer League and the Slam Dunk Competition, played the best 10-something minutes of his life in Game 6. And all this without my favourite Celtic Kevin Garnett playing a lot more subdued than he did in the Cavs series. The Celtics did it like they always do it - teamwork and hustle.

On to the West now, where the shooting percentages are higher, the scoreboards have more triple figures, and the courtside celebrities look better. Lakers looked great in their first two games against the Suns at home, and the Suns defense was all over the place. In Phoenix, Suns showed great resilience to make an amazing comeback and tie the series 2-2, thanks to Amar'''e, Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and a strong bench. Game 5 was the most exciting one of them all, as a fury of amazing plays from Nash brought the Suns back from a huge deficit to tie the game in the end, only to lose out to a tip in by... Ron Artest. The biggest shot of Ron Ron's career gave Lakers a crucial 3-2 lead. In the closing Game 6, Kobe, Ron Ron and the rest of the Lakers did their thing to hold the Suns' comeback and make it back to their THIRD STRAIGHT Finals.

And oh, I nearly went a whole paragraph without mentioning Kobe. 'Mamba' was amazing all series, scoring a shade below 34 ppg, and getting near triple-doubles on several occasions. Most importantly, he was clutch in nearly every win for the Lakers, especially in Game 6 where he hit dagger after dagger to silence the Suns' surge. Like Lamar Odom said, "Kobe is so good, he makes incredible normal for us." Bryant has (unsurprisingly) improved his play considerably in the playoffs and truly answered back to all those who doubted him all season.

But now comes the biggest challenge that either team has faced all playoffs. And fittingly, it happens at the game's biggest stage, the NBA Finals. And Hoopistani predicts...

Lakers vs. Celtics: Celtics in 7: I have been contemplating this result more than you think... Each game of the Conference Finals changed my opinion, each result gave me doubts, and now that these two teams prepare to see each other again, I have finally settled (sort of) the see-saw of my thoughts to decide on a prediction.

All season, I would have picked the Lakers to repeat as NBA Champions. I picked them at the start, at the mid, and near the end. Even when the Conference Finals began, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. But the Celtics kept on improving. They got better and better, and then the Lakers didn't look so strong after losing two games to the Suns, and then the Celtics looked old and battered when they lost Game 5 at Orlando, and then Kobe became godly again and Lakers won the series, and then Celtics improved their play, too.


So to make the picture a little clearer, I'm going to compare and contrast what the two teams will be going against here, and add up their advantages...

Point Guard: Rondo vs. Fisher: Rondo has been the best player in the playoffs. Fisher hits important shots sometimes, but Rondo is going to eat him alive. ALIVE I tell you. Kobe might have to respond like he did with Russell Westbrook in the first round against the Thunder and try to stick with Rondo. I don't think it will work. Celtics

Shooting Guard: Ray Allen vs. Bryant: Oh, and these two are semi-rivals, too. Ray Allen is an amazing shooter, but Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant. Lakers

Small Forward: Pierce vs. Artest: I love Ron Ron. You don't know how much I love Ron Ron. I've always said that if Artest is in any sort of a decent squad, he will take up to a higher level. Don't ask me exactly how he does it, but it is a combination of great defense, ill-advised but sometimes important three-pointers, and his own brand of crazy Dennis-Rodman-ness. That said, the 2008 Finals MVP aka Paul Pierce aka The Truth is looking incredible right now and could well be the main main in this series. Artest will trouble him, but Pierce is better. Celtics

Power Forward: Garnett vs. Gasol: This match-up I feel is the closest and the most important of them all. So much so that, whoever dominates between these two will be the one in the winning squad. And although Gasol has been incredible all season and Garnett has not, KG has picked up where it counts, and if there is anyone who can make life hell for Gasol, it is him. KG won't score much, but he doesn't need to, for he will dominate Gasol defensively and make him want to shoot himself. Celtics

Center: Perkins vs. Bynum: Perkins is a mean man. Bynum is a nice little boy who is hurt a lot. Bynum is technically more talented, but he won't overcome Perkins. Celtics

Bench: Davis, Wallace, Tony Allen, Robinson, Finley, Daniels vs. Odom, Waltom, Farmar, Vujacic, Brown, Mbenga. Lakers bench, hands down, is much better, thanks mostly to Lamar Odom. For the Celtics bench to have a chance, they will need consistency from Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson, but asking that is like asking for consistency from the friggin moon. Sometimes you get it full and bright, sometimes it shoots dumb three-point air-balls. Lakers

Coach: Rivers vs. Jackson: Doc Rivers is a good coach, and has succesfully watched his plan come to good as the Celtics saved their energy for the playoffs. Phil Jackson though, is the best, perhaps the best ever. The 'Zen Master' always seems to be a step ahead of his opposition coaches, and will once again be an important factor tactically on the Laker sideline. Lakers

Health: Lakers' only issue is Andrew Bynum. Celtics have issues with everyone. Lakers

And of course, it is well known that no result in sport is as simple as stats, match-ups, and players on paper. I must add one more category here: call it heart, call it desire, will to win, the hustle... I'll just call it The Edge. And coming into the 2010 Finals, Celtics have the edge over the Lakers. They will win the loose balls, they will get more offensive rebounds, they will have the emotional runs, they have the team chemistry. Lakers have the most cold-blooded man in the world right now in Kobe, but that won't be enough of an edge. Celtics

Final score? Celtics 5 Lakers 4. I told you it's gonna be close. Celtics in 7. And it's hard to choose an MVP from this squad of numerous stars, and although Rondo and Pierce have been the go-to guys the last few rounds, I have a feeling that it will be Kevin Garnett who will be the X-Factor and the one to elevate the Celtics over a tough LA team.

Despite what I predicted all year, the Lakers will not repeat as champions, and although I believe that this will be a much tougher series for both teams than last time around, Celtics will beat the Lakers again, just like 2008.

2010 Champions: Boston Celtics
Finals MVP: Kevin Garnett

Can't wait for this series to begin. Thursday night in Lost Angeles, Friday morning on my TV in India. Lakers vs. Celtics, Part 12. Here's another chapter in the history of the NBA Finals...

May 28, 2010

Veteran players hold junior camp in Orissa

You know what I love even more than basketball awareness in India? Basketball awareness at new, unexpected places in India. That's why this story from 'The Silk City' of Orissa, Behrampur, made me smile: around 15 veteran players from Orissa got together on May 17th to organise a three-week long basketball coaching camp for youngsters, independently and from their own resources.

The camp is being held at the Berhampur stadium, under the tutelage of veteran players such as former national player J. Kameshwar Rao, Arun Kumar Patnaik, basketball coach Kajal Kumar Sahu, and Orissa's only international referee, Rajkumar Patra. Around 80 youngsters between the ages of six to 18 years are participating in this camp.

From The Hindu:

The organisers said despite several requests from parents they could not intake more participants due to constraint of resources. “We are hoping to hold a bigger camp next time if we get some sponsorship,” Mr. Patra said.
The participants of this camp have been divided into three groups. The 15 participants of the age group below eight years have made the organisers hope that a bright future awaits basketball in this region. The other two groups are meant for participants between eight to 13 years and rest participants are in another group. The youngest ones have been named ‘Kids' group... “The enthusiasm of these kids is also proving to be a major catalyst for the practice of other participants”, Mr. Patra said. Apart from practical training in field the participants are also being imparted theoretical training about the fundamentals and history of the game.

This is exactly what the game needs in India! Veteran leadership and direction to develop the game up from the grassroots, and not just in the Tier I cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai but at relatively smaller places like Behrampur, too.

I'm hoping that this initiative by the Orissa veteran basketballers serves to encourage other players, coaches, and organisers around the country who have enough influence in the game to help its growth around the country.

May 27, 2010

You will hear an Indian accent when you call Mike Brown

I found a surprisingly funny story today and realised immediately that I had to blog it. The biggest free agent story of all time now potentially has an Indian stakeholder. Let me introduce to you to the characters in our little drama this morning...

First meet Mike Brown. Brown is the former head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and fired just three days ago from his position after leading the reigning two time NBA MVP LeBron James and the Cavs to two straight years as the best regular season team in the league. Of course, that didn't translate to post-season success, as the best Cavs team ever assembled once again choked in the playoffs, this time at the hands of the Boston Celtics. Brown also has struggled with teaching this talented squad with LeBron, Shaq, Jamison, Mo Williams, Varejao, Hickson, Anthony Parker and others any sort of offence except 'give-lebron-james-the-basketball-and-pray'.

Now meet Rajesh Kumar. Kumar is a 24 year old from New Delhi who recently completed his Master's degree in engineering from New York University, and has lived in the US for around two years. In August 2008, Kumar lived in Cleveland for a month, and aquired a phone number... which turned out to be Mike Brown's old number.

So of course, ever since Mike Brown got fired from his job, Rajesh Kumar heard the condolences. From NBA Fanhouse:

"I have gotten over 150 phone calls since (Monday)," Kumar said Tuesday afternoon in an interview with FanHouse from New York. "I took a nap and I woke up and I had 37 voice mail messages. I thought Mike Brown must have lost a big match."
Pardon Kumar's terminology.
"I'm a fan of cricket," said Kumar, who later was able to find out Brown's firing was the reason for all the commotion. "It's a very exciting sport."
Kumar doesn't know who most of the callers have been since he simply tells them they have the wrong number. As for the messages left on Kumar's voice mail, which has an automated recording rather than his voice or name, he has deleted them immediately.

But Kumar did say he got a call asking for Brown from somebody identified as being from the office of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. The call ended after Kumar said it no longer is Brown's number.

So why would Bloomberg's office be calling Brown? Well, Bloomberg did speak on his weekly Friday show on WOR Radio on May 14 about believing Cleveland star guard LeBron James, who had played for Brown, would want to sign with New York or New Jersey when he can become a free agent this summer.

Don't ask Kumar, though, to speculate about any relationship between Bloomberg, Brown and James. Kumar knows little about James.
"I had heard of him," said Kumar, saying he learned of James before he got Brown's old cell number but couldn't speak much about him. "I'm not sure when I heard of him."
Kumar's number was Brown's at least through the 2007-08 season. After he got his number, Kumar began receiving some calls for the coach.
"After about a week, I realized he must be a celebrity," Kumar said. "I wondered who this Mike Brown was. So I Googled him."

Wow! There are at least 2,523 funny things about the story above, but I'm going to ramble off the first few that pop up in my head:

- His name is Rajesh Kumar. I mean, he could've only gotten Indianner if he was called Patel or something.
- The Americans just don't seem to understand the word 'match'. Match? "Pardon his terminology!"
- I love how he drops the fact that he's a fan of cricket and that "it's a very exciting sport".
- So, apparently, the Mayor of New York called him. To discuss LeBron James.
- Kumar really has no idea who LeBron James is. "I have heard of him - I'm not sure when I heard of him," may be the greatest quote of the LeBron James free-agency mania.
- And finally, Kumar googled Brown thinking that Brown is a celebrity. I'm not sure I would call the former Cavs coach that, but hey, standing next to LeBron James and feigning orders while actually being his slave has to count for some celebrity status, right?

Come on Kumar. Do your Indian buddy here a favour - next time LeBron dials a wrong number and finds you, tell him about how awesome the New York Mayor / The Knicks are. You need to help make him a Knick next season. And wish him good luck for his next 'match', too.

May 26, 2010

SABAL preseason held at Don Bosco School

Gearing up for a summer of basketball? Well, a lot went down at the Don Bosco School in Tumkur (near Bangalore) last week, when Subhash Mahajan of the Sumpoorna grassroots basketball movement continued to involve young kids into basketball with a pre-season tournament of the Sumpoorna Annual Basketball League (SABAL) from 19-21 May.

Around 60 kids, under the age of 15, participated in the games, and they were divided into 12 teams to match the 12 seasons of a year - January to December... The kids were allowed to scrimmage during the first two days of the camp, and then were divided into well-balanced teams. Students from the Sumpoorna Basketball campus in Tumkur played alongside students of the Don Bosco School.

"It was nice to see that even the students who didn't have the basic knowledge of basketball learnt quickly from the others and subconsciously copied them," said Mahajan, "It became easy to get through rules and violations to them, like travel, illegal screens, or different kinds of fouls."

"We have good relationship with Don Bosco, and we want to make more relations with other schools around the region for more basketball," Mahajan added. "At Don Bosco, they lack coaches, and we wanted to embed our players and coaching with those players."

The full season of SABAL begins in about a month, the 26th of June. Mahajan is looking to glamourise the event by involving corporate sponsorships and to provide uniforms to the children.

"We are hoping to form a network of over a 100 schools by the end of the season."

The Sumpoorna Basketball School is a basketball movement in South India hoping to popularise basketball and teach basic skills to younger children. Mahajan, its founder, has always believed that the best way to make the game approachable for children (and parents) who are averse to sports and basketball specifically is to create a relaxed environment in the game.

Sumpoorna has been slowly growing in small, rural town of Tumkur over the past five years. Driven by a lifelong love of basketball, Mahajan has set up this basketball camp mostly for small town and village youth, which has grown over the years to have taught basketball basics to up to 6,000 youngsters around the rural area, and launched the Sumpoorna Basketball Tournament where dozens of small school and recreational teams compete against each other.

May 25, 2010

Indian Basketball: The Corporate Takeover

In the last few months, first there was Mahindra teaming up with the NBA to promote the Mahindra-NBA Challenge. Then there was Reliance who teamed up with US-based sports marketing company IMG Worldwide to develop sports facilities and leagues in India. Now, with the appointment of United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) CEO Jaidev Shroff as the president of the Maharashtra State Basketball Association (MSBA), it seems that another large corporation has joined the race to profit through sports, and specifically, basketball.

The MSBA unanimously elected Shroff as president recently. Shroff has been supporting several sporting events in different fields for the past 15 years. This will be a crucial time for Shroff to take over the MSBA helm as basketball is growing at an unprecendent rate in Maharashtra and in Mumbai (which was crowned as India's Basketball City on this site).

Shroff has a corporate background, and the UPL has been supporting two annual basketball tournaments in Mumbai - the Ramu Memorial Tournament and the Savio Cup.


Commenting on this situation, MSBA Secretary M Venkatesh, said, “Maharashtra has been a strong hub for basketball. With the National Basketball Association (NBA) lending its might in promoting the game, the MSBA is eager to utilise this opportunity to further strengthen the game. The Association will focus on the grass root level, increase the participation of athletes as well as train talented players to increase the overall standard of the game in Maharashtra.”
Laying down his vision, Shroff said, “The responsibility is huge, but I'm sure I will get the complete support from all office bearers to promote basketball.”

Shroff stated that the involvement of corporate houses in the decision-making process of sports administration is good news for Indian sports and would take it to a new horizon. "The UPL Group has always supported the sports in India by offering scholarships to deserving students and we will continue to do so in the future."

One of the future (perhaps exciting) plans for the UPL with the MSBA is to introduce the 'Hoop-A-Loop League' - not really sure what it is, but it will be played in the weekends in Mumbai.

Led by the commercially super-succesful IPL, India seems to have truly woken up to the business of sport. I'll quote Abhaya Srivastava from his recent article on this growing phenomenon: "For many the success of the IPL was a symbol of the new India -- an emerging economic powerhouse, pumped up with self-confidence and aspiring to assert itself in the global arena." Srivastava goes on to say that allegations of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion in the IPL have tarnished the sports/business relationship a little bit, but I don't believe that it is enough to stop this expanding snowball. The IPL will survive the scandal and continue successfully, and from the looks of it, other corporations will continue to see green in sports, too.

Has the time truly arrived for India to take sports seriously? When I say 'seriously', I mean in the only way that really matters for a sport's promotion, through money. Mahindra, Reliance, UPL... these are all big companies with big money to potentially invest in basketball. Forget about our socialist beginnings, India is now an uber-capitalist country where to really make it you have to make it by yourself. No government is going to be there to hold your hand through it. I have been a staunch believer that success stories in India have really come despite the government, and this belief holds in the case of basketball, too.

There is of course the ugly, annoying negative side. We have all seen it happen with the IPL. Advertisements during ball breaks, commercial breaks interrupting crucial replays, a six being called a DLF-Maximum and (well respected) commentators being obliged to mention the MRF-blimp every chance they get. It's tragic to see when celebrities are celebrated more than cricketers. Capitalism in sport is a double-edged sword, because if corporates decide to sell-out basketball the same way they did with T-20 cricket it would popularise the game to a wider audience but simultaneously take the focus and soul away from the game itself.

There needs to be a sensitive balance between commercialisation and maintaining the soul of the game, and the next few years could be very telling in the growth of basketball in India.

Do you agree with Shroff? Is the involvement of corporate houses in the decision making of sports, and in our particular case, basketball, a good move for Indian sports?

May 24, 2010

A tale of three leagues

It's a tale of three leagues, in three countries, of three sports.
1. National Basketball Association (NBA) - Basketball, USA
2. English Premier League (EPL) - Football, England
3. Indian Premier Leauge (IPL) - Cricket, India

India has a total of ONE succesful professional sports league: the IPL. ONE. Like it or hate it, but that's the truth. Hell, even many cricket purists hate it, disregarding the Twenty-20's format as 'real' cricket.

Whatever - we aren't here to argue about what cricket should be. We're here to talk about what the IPL wants to be. The IPL wants to be the NBA, and it has wanted to be the NBA for quite some time. It is no secret that the league format, the franchises, the cheerleaders, the dugout (or "bench"), the player profiles, the "strategic" time-outs, the advertising frenzy, the television broadcasts, etc in the IPL have borrowed heavily from the NBA and even the EPL. Sorry football fans, but in many ways financially, the IPL has actually overtaken the EPL. According to the inaugural Annual Review of Global Sports Salaries (ARGSS) (later published on, IPL became the second highest paid league in the world this year, overtaking the EPL. You know what's it second to? The NBA.

Even NBA Commissioner/Tsar/Maharaja David Stern become a fan of the IPL last November. In an interview with DNA-Mumbai, Stern said, "We are closely watching as to how the IPL has been a game-changer in sport. It has adopted a number of Western sporting practices like the franchise system, player bidding, the home-and-away games, double-headers and the like."

Now, IPL may take yet another page out of the NBA book. After adding two new franchises to the existing eight in the IPL, the BCCI is looking to change its format to finish the tournament in the same seven-week period as the previous three IPL editions. Until IPL-3, each team played each other team twice, home and away, to play a total of 14 matches each, which meant that a grand total of 60 matches were played. If the same format is continued for 10 teams, 94 games would have to be played. The BCCI don't want that because they have a time constraint.

One of their options is to do with the NBA does: Divide the teams into two groups (NBA-read: Conferences) of five. Like the NBA, the teams in the same conference play each other three or four times, whereas teams in opposing conferences play each other twice, once home, and once away. Each team plays 82 games in the regular season. In the IPL, the proposition is that each team plays other teams in its groups twice (home and away) and the teams in the group once.

Good idea, but it does create problems. Home advantage is something that teams obviously rely on, so on what basis will the home games be played in the inter-group games?

The other idea I feel is worse, which is to have the same round-robin system in the two groups, and then the best teams move on to a 'Super Six' stage and they all play each other. With this format, there are many teams who may never get to play each other, and that completely defies the whole point of being a league.

My solution is this: screw the groups. Don't follow the NBA, follow the EPL. Have all teams play each other home AND away like the current system. Play 94 games. I can hear the groans already: there aren't enough days to fit these many games. Or the groans from TV broadcasters: we can't show more than one or two games a day because TV ratings will take a hit.

I don't see why the league can't be expanded to take a longer time. This way, it will become less of a quick tournament and more of a 'season'. Yes, international cricket clashes will cause a problem, but just like international breaks in the football season, the IPL can incorporate their season around cricket international breaks, too.

And it's fine to glamourise our leagues just as media has done it in the US, but their needs to be a limit, and that limit is crossed when the sport is overshadowed by celebrity and marketing culture. I searched for 'ipl' in Google-Images, and you know what I got? Three of the first four photos are of Katrina Kaif, Preity Zinta, and Shah Rukh Khan. The first cricketers don't show up till the eight pic. Even Vijay Mallaya scores earlier.

If we are truly looking to bring a sports league/season culture such as that in the USA, Europe, etc into India, our leagues have to be bigger, last longer, and be ABOUT THE SPORT. It is laughable that the second-richest league in the world lasts just seven weeks.

May 21, 2010

American visionaries hoping to strengthen basketball community in India

Phase 1. Junior basketball training at a school in Secunderabad
Phase 2. ???
Phase 3. Profit

Ok, so it's not exactly Underpants Gnomes Logic, but basketball visionaries Robert Selby and Tanya Parker from the US, have joined hands with the St. Patrick's Academy, a school in Secunderabad, to "broad base what they call the greatest game in the world." According to Parker, the duo has set up a five-year pilot project through which they "hope to build a 100,000-strong basketball community in India."

The duo worked with Bana 'Baba' Ravinder and the children of the St. Patrick's Academy. A. Joseph Antony from The Hindu reports:

Their first day with Ravinder's trainees was an exhilarating experience. “The children were sponges, soaking up whatever we had for them,” said Selby, a product of the Five Star Academy at Honesdale in the mountains of Pennsylvania.
The said institution nurtured the game's greats such as Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Vince Carter among 400 who made it to the fiercely competitive National Basketball Association (NBA) league.
“The body language of the children here bristled with enthusiasm, matched by their willingness to learn, making it obvious that size didn't matter,” Selby noted.
“The girls seemed more thoughtful though,” said Tanya, a teacher turned business woman, who does the marketing, communication and fund-raising for World Class Athletic Development, the firm the duo has set up.

“We want to build a farm system of talent up to the state level and then let it take wing through exchange and training scholarships in line with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) model,” [Selby] added.
“We see our venture as sacred commerce, which benefits people and feeds more energy into the existing structure,” says Tanya.

The duo also hope to hold a residential camp for junior national players from Andhra Pradesh, collaborate with India's very own hoop culture promoters Hoops India, and later attend the junior national championships in Chennai.

Big plans for the duo - hopefully they continue to enjoy the charm of teaching basketball in India.

May 19, 2010

Wizards win No. 1 Pick

Quicker than you can say "Kwame Brown", the suffering Washington Wizards beat the odds and years of bad fortune to win the NBA Draft lottery last night and have the rights of the number one pick of the draft.

If you don't know: the NBA Draft is the time of the year when NBA franchises get a chance to pick new players for the their team. The 14 teams who do not make the playoffs are put into a draft lottery system, and the team with the worst regular season record has the best chance of getting the highest pick. The playoff teams get to pick their players based on reverse order of their regular season standings. Get it?

But of course, things don't always turn out well for the worst ones - just as the Nets. The worst teams only have a 25 percent chance of winning the first pick, and the Wizards, who had the fifth-worst record, struck lucky last night and won that honour.

Here is how the lottery ended up. The Draft Day this year is on June 24th:

1. Washington Wizards
2. Philadelphia 76ers
3. New Jersey Nets
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
5. Sacramento Kings
6. Golden State Warriors
7. Detroit Pistons
8. Los Angeles Clippers
9. Utah Jazz (from the Knicks)
10. Indiana Pacers
11. New Orleans Hornets
12. Memphis Grizzlies
13. Toronto Raptors
14. Houston Rockets

The Wizards have had a fairly unfortunate recent history, and especially a tragic last season. Not even Gandalf (the White, not the Grey), the greatest Wizard of them all, couldn't save them. Neither could Michael Jordan, who was probably greater. The last time the Wizards got a first pick was eight years ago, when then part-owner Jordan decided to pick a young Kwame Brown who turned out to be my favourite bust ever.

And then last season happened. Wizards entered the year with optimism, as they boasted a formidable Big 3 of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison. The season turned to turmoil after Arenas' injuries/gun case: Butler was traded to the Mavericks, Jamison became LeBron's newest sidekick as Cleveland, and Arenas was last seen serving his sentence at a halfway house. Hibachi!

But now, they have a chance at redemption. The biggest name in the draft this year is Kentucky point guard John Wall. Wall's explosive skill make him the favourite to be picked first.

The argument against Wall is that he plays essentially the same position as Arenas, and the predicted second pick, shooting guard Evan Turner from Ohio State might be a better fit to play along with Arenes in the Wizard backcourt. Turner was the 2010 College National Player of the Year.

But I am of the belief that teams should always pick based on talent, not position. Pick the best player available, and the rest will figure out for itself. In the case of the Wizards, they should definitely go for Wall, and then trade Arenas for a quality big man if possible. Let the 76ers deal with Turner at number two.

My favourite draft website is Draft Express, who keep detailed and meticulous tabs on draft prospects all year round and are about 467 thousand times better informed than I am in this particular topic. Here is their top-10 picks from the mock draft, as of today:

Wizards: John Wall, PG
76ers: Evan Turner, SG/SF
Nets: Derrick Favors, PF/C
Timberwolves: DeMarcus Cousins, C
Kings: Al-Farouq Aminu, SF/PF
Warriors: Wesley Johnson, SF/PF
Pistons: Cole Aldrich, C
Clippers: Ekpe Udoh, PF/C
Jazz: Greg Monroe, PF/C
Pacers: Ed Davis, PF

I agree with their top four picks, but I would probably put Greg Monroe a little higher. June 24th is the big day when the picks, and more sensationally, the trades, could change the landscape of the league. And as the crazy free agent rush of the Summer of 2010 looms, this Draft Day could turn out to be more important than ever. I will have a more in-depth preview of the draft as the day approaches, adding my predictions for the picks.

May 17, 2010

Prince and Super Girls win inaugural Mastan League

Team Prince and Super Girls won the inaugural Mastan League championship in the Men's and Women's division respectively at the Mastan YMCA in Mumbai. Led by superstar Geethu Anna Jose, Super Girls beat Wonder Girls in the final 80-59. The Men's final was a closer affair, with Prince defeating Soldiers 78-70.

The Mastan League success can potentially be a great boost for the future of basketball in India. Held from May 8-15th, the league was organised by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and is India's first ever fully professional basketball league. 80 of the top men and 40 of the top women players in India were divided into 12 teams (eight for men, four for women) that played against each other in the league. The players received a fixed match fee, and the total prize money was of 14 lakhs.

The finalists benefited from the sponsors, who decided at the last moment to double the total prize money for the winning team to Rs 1 lakh, and for the runner-up team to Rs 75,000.

Geethu Anna Jose scored 35 points in the final, going against her international compatriots Harjeet Kaur and P. Anitha in the opposing squad. Prince, with stars such as Gangandeep Singh and Mohit Bhandari were able to overcome Soldiers in the men's final.

In the semis, Super Girls had defeated Power Girls 70-60 and Prince had defeated Riders 77-60. Soldiers entered the final by defeating Warriors in a high-scoring match-up, 97-85.

Dinesh CV of Soldiers and Akanksha Singh of Power Girls won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards for the league.

The small Mastan league could be a significant step in the direction of making a NBA/IPL style professional league in India as it helped to provide the players a league-like environment for the week. Many other of the countries top male and female players such as Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Sambhaji Kadam, S. Robinson, Mihir Pandey, Talwinderjit Singh “TJ” Sahi, Trideep Rai, Riyazuddin, Prashanti Singh, and others took part. League organisers also did a good job of dividing the teams as equally as possible, balancing the number of junior players and experienced faces on each squad.

"This is a very good idea to promote basketball in India," said Dishant Shah, a junior player who got the opportunity to play for Team Lions in the tournament, "The tournament has gone well and everyone has got a chance to showcase their skills.

A slam dunk competition and a three-point competition were also held on Friday, May 14th.

May 14, 2010

Conference Finals: And then there were four...

Wow... that was a wierd, wierd second round in the NBA Playoffs. Sweeping was back in vogue, apparently, as the Magic, Lakers, and the Suns all went 4-0 in their respective match-ups.

And then you had the Cavs and the Celtics, an amazing series which saw stories emerge left right and centre, including LeBron James, his elbow his future with the Cavs, Spike Lee supporting the Celtics, Rajon Rondo's complete and utter destruction of the Cleveland backcourt, KG spitting, sweating, and returning to form, Paul Pierce's struggles, and of course, Jesus Shuttlesworth.

Now there are only four left, as the playoffs move to the Conference Finals, or the overall semi-finals of the NBA. Before we discuss these matchups, let's do a short recap of the previous round.

Three of the four teams that I predicted made it through, with the Celtics six game win over the Cavs being the only surprise. I'd imagined that this would've been a long series, but I would have never thought that the Celts would've dominated LeBron so thoroughly over those six games. We could talk about how often Shaq was limited, or Mo Williams was inconsistent, or no one could defend Rondo, or Jamison's mismatch with Garnett, but the weight of the blame should deservedly be on LeBron's shoulders, since he revels in most of the successes, too. Two weeks after winning the MVP, we're wondering why we ever gave it to him. Or maybe we shouldn't wonder, since the MVP curse has been around before... The playoffs are NOT the regular season, and until wins a ring, LeBron shall never be the king.
Of course, let's not forget to celebrate the resurrection of Celtic Ubuntu. They defended brilliantly as a team and attacked as a team. Rondo was unplayable, especially that brilliant 29, 18, and 13 performance in Game 4, and Garnett was back to his old ways, something that makes this team a lot more dangerous.

The other series in the East was at the opposite end of the spectrum: the Magic not only swept the Hawks, but they did it in the most dominating way possible. On average, Orlando won each game by more than 25 points! Hawks looked outmatched in each department, and the Magic continue to stride confidently with great team effort after playing two of the easier teams in the playoffs this year. Jameer Nelson in particular has been on fire. The team will face their true test in the Conference Finals now.

Lakers had a surprisingly easy time against Jazz; I mean, I was envisioning a Laker victory, but I didn't think it would come in four games. Still, the Jazz did the best they could - Lakers, with Gasol, Bynum, and Odom, had just too much length in them. And Kobe showed up in all of the close encounters to safely steer his team through. The Thunder series has helped him resurrect the Black Mamba, who is continuing to look extremely dangerous this post-season.

Finally, who the hell thought this would happen? Suns 4, Spurs 0? WhatwhatWHAT???!!! Now, I thought I was being bold when I predicted a Suns victory in 7, but a sweep? Over the team that has basically owned them for years? Over the most dominant playoff team in the last decade? Wow... The Spurs NEVER get swept. Especially by the Suns... Well, for the first time the Steve Nash Suns have actually been underdogs this season, and the performance of Nash (despite the swollen right eye in Game 4) and Amar'''e, coupled with amazing contributions from Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Louis Amundson, and oh, that memorable fourth quarter by Goran Dragic, the Suns have finally buried their demons and moved past the Spurs... on to the next round...

So, here are my previews for the Conference Finals...

Celtics vs. Magic: Celtics in 7 - I believe in the 'Ubuntu' now. Watching the Celtics destroy the best team in the league with hardcore defence, great shooting, post-play, and most importantly, team chemistry, has brought back my faith in the team. Celtics are a team that are only getting better as the postseason progresses, and the Big 4 are going to be a tough match-up for the Magic. Only, the Magic themselves are an unstoppable bunch this year, winning games in every way unimaginable. There has not been a single chink their armour in the playoffs so far. Dwight Howard vs. Garnett is going to be an interesting match-up. So will Vince Carter vs. Paul Pierce. I think the key will again lie with Rajon Rondo, who will have to face up against Jameer Nelson in a classic point-guard battle. This series starts in three days, giving the Celtics very little time to recover from their emotional second round against the Cavs, but I feel that the team will continue to ride their momentum and persistence become Eastern Conference Champions by overcoming a very good Magic team in seven.

Lakers vs. Suns: Lakers in 6 - Ooh... Kobe and Lakers keep talking about revenge. Revenge from three/four years ago when the Suns twice beat the Gasol-less Lakers in the early rounds of the playoffs. Kobe will remember being 3-1 up, he'll remember Raja Bell, and he'll remember giving up in the 4th quarter to prove a point of Game 7 of the 2006 series.
But all that is history now. The Lakers are reigning champions, and the Suns are looking better (and more importantly, tougher) than they ever have before. This will be a great series because Nash and Kobe are two of the toughest competitors in the league. In the end, the Lakers length will have the advantage, and Gasol will once again be the turning point. Look for an intriguing battle between Pau and Amar'''e to define this series, which Lakers will eventually win in six games to become Western Conference Champions.
Speaking of Suns-Lakers, I saw this game live on TV four years ago. Still gives me the shivers: Kobe hits one of the clutchest shots I have EVER seen.

So, Hoopistani predicts that the Finals this year will be repeat of 2008 - Celtics and Lakers again. What are your thoughts?

May 13, 2010

The Curse of MVP

The most cherished individual accolade in the NBA consciousness is the Most Valuable Player (MVP) - more than All Star game appearances, more than All Star game MVPs, and perhaps more than the Finals MVP. Look at the list of former MVPs (and many, present and future Hall of Famers), and you will realise how much on an effect their performances for the given season have on the history of the NBA - Bob Petit, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, and LeBron James - just to name the ones who have won the award more than once.

Every year, the MVPs are discussed, argued, and the meaning of 'valuable' itself faces heated debates from across the basketball-speaking world. Is the best statistical player the most valuable? Is the best team player the most valuable? What about the best player on the best team? Or the one player whose absence in the team would make the biggest difference on the team's success?

My own definition of "valuable" in this sense is the one player whose absense would make the biggest difference in the entire standing of the league.

But here is the twist in the tale: the MVP award is given only for a player's performance during the course of the regular season, not the playoffs, and of course, not the Finals. That means, in today's NBA, the most valuable player over a maximum of the 82 regular season games that each team plays. Playoff/Championship success be damned.

Let's take a look at the list of NBA MVPs over 10 years, from the 1999-2000 to the 2008-2009 season. I've added the names of their team in brackets - next to the names are the names of the teams that actually won the NBA title that year.

1999–00 MVP: Shaquille O'Neal (Los Angeles Lakers) Champion: Los Angeles Lakers
2000–01: MVP: Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) Champion: Los Angeles Lakers
2001–02: MVP: Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) Champion: Los Angeles Lakers
2002–03: MVP: Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) Champion: San Antonio Spurs
2003–04: MVP: Kevin Garnett (Minnesota Timberwolves) Champion: Detroit Pistons
2004–05: MVP: Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns) Champion: San Antonio Spurs
2005–06: MVP: Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns) Champion: Miami Heat
2006–07: MVP: Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks) Champion: San Antonio Spurs
2007–08: MVP: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) Champion: Boston Celtics
2009-09: MVP: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) Champion: Los Angeles Lakers

Look at that list again - only in two seasons has the NBA MVP also lifted the Championship trophy - Shaq in 2000 and Duncan and 2003 - and the feat hasn't been repeated in the past six seasons. Now, there are two honourable mentions here, since Allen Iverson (2001) and Kobe Bryant (2008) led their respective squads all the way to the NBA Finals before losing it. Kobe did redeem himself and win a ring the following year. Most of the other MVPs didn't perform too shabbily (with the exception of Nowitzki and the Mavericks epic first round fail in 2007), but you get the picture - for some reason, in the 2000s, the MVPs of the year have rarely been champions.

Compare it to a decade before, where five of the 10 MVPs became champion, although four of those credits go to this guy called Michael Jordan (you may have heard of him!), who played six full seasons in the 90s, won MVP in four of them, and was NBA champion in all six.

So, is there a recent curse associated with the MVP award? LeBron James, deservedly, was voted almost unanimously as this year's Most Valuable Player, repeating last season's feat. But he also seems to be repeating last season's postseason failure. The Cavs were beaten by the Magic in last season's Conference Finals, and have been thoroughly dominated by the Celtics in the 2nd round so far this year. The Celtics have a 3-2 advantage, after winning Game 5 by a whopping 32 points, and holding LeBron to what was one of his worst games ever.

I think of the regular season and the playoffs as two different stages of the same game. Kind of like Super Mario Bros., where Mario can jump around in Level 1-1, easily squashing mushrooms and collecting coins, but has to step up his game when he has to battle Bowser at the end of World 8. And Princess Peach is the Larry O'Brien trophy.

Okay, okay, so I got sidetracked by a decade of childhood gloriously wasted on Nintendo. But anyways, you get the point. The playoffs are tougher, more gruesome, more physically challenging, and our hero faces more evil guys more often. MVPs like Iverson, Nash, Nowitzki, and LeBron who haven't won a championship, still have to conquer these demons to see the bright championship light, thus conquering their trophy/princess.

The Cavs have been the best team in the league the last two seasons, and LeBron has been their best player. He has pretty much been the best statistical player in the league for this period, too, and the one with the highest trade value, and the best team player, the one whose absense would have the most drastic affect on his team and the entire league.

And yet, here are the Cavs and their King, barely surviving against the dominant Celts. I read an amazing article on LeBron today, written by Adrian Wojnarowski, who complained that he has spent too much of his energy and motivation promoting himself as a basketball icon than a basketball winner. The regular season disagrees with this statement, but the championship counter doesn't lie.

LeBron has two more games to win to get past the Celtic stage, and then two more series to win to get to his Princess Peach. Can he survive the MVP curse?

May 12, 2010

Milestones in Indian Basketball

So, I was going through the April 2010 edition of All Sports Magazine (Volume 4, Number 1), which was doing their 3rd anniversary special issue, and the cover feature was 101 Milestones in Indian Sports. The story was about a 101 events that represented the "good, bad, and ugly" development in Indian Sports.

Now here's the travesty... Amongst these 101, the events (justifiably) mentioned were from the following variety of sports: Cricket, Field Hockey, Football, Shooting, Chess, Billiards, Badminton, Tennis, Track & Field, Wrestling, Mountaineering, Swimming, Golf, Volleyball, Snooker, Cycling, Weightlifting, Boxing, Table-Tennis, and Formula One Racing.

Look at that list again, and if you're a basketball fan, shake your head in dissapointment. There hasn't been a basketball milestone (good or bad) in our sporting history memorable enough to be mentioned in this vast list? Unfortunately, I can't even argue against their decision to omit Indian hoops, because tragic as it may sound, the reality is that there have been no singular events in basketball here to top the other milestones mentioned by the magazine.

So, instead, I've decided to make my own, very short list of Milestones in Indian Basketball. Feel free to add any major events that I may have missed.

The rules of Basketball were first devised in 1891 by the Canadian physician Dr. James Naismith. India were actually one of the earliest countries to adopt the game and start playing it in 1930.

1930: Basketball first played in India.
1934: The first Indian National Championship for men is held in New Delhi.
1936: The Indian National Team (The Young Cagers) become a member of FIBA.
1950: The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) is formed.
1975: The Men's National team finished fourth in the FIBA Asia Championship in Bangkok, the highest finish for India in the men's division.
1980: The Men's National team participated in the Moscow Olympics but finished last in the tournament.
1981: The FIBA Asia Championship was held in Calcutta, India finished fifth.
2007: The JDBasketball School begins to promote and teach basketball around India.
2008: NBA legend Robert Parish comes to India, ushering a flurry of activity of the NBA's interest in the country.
2009: NBA inaugurates basketball courts in India and launches the NBA-India website.
2009: The FIBA Asia Championship for Women was held in Chennai, India finished 6th.
2010: The Mahindra-NBA Challenge begins in Mumbai.

Early on, with basketball growing at such a quick pace in India, the game produced several notable talents. Many basketball stars in India have since been awarded the Arjuna Award (to recognize the contribution of a player and his outstanding achievement in sports) and the Dhyan Chand Award (for Life Time Achievement in Sports and Games has been instituted from the year 2002 to honour those sportspersons who have contributed to sports by their performance and continue to contribute to promotion of sports even after their retirement from active sporting career).

Arjuna Award

SARABJIT SINGH (Services) - 1961
KHUSHI RAM (Services) - 1967
GURDIAL SINGH (Services) - 1968
HARI DUTT (Services) - 1969
ABBAS MOONTASIR (Maharashtra & Railways) - 1970
MANMOHAN SINGH (Punjab & Services) - 1971
SURINDER K. KATARIA (Rajasthan & Railways) - 1973
ANIL PUNJ (Punjab) - 1974
HANUMAN SINGH (Rajasthan & Railways) - 1975
VIJAYRAGHVAN (Tamil Nadu & Bihar) - 1977
OM PRAKASH (Sr.) (Services) - 1979
AJMER SINGH (Rajasthan & Railways) - 1981
RADHEY SHYAM (Services) - 1982
SUMAN SHARMA (Punjab) - 1983
PARMINDER SINGH (Sr.) (Punjab) - 2001

Dhyan Chand Award

APARNA GHOSH (West Bengal & Railways) - 2001
RAM KUMAR (Railways) - 2002

Unfortunately, our domestic successes and interest has never translated into international recognition. From the late 60s and early 80s, there were many talented ball players that featured in the Indian hoops scene.

There is only one woman on the Arjuna awards list - Suman Sharma in 1983. With our women's team showing drastic improvements in recent years, there is no doubt that many more female players will be given this distinction in the future.

The newly-launched Mastan League, India's first fully professional basketball league, which is currently taking place at the Mastan YMCA in Mumbai, has the promise to usher bigger events for Indian basketball. I wonder if it will also be remembered as a major milestone in the future...

May 10, 2010

Regal FC Barcelona win 2010 Euroleague

The most dominant basketball team in Europe, Regal FC Barcelona (Spain) beat Olympiacos (Greece) 86-68 in the final to win the Euroleague basketball tournament. Barcelona, led by Juan Carlos Navarro, Fran Vazquez, and my main man Ricky Rubio have been by far the best basketball team in all of Europe, and deservedly took the title on Sunday, in a final that was held at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in Paris. Navarro, who scored a team high 21 points in the game, was named the final four MVP.

The Euroleague is the league where all the best teams from different European countries compete for the top crown. The final four of the tournament saw Barcelona beat CSKA Moscow (Russia) 64-54 and Olympiacos beat Partizan Belgrade (Serbia) 83-80 in overtime. In the final, Navarro, Rubio, and co went up against the Olympiacos team which featured former NBA players Linas Kleiza (Euroleague's top scorer) and Josh Childress.

Obviously, my main focus here is on Ricky Rubio. If you have been following, you would have known that I have reserved great praise for this supremely talented 19-year-old. Don't be fooled by the modest Euroleague averages - 6.8 points, 4.1 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals - Rubio was the best point guard in Europe and was named 2009-10 Rising Star of the Euroleague. He's now the point guard of officially the best basketball team in Europe, and I'm confident that he'll one day he's gonna become the best PG in the NBA. Timberwolves are you watching this?

In other Barcelona related news, I'm hoping that the city suffers a little this weekend. It's the last game of the Primera Liga, and Barca lead Real Madrid by ONE POINT, 96-95. I'm a Madrid fan, so my emotions for the Barca football team are exactly the opposite of how I feel about their basketball... Go Madrid!!!!

May 9, 2010

Hoopistani on iSport

For the fans of basketball, by the biggest fan... Hoopistani is now set to contribute a share of basketball news and features to is a comprehensive sports website 'for the fans, by the fans'. Sports fuel passion & our fellow fans help us keep the content fresh unlike any other site.

iSport features news and blogs on other sports from Indian writers, such as Cricket (obviously, it's friggin India), Football, Motor Sports, Tennis, Basketball, and others.

May 7, 2010

Mastan League: India's first professional basketball league

One small tip-off at Mumbai; a great jump for Indian basketball? India's first fully-professional basketball league will start in Mumbai tommorow with the Mastan League, launched by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). 80 of the men and 40 of the top women players in India have been divided into 12 teams (eight for men, four for women) that will play against each other in the league. The players are set to receive a fixed match fee. The games will be held from 8-15th May, and the total prize money is of 14 lakhs.

When I had spoken to BFI secretary-general Harish Sharma a month ago, he had boldly predicted that we could have an all-India pro-league in 2-3 years. The small Mastan league could be a significant step in that direction, helping to provide the players a league-like environment for the week. Some of the country's top male and female players such as Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Sambhaji Kadam, S. Robinson, Geethu Anna Jose, Mihir Pandey, Talwinderjit Singh “TJ” Sahi, Trideep Rai, Riyazuddin, Akanksha Singh, Prashanti Singh, Harjeet Kaur, and others will be taking part.

Harish Sharma, spoke to reporters yesterday (from

"This is not the NBA, but in our own way we are starting a league for the betterment of basketball. We want the best players from the country playing for balanced teams, but they are not associated with any commercial groups," Sharma said.
"We have invited most international players for the tournament, including the junior national women campers at Indore who would be playing as one team. The junior men would be distributed among various teams. The matches would be watched by the national coaches and government observer," the BFI official said.

There will also be a best player award.

The teams are -

Men: Rangers, Challengers, Kings, Soldiers, Warriors, Lions, Riders, Prince
Women: Power Girls, Super Girls, Wonder Girls, Golden Girls

The players had to report to the venue on the 5th of May, and teams were formed after two days of tryouts. Sharma had said that the plan was to mix the teams up by talent to match a national league system. Around 40 percent of all the players are from Maharashtra to promote basketball in the host state.

DNA India reports that: "The team to watch out for in the women’s draw will be the Golden Girls team that will comprise members of India’s junior national squad. The event is helping them to gain exposure before they head for a championship in Thailand next month."

Ibrahim Lakdawala, an enterprising former national-level player has been behind the planning of this first of its kind professional basketball league in a hope to change the face of the game in the city.

These are definitely exciting times for basketball here. Almost all of the Indian star players I've spoken to have expressed the desire of seeing an IPL/NBA style basketball league in India. What we need next is to have more cities and states participate in such league, and not have a state-based quota for players such as the 40 percent used here.