January 31, 2016

The Zen Masters

Despite social and political turmoil, the Tibetan refugee community in India remains bonded together by the game of basketball.

by Karan Madhok. Photos by Angad Sodhi

This feature was originally published in the March 2016 edition of SLAM Magazine (SLAM No. 195). You can also find it on SLAMOnline.com

After a morning of meditation and philosophical exercises, Thakpa Kunga and his classmates—all Buddhist monks-in-training—decided to temporarily skip spinning prayer wheels and start spinning basketballs.

They snuck out of their monastery in McLeod Ganj—a mountain town in India, more than 6,500 feet above sea level in the Himalayan Mountains—and rolled down to their neighborhood court, wearing traditional monk robes: a decorated golden or yellow chogu (undershirt) with a red shawl covering their bodies. The niftier monks among them found sneakers, while the rest descended in flip-flops. To save time, Kunga and his friends played unchanged in their robes. A few hours later, they snuck back into the monastery for more lessons in spirituality.

Nearly a decade later, I meet Kunga on another court. He’s continued on his path to full monkhood, and the 27-year-old is now enrolled in Tibetan Higher Studies at the Sarah College in Dharamshala, which is a larger mountain town a short walk down from McLeod Ganj.

But Kunga hasn’t abandoned his love of hoops. Every year, he played for Sarah in the Martyr’s Memorial Basketball Tournament, a championship for the community of Tibetan refugees in Dharamshala and beyond who escaped Tibet’s Chinese rule. “Basketball is like meditation on court. Sometimes, I play just to clear tension. When you play basketball, there are no problems.”

For years, I held the mountain hamlets of Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj in great regard, partly because of my addiction to the Himalayas, and partly because of the organic love for basketball among the area’s refugees. So when I found out about the Martyr’s Memorial Tournament, I traveled back up the mountains. I met a myriad of people, including monks who had devoted their lives to achieving nirvana, refugees with stories of pain and danger, and young men and women with ambitions like every other young Indian in the country’s growing economy.

And I found that the game of basketball—in its own small way—bonded them all together.

Tibet—Xizang in Chinese—is China’s second-largest province. It sits on the world’s highest plateau and has long served as a buffer between the planet’s two largest and occasionally hostile populations: China and India. In 1950, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “liberated” Tibet and soon, China’s government won complete sovereignty over the region.

But many Tibetans have opposed China’s claim and have been fighting for Tibet’s freedom from Big Brother in Beijing for decades. There was much violence and bloodshed in the late ’50s, and in contemporary times, the largest uprising for Tibet’s cause was in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when hundreds were shot by the Chinese and thousands arrested. In recent years, over 140 Tibetan monks have performed self-immolations in opposition to Chinese rule.

Back in 1959, Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled to exile in India, where he eventually settled in McLeod Ganj. Scores of refugees followed him.

Estimates have about 150,000 Tibetans living in exile around the world, with over 94,000 in India. As the birthplace of Buddhism (the Buddha received enlightenment and gave his sermons in North India) and current home of the Dalai Lama, India was an easy choice for refugees hoping for a new life. About 2,500 Tibetan refugees make the journey out of China annually. They cross glaciers, trek through mountain passes and walk in the blanket of night to avoid detection. In Dharamshala, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), a government for those in exile, has been set up.

Two schools of thought have developed among Tibetans for the political status of their homeland: the Dalai Lama-supported Middle Way that asks for autonomy for the Tibetan people as a part of China, and the Tibetan Independence Movement that demands complete freedom.

Despite protests and support of many world leaders, neither approach has worked. As far as China sees it, Tibet, unsettled and rich in resources, will always be a part of its country.

Directly below where the CTA is located in Dharamshala is the newly renovated Gangyi Court, which is playing host to the Martyr’s Tournament. On the day of the finals, the hillside is abuzz. Young hoopheads wearing NBA t-shirts mingle with monks in robes and enthusiastically cheering girls in traditional chupas. Tibetan flags and Buddhist prayer flags fly around the court.

Among the fans is Tsetan Tenzin, age 30: by day an assistant at a Tibetan herbal medicine clinic, by night a long-range threat for Example Team, which was ousted earlier in the tournament. Tenzin was born in Tibet but his parents hired a guide to help him escape to India when he was 7. He hasn’t seen them since.

Tenzin’s love grew when he was in school at a refugee orphanage in Mussoorie, in North India. He carried it with him when he moved to Dharamshala. “We play basketball so much in Dharamshala because, surrounded by mountains, there is no room for bigger games,” he says. “Tibetans love the NBA. My favorite player is Stephen Curry; I love to shoot from outside.”

The refugees’ love for the game is also an ode to their “motherland,” where basketball is one of the most popular sports, too. “In Tibet, people play a lot of basketball, too, especially in school,” Tenzin adds. “So it’s normal for refugees to come [to India] and continue playing.”


China, with more than 1.3 billion people, has the largest hoops fan base on Earth. The sport was always popular, but after Yao Ming was drafted No. 1 in 2002, it took center stage. China has a fast-growing league (CBA) and is one of Asia’s most powerful national teams. Their second-tier league, the National Basketball League (NBL), expanded to Tibet this year, where the region’s capital city of Lhasa will host rivals in what China Daily called “the world’s highest basketball court” at 3,658 meters above sea level.

China pushed swift development in infrastructure and economy in Tibet, but what they call development and modernization, Tibetans call environmental deterioration and cultural genocide. International human rights groups have exposed stories of violations and the unwelcome indoctrination of Chinese communist thought and philosophy among the Tibetan population, replacing centuries of lifestyle, language, spirituality and culture.

To raise awareness, the Dalai Lama has traveled the world speaking to leaders and humanitarian organizations. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Hours before the tourney’s finals, I met Wangden Krab, president of the Regional TYC office in McLeod Ganj, who organizes the event. “The purpose is to remember the Tibetan martyrs who have sacrificed for their country,” Krab says. “Most Tibetan youth are now born in India or come here very young. In this tournament, we want to remind them of their martyrs. We want to bring youngsters together and unite them.”

The TYC is the largest Tibetan non-governmental organization of Tibetan exiles, mostly young Tibetans with hopes of Tibetan independence. They have around 80 chapters and over 20,000 members around the world.

“We are still fighting for complete independence,” Krab says. “We report to world governments, the UN and other human rights organizations about the critical situation in Tibet, including losing freedom of speech and fighting for human rights. Many refugees are not ready to settle in India; they always dream of Tibet.”

Krab has dissent in his blood. His grandfather fought in the war against China in the late ’50s before being imprisoned for 30 years by the Chinese. His father was arrested for protesting Chinese deforestation in Tibet’s Dzorge area. Krab himself escaped to India in ’99, at age 16.

But today, his main agenda is basketball. “In Tibetan schools here, all types of players—tall, short, good, bad—stop and try their hand at basketball and are eager to learn,” he says. “It is a more ‘freestyle’ sport, with less structure and has rules that people can understand. There are no limits to basketball. Everyone can come to the ground and play.”


McLeod Ganj is a vibrant community where Tibetan refugees, NGO workers, tourists, monks and locals live in relative harmony. Tibetan culture is still preserved strongly here. Most refugees can speak and read the Tibetan language, know folk songs, speak of Tibetan “freedom fighters” and dream of Lhasa as their Promised Land.

Around town, there is also talk of the tournament—among the youth, monks, working men and women. The girls’ final is won by Men-Tse-Khang (Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute), dressed in Miami Heat colors. The boys’ teams—both wearing practice jerseys that have slogans like “Free Tibet” or faces of the Dalai Lama—step out for their final. Before the game tips off, both teams greet each other with traditional Tibetan presents of white scarves.

The last two teams are “Dhasa,” comprised mainly of second-generation Tibetans born to refugee parents in India, and “Nomads,” who feature 20-somethings who escaped from China more recently. The action on court immediately speeds up. Each fall takes a little longer to recover from. Tough layups between crowds of defenders are the go-to approach. There are no dunks, but athletic lay-ups with the and-1 call prevail.

Eventually the Nomads break open the contest with a barrage of long-range shots. They win by 3 and the crowd rushes the court.Players are lifted on shoulders and drenched with water under a flurry of happy prayer flags.

Despite the differences between the Tibetans and the Chinese majority in politics, philosophy and the fight for freedom, basketball could close the gap. Nearly every refugee I spoke with had played basketball at some point. The Han Chinese love basketball, too; the sport is a common thread between two cultures that have such a wide cultural gap and often view each other in suspicion and distrust.

Days after I left Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj, I reflected on a sense of incompleteness among the refugees. They are exiled from China but not fully assimilated into mainstreem Indian society. Stuck in this purgatory, all they have is their community, their culture and their spirituality to accompany them. And basketball.

January 30, 2016

16 for 16: Here are 16 things to look forward to for Indian basketball in 2016

This feature published in my column for Ekalavyas.com on January 19, 2016. Click here for the original article.

India Men's captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi playing for Uttarakhand against
Delhi during the 2016 Senior National Basketball Championship. Photo Credit:

Thursday turned into Friday, and apart from that, January 1st, 2016, was hardly any different from December 31st, 2015 for some.

But for so many others, the New Year brings new promise. Like the calm after the storm. The beginning of a new chapter, a new twist to an old story. The new season of your favourite TV show. A clean new page in the notebook. Or the refresh button on your stalled mobile browser.

I fall into the category of optimists that believes the future can always be better than the past, and my brand of optimism spreads out to my outlook of Indian basketball, too. 2015 in Indian hoops was memorable for both the right and the wrong reasons: the big Punjabi Singhs – Satnam, Amjyot, Amrit Pal – took big strides to further their careers as professional players. Meanwhile, the NBA continued to expand its presence in India, while the UBA introduced themselves as new players in the puzzle. India’s international FIBA performances were a mixed bag, but even the positives abroad were overshadowed by drama at home, where the fighting factions of the BFI placed politics ahead of basketball.

1. 2016 Senior Nationals: The race to be India’s best team in Mysore. The Karnataka city hosted close to 50 combined teams in the men and women divisions from all over India at the 66th Senior National Basketball Championship from January 9-16. Chhattisgarh’s women team attempted to complete a three-peat of titles after breaking Indian Railways’ monopoly over the trophy two years ago. In the men’s section, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Services, and hosts Karnataka featured stacked rosters competing for the title. India’s best players were there competing for the nation’s most prestigious domestic title. Hope you made sure your attention was over at Mysore, too, where ultimately Services men (surprise!) and Indian Railways women (no surprises here) claimed the title.

2. Satnam’s exploits in D-League, and possible NBA debut. So Satnam Singh made history in 2015 by becoming the first Indian to be drafted into the NBA. The moment caught the attention of the Indian basketball family and fans like never before. But being drafted into the NBA is not the same as actually ‘making’ the NBA. Satnam is currently on a D-League roster, playing for the Dallas Mavericks D-League affiliate Texas Legends. He has so far played bit minutes for the Legends as he slowly becomes accustomed to the pace of the D-League. Hopefully, the 20-year-old can get further comfortable in the professional basketball life both on and off the court in 2016 and can become a major contributor to the Legends over the next few months. If he can develop into his full potential, could 2016 be the year that an Indian citizen finally plays in the NBA?

3. Amjyot Singh and Amrit Pal Singh continue to dominate professional basketball in Japan. One of the bigger headlines in Indian basketball in 2015 was when the starting backcourt of India’s national team – Amjyot Singh and Amrit Pal Singh – together headed to Japan to play professionally in the BJ Summer League. Their dominance led them to be signed by Tokyo Excellence of the Japanese D-League, where they have continued their strong performances. The next step is the top BJ League, or perhaps attention from other top division leagues in the world. Amjyot and Amrit Pal certainly have the talent to be top frontcourt options in any team in Asia.

4. Will UBA’s basketball league earn more credibility? They called it the first-ever ‘professional’ basketball league in India, and the Universal Basketball Alliance – UBA India – defiantly continue on, and will return with the second season of the UBA Basketball League. Will they earn more credibility and fans this season? Will more big name players sign up to play?

5. Will we get closer to a BFI-backed, national professional league? The Basketball Federation of India has been mulling over a full-scale national professional league for years. After the success of the ISL (Indian Super League) and other upstart sport leagues around the country, will basketball finally get its big breakthrough? There are now national sports leagues in Cricket, Football, Badminton, Hockey, Wrestling, and Kabaddi… An all-compassing professional basketball league has the potential to truly revolutionize the sport in India.

6. India’s next Senior National Team coaches. In 2015, India basketball waved farewell to both the men’s and women’s Senior National team coaches, Scott Flemming and Francisco Garcia respectively. The two coaches both enjoyed flashes of major success: Flemming led India to a strong showing at the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup, including a victory over China. Garcia helped India to a best-ever fifth place finish at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, but the team fell outside of Level 1 in 2015. While Sat Prakash Yadav coached India at the 2015 FIBA Asia Men’s Championship, there is still no confirmation if he will be Head Coach long term. Will India get foreign coaches for the senior national teams again? Instead of waiting for the summer of 2017 before the next round of FIBA ABCs, we should get the new coaches early and let them create a desired system with enough time to prepare. Who will these new coaches be?

7. Who will emerge as the chosen one from the ACG-NBA Jump? In 2015, NBA India partnered with ACG Worldwide to launch the ACG-NBA Jump programme. After finishing visits in six Indian cities, the programme will choose 32 Indian youngsters between 18-22 for an elite camp in New Delhi. One player will emerge from this camp in the summer of 2016 to win the first season of the ACG-NBA Jump: he will be trained by NBA-affiliated coaches and prepared for a shot at the NBA D-League tryout in mid-2016.

8. A million young players from around the country to take part in the new NBA Jam. A record 24 cities. A million young basketball players. The NBA Jam returned to the Indian basketball calendar in October 2015 and will continue at college campuses around the country into the spring of 2016. It will be interesting to see which NBA players visit India as special guests to promote the NBA Jam and its Finals over the next few months.

9. India need to bounce back from disappointing FIBA Asia U18 finish. Two years ago, at the last FIBA Asia U18 Championship for Men in Qatar, India were in shambles. The juniors failed to qualify out of the group stage and finished tied for last place – 13th – at the end of the tournament. The tournament will return once again likely in September 2016 and India’s new crop of young players will have a chance to atone for their fall. Keep an eye out on Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi, the Tamil Nadu forward who starred for India at the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 tournament, to make a jump into the U18 side.

10. Can India’s U18 Women get a big win? In the Women’s FIBA Asia U18 tournament, India have been steady at 6th place: good enough to be grouped with Level 1 teams, but not good enough to beat any of them. Two years ago, India lost all their Level 1 games but won their qualifier against Malaysia to stay in the tournament’s higher stage. It was an overall disappointing performance that didn’t bring India any closer to Asia’s big four: China, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei. Will a new set of young players finally get that big Level 1 victory?

11. Can the FIBA Asia Cup produce wonders again? Asia’s best senior Men’s nations play in the continent’s biggest tournament – the FIBA Asia Championship – in odd years. But in even years, many of those same nations send their (sometimes depleted) squads to the FIBA Asia Cup, formerly known as the Stankovic Cup. In 2014, this tournament became India’s crowning glory, when the team coached by Scott Flemming defeated hosts China in Wuhan and gave India their greatest win in basketball history. India will have a new coach for the senior Men’s NT this year, and it’s unlikely that the same results can be produced again. But hey – the magic of basketball is that anything is possible in those 40 minutes on the hardwood. Is there another wonder up India’s sleeves?

12. Can India continue stellar 3×3 record at Asian Beach Games? While India hasn’t been able to challenge Asia’s best in the full-length version of the game, they are more than adept at the half-court, 3-on-3 edition. India have won gold medals at the Asian 3×3 level in both Men and Women’s divisions over the past few years, and will have a real shot at silverware at the 3×3 basketball tournament at the 5th Asian Beach Games, scheduled in Da Nang (Vietnam) in September-October, 2016. India’s Men’s team will look to get their hands on the gold after a silver medal in 2014, while the Women’s side will hope to bounce back from a dip in their performance two years ago.

13. Will Vivek Ranadive finally bring the Kings to India? Two and a half years ago, Mumbai-born Vivek Ranadive became the first Indian majority-owner of an NBA team, the Sacramento Kings. While the Kings have been a model of dysfunction on court, Ranadive has talked a big game about promoting the team and its stars to Indian-origin and Indian-national fans. Back in 2013, Ranadive even talked about bringing the Kings to an exhibition game in India, but India’s infrastructure has been far from being ready to host an NBA game. Will this be the year that Ranadive’s business and political influence finally push that dream closer and bring India its first-ever NBA (exhibition or otherwise) game? Ranadive has the connections and the free reign as an owner to push for it. His plans to make India the next big basketball market in the world and Kings as India’s ‘favourite team’ will only reach closer to realization if the team itself makes a visit here. I for one will be rooting to see DeMarcus Cousins show his bhangra skills.

14. Time for more mainstream media attention to basketball. In a country where mainstream news means entertainment and entertainment means Bollywood and Cricket, there is little space for coverage of ‘alternative’ stories, like basketball. But over the last two years, two major events – India’s win over China at the FIBA Asia Cup in 2014 and Satnam Singh become the first Indian drafted to the NBA in 2015 – went viral online and captured the imagination of the nation, even among non-fans. Now that the foundation stones have been laid, hopefully the same mainstream media houses that chased the big stories will continue to follow up in the developments in Indian basketball – and not necessarily just the sansani news.

15. A big NBA star to visit India in 2016? Over the last few years, dozens of current and former NBA players have made official or unofficial visits to promote basketball in India, including first Indian-origin player Sim Bhullar, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Bosh, Brandon Jennings, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and more. The NBA in India has created a trend of bringing players as special guests for the NBA Jam or Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programmes. Who will be the next star to visit Indian shores? Will Vivek Ranadive bring DeMarcus Cousins and/or Rajon Rondo? Will Satnam Singh come with his potential Dallas Mavericks teammate Dirk Nowitzki? Will we get one of the big hitters to drive India wild: Kobe, LeBron, Durant, Westbrook, Anthony Davis, etc.? Or will reigning MVP Steph Curry drop in and live up to his name to try India’s finest curries for himself?

16. Team Govindraj vs. Team Mahajan: A new chapter to the saga rotting Indian basketball? Last year, the biggest story in Indian basketball didn’t take place on court. It was a backroom battle between two fighting factions, each staking its claim as the rightful executive committee to run the BFI, Indian basketball’s governing body. On one side stands K Govindraj, leader of the faction that has FIBA approval and is currently running Indian basketball’s events domestically and abroad. On the other side is Poonam Mahajan and Roopam Sharma, the team which is fighting back with the Indian Olympic Committee’s (IOA) support and organizing their own domestic parallel domestic events. In the middle of this conflict are the players and all the others who only want to develop with the sport in the country. The saga took many ugly turns last year and a legal battle beckons ahead. Will things get better before they get worse? Will one inarguable leader or committee rise from the fog? For the sake of the development of Indian basketball, we all certainly hope so.

Does India have basketball teams for the South Asian Games next week or not?

The 2016 South Asian Games (SAG) will tip off in Guwahati and Shillong next week. The multi-sport festival will feature eight countries - the hosts India and all our South Asian neighbours - competing in 23 different sports. The Nabin Ch. Bordoloi AC Indoor Stadium, Sarusajai in Guwahati, host to the tournament's basketball tournament, is ready. Tikhor the baby Rhino, the SAG's official mascot, is ready. Hell, even our eternal rivals in all things Pakistan - a team with barely any international basketball exposure - is ready to 'conquer' us.

So it's time for India's basketball teams - the hosts and reigning silver medalists of SAG Basketball - to be fired up for this massive tournament, right?

Not exactly.

As many of you who closely follow Indian basketball may already know, there is a major rift between two parties competing for the helm of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). The side supported by FIBA and led by President K. Govindraj - Team Govindraj - has been responsible for hosting India's recent national championships and sending teams abroad for international tournaments. But the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) hasn't recognized Team Govindraj after appeals by the competing group led by President Poonam Mahajan: Team Mahajan. All this confusion has meant that several Indian players have been forced to choose their loyalties between one side or the other and robbed Indian basketball of its necessary cohesion.

And this is where the past drama meets the present challenge. The IOA, in consultation with the Government of India, are behind the organizing and executive committee for the planning and management of the 2016 South Asian Games. But because of the broken relationship between the IOA and the BFI, there is still confusion about the trials and formation of the Indian basketball teams (at the time of writing) in the Men's or Women's divisions for the SAG. The Games flag off in Guwahati on February 5 and the basketball tournament will be held from February 11-16th. While other teams prepare, India continues its habit of cutting it too close.

The IOA announced that they will be holding trials for the Indian teams on Saturday, January 30th, at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi. But the BFI's Team Govindraj have 'shot off a warning' at the IOA for interfering with the basketball selection trials, which are being held by the IOA outside of their legal jurisdiction.

Yesterday, SportStar published a damning article about how some of India's top players like Kerala's Jeena PS and Varanasi's Vishesh Bhriguvanshi continued to be confused about selection trials for the upcoming tournament just a week before it's set to begin.

“We had the tickets but we were in two minds for a few hours, whether to go or not,” said [Jeena PS], the 22-year-old power forward from Thiruvananthapuram. “Anyway, we will decide whether or not to take part in the trials once we reach New Delhi.”
Hundreds of miles away, Indian men’s captain Vishesh Bhiruguvanshi has similar worries about the ‘trials’.
“I’m on the train to Varanasi, my home. Tomorrow, we will get to know whether we have to go for the trials or not,” said the Indian skipper over phone.
The South Asian Games begin in Guwahati and Shillong on February 5 but while teams such as Pakistan and Maldives are getting ready for the basketball event in Guwahati, shockingly, India has not even selected their men’s and women’s squads yet!
With faction fighting virtually breaking up the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), relations between the hoop game’s national body and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) have soured to dismal levels.

“The IOA is not eligible to conduct any basketball event as per the Karnataka High Court Stay Order dated October 14, 2015. Any unit which sends its players will be sending them at their own risk,” K. Govindaraj, the President of the BFI, has said in a letter sent to the association’s affiliated units.

“If you go by logic and rules, the federation has to conduct the event. The IOA does not have any right to interfere in the federation’s activities. The IOA comes under the IOC Charter, if they follow the IOC Charter, when an international federation recognises any national federation, it is the duty of the IOA to recognise and follow the procedures,” he said.
“But now, I don’t know… the Government and the IOA are handling it. The (world body) FIBA will interfere at the appropriate time.”
“We have already selected our teams, and if it (basketball at the Games) happens, we will field our players. If it doesn’t happen, it is up to the Government. We just concluded our National Championship (ended in Mysuru on Jan. 16), the team was finalised yesterday and the camp will start in Mangalore on Monday,” he said.

Players from units like ONGC and Railways are being coerced by their employers to attend the trials in Delhi, but they also have conflicting information from the BFI. Govindraj claimed to SportStar that Team India trials have already been concluded and the team chosen, but there has been no word released (yet) of which players will actually be representing India at the SAG next week.

So what is actually happening here? Will Team India be the one that met at camp by the BFI in Mangalore? Or will it be the team chosen after the trials in New Delhi?

Does India have basketball teams for the South Asian Games next week or not? Whenever there are two answers to a question like this, it is likely that there are probably no answers at all.

Six years ago, India were disappointed when they lost in the finals of the 2010 SAG in Dhaka to Afghanistan and had to settle for the silver medals. The chance for redemption for India has come a little late (the 2016 SAG were postponed after IOA suspension last year!), but now, it's finally here. But it seems like, rather than fielding a team to defeat Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and others, we are busier finding ways to defeat each other. Time is running out: hopefully the likes of Jeena, Bhriguvanshi, and the rest find clarity in their plans. If the organizers and bureaucrats can't make India proud, at least allow our athletes to do so. Or the only Indian playing basketball in Guwahati will be Tikhor the rhino.

January 28, 2016

Hoopdarshan Episode 25: Deep dive into India's domestic Basketball scene with Gopalakrishnan R.

Few journalists know the domestic Indian basketball scene better than Gopalakrishnan R, the co-creator of Ekalavyas.com and a freelance writer. On Episode 25 of the Indian basketball podcast Hoopdarshan, Gopal joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok to take a deep dive into Indian basketball, discussing the latest National basketball championship, rising stars and impressive teams around the country, and the motivations behind Indian basketball players and stakeholders. We also discuss Neha Dhupia's pursuit of Jimmy Butler and sprinkle numerous Indian to NBA comparisons.

A lawyer by degree, Gopal decided to follow the path less taken and pursue basketball journalism. His articles have appeared in print publications like The Hindu Business Line, Caravan and Fountain Ink. He also contributes to online platforms such as The Alternative, Tadpoles and Sportskeeda, apart from on and off assignments with the Basketball Federation of India. Most importantly, he's the co-creator of Ekalavyas, which is a sports media and management enterprise. You can follow him on Twitter at: @gopal1204.

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

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

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

    January 27, 2016

    Ranbir Chopra - independent India's first basketball captain - passes away

    Ranbir Chopra, an Indian basketball legend and the captain of independent India's first national team at the First Asian Games in 1951, passed away in his home-town of Kapurthala on Monday, January 25th. Chopra leaves a legacy as one of the most important and influential individuals in India and Punjab basketball.

    Let's rewind it all back a little bit.

    Even though the sport doesn't show up more prominently in mainstream India today, basketball has a long relationship with the country. Several accounts state that the sport has been played in India since the 1930s and credit Punjab's district of Kapurthala as one of the earliest nurseries of basketball in the country. The first Indian National Championship for men was conducted in 1934 in New Delhi. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI), which governs and controls the game in India, was formed a few years after India received it's Independence and the Partition, in 1950.

    So now, India had a basketball team, a new team set to represent a brand new nation. And in 1951, this nation hosted very first Asian Games in the continent, in the capital New Delhi. As the hosts, India was one of the six countries taking part in the Asian Games' basketball tournament. India took just one victory from the tournament - a 50-47 triumph over Burma - and finished at fifth place; Philippines took the gold medal.

    Independent India's first basketball team - at the 1951 Asian
    Games in New Delhi
    Free India's first international team (and first win) came under the captaincy of Kapurthala's Ranbir Chopra, one of the earliest stars in the country. From that point onwards, Chopra went on to win a gold medal for Punjab in the 1951 National Basketball Championship, and silver medals in 1952 and 1953. Chopra was coach of the Indian basketball team which toured Pakistan in 1962 and secretary general of the Punjab Basketball Association (PBA) from 1958-1963. During this period , Punjab produced international players like Narinder Singh, Om Prakash, Dharam Paul, Rameshwar Lal, Manjit Singh, Surinder Puri, Pran Nath, Gulab Singh and Krishan Batta, Sarabjit Singh (Arjuna Awardee), Gurdial Singh (Arjuna Awardee) and Joginder Singh Jogi. Chopra regularly organised state championships in the senior and junior sections in Punjab. The association participated in all the National Championships during the period. In 1958 Chopra organised the Senior National Championship at Patiala. Chopra also served as the Vice-President of the BFI and a Member of the Selection and Technical Committee of the federation, too.

    The PBA mourned Chopra's death in a special meeting held at the Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana on January 27th. PBA president RS Gill, Secretary-General Teja Singh Dhaliwal, Senior Vice-President Yurinder Singh Hayer, Treasurer Vijay Chopra, Arjuna Awardees Sajjan Singh Cheema, Suman Sharma, Mukhwinder Singh Bhullar, Parminder Singh and international referee Amarjot Singh, and many players and coaches were present at the occasion.

    Chopra's life ran parallel to the life of basketball in India. He was born where Indian basketball was born: Kapurthala. He captained our independent nation's first basketball team and helped construct an association of success - which is still producing great players - in Punjab. Indian basketball has had its ups and downs in his lifetime, but as he left us, I hope Chopra got a sense of optimism for the sport without him. The best thing that the BFI and the PBA can do to honour his legacy is to ensure that the future of basketball is passed on to good hands and continues to rise up higher.

    January 18, 2016

    Indian American Heritage Night at Philadelphia: 76ers honour Indian community for second consecutive year

    Going back to the 2014-15 season, the Philadelphia 76ers' confounding 'process' has handed them one of the worst stretches in NBA history. Philly won 18 games last season, and have amassed just five wins so far in 2015-16, to give themselves a combined record of 23-119 (19 percent) in the past 15 months.

    Fortunately, however, the 76ers have found their one, random lucky charm: the Indian community.

    For the second consecutive season, the Philadelphia 76ers hosted Indian American Heritage Night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and for the second consecutive season, they came out with a victory. On Saturday, January 16, the 76ers blew out the Portland Trail Blazers 114-89 for the best win of their season and improve to 2/2 (100 percent) on Indian nights. Must be something in those pregame samosas.

    Before the game, the Indian community and 76ers PR honoured Indian Americans in sports at the Hall of Fame room at the Wells Fargo Center. Notably, Kevin Negandhi, an anchor for ESPN SportsCenter in the USA and Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy, a non-profit who have been coming to Chennai for several years to promote education and values through basketball among children from lower-economic households. Crossover were represented by their Founder, Shaun Jayachandran, and Shilpa Tumalla of Harvard, the only Indian-origin women player playing in the NCAA Division 1. Both Negandhi and Team Crossover were felicitated mid-court at the game on Saturday.

    I was fortunate enough to be invited to this year's Indian American Heritage Night, and made my first trip to Philadelphia for this memorable event. The event featured Bollywood music bumping outside the entrances to the court, cultural exhibits around the arena, special Indian themed 76ers T-shirts provided to the guests, and a performances by Philadelphia-based dance company Aatma. Other dignitaries like Raj Mukherjee, Pryia Roy, NBA Senior Director of Basketball Operations-International Troy Justice, Krossover founder Vasu Kulkarni, and more were present to celebrate Indian American heritage.

    Back to the basketball, however: the 76ers started hot, and stayed hot, making the most of Portland's second night of a road back-to-back. Jahlil Okafor, the rookie poster-boy of the struggling team, dominated with 25 points and 10 rebounds in the win. A total of five Philly players scored in double digits and the 76ers now boast of a perfect record with me in attendance (1/1).

    Hoopdarshan Episode 24: The Kobe Episode

    Hoopdarshan, the Indian Basketball podcast, has reached its 24th episode, which means that it's just about time to pay homage to Mr. 24 himself, Kobe Bean Black Mamba Bryant. After 20 years in the NBA, Bryant will be retiring at the end of this season. Co-hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok are joined by hoops enthusiast Kunal Mathew to discuss the highs and lows of Kobe's career, his most-memorable moments, his legacy, and his place in the 2016 NBA All Star Team.

    Listen to Kaushik, Karan, and Kunal talk about many faces of Kobe, including the cocky teenager Kobe, failed rap star Kobe, Shaq's friend/foe Kobe, Mr. 81 Kobe, Beijing Olympics Kobe, MVP and 5 rings Kobe, and finally, elder statesmen Kobe. We also discussed our favoured All Star teams for Toronto next month, and dove into the Chicago Bulls' chances in the Eastern Conference.

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

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

    Hoopdarshan can be found on...

      January 17, 2016

      2016 National Basketball Championship crowns India's finest in Mysuru: Services (Men) and Indian Railways (Women)

      Let's call 2016 the year of redemption in Indian Basketball, when the past greats returned to the top of the mountain and rejoiced in glory once again. For the past eight days, Mysuru (Karnataka) became the heartbeat of hoops in India, hosting the country's largest and most-prestigious basketball event, the 66th Senior National Basketball Championship for Men and Women. Over 53 combined teams in the Men and Women divisions participated, and after two high-flying finals on Saturday, January 16th, Indian Railways (Women) and Services (Men) emerged as national champions.

      The 'Senior Nationals'- organized by Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA) under the aegis of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) - tipped off at the Chamundi Vihar Stadium Complex in the city on Saturday.The championship returned to Mysuru after a gap of 29 years. 29 men’s teams and 24 women’s teams representing most of India's states and provinces took part.

      The first final on Saturday was the women’s game between Kerala and Indian Railways. Both teams entered the final with a perfect 6-0 record and were facing each other for the first time in the tournament. Kerala began the game well and ended the first period with a 3-point lead in the game. Railways made a crucial change in their defensive strategy to begin the second quarter to make a comeback. Veteran Railways point guard Anitha Paul-Durai connected on three 3-pointers on her way to 16 points. Railways blew the game wide open in the second half to cruise to a 72-55 victory, clinching the gold medal after a gap of two years. Stephy Nixon was the leading scorer for Kerala with 17 in a losing cause.

      The men’s final between Services and Uttarakhand was expected to be a hard-fought battle for first place. Both teams came into the final on a 5-1 record, after knocking out the more favoured Punjab and Tamil Nadu teams in the semifinals. The defending champions started off well, with their star player and India captain Vishesh Bhrighuvanshi (20 points) leading the charge. Down by 2 points at the end of the first quarter, Services cranked up the heat with their point guard Joginder Singh shooting lights out from long distance. Joginder (26 points) nailed 6 threes in the game to give Services a double-digit lead over Uttarakhand. The backcourt due of Joginder and Narender Grewal (20 points) ensured that Services maintained a 10-plus point lead through the third quarter. But entering the fourth, Uttarakhand made a push for a comeback behind center Murali Krishna (24 points) to cut down the Services lead down the stretch. Services maintained their composure down the stretch to stave off the Uttarakhand comeback attempt. They held on to a 6-point lead to end the game with a 73-67 victory and capture the gold medal after a gap of 9 years.

      Navaneetha PU of the Indian Railways was awarded the Most Valuable Player in the women’s section, while Services' and India's international starting point guard Joginder Singh was awarded the men’s Most Valuable Player. Each MVP was given a cash prize of Rs. 10,000.

      Dr. HC Mahadevappa, Minister for Karnataka's Public Works Department, Mahadeva Prasad, Karnataka's Minister of Co-operation, Dr HM Ambarish, Karnataka's Minister of Housing and Abhay Chandra, Karnataka's Minister for Fisheries & Sports were the chief guests during the final.

      Earlier in the day, Delhi women edged past Telangana 71-66 to capture third place. Raspreet Sidhu led the scoring for the Delhi side with 21 points, while sisters Pratima Singh and Prashanti Singh contributed with 19 and 16 points respectively. Telangana centre Anusha Anto had 24 points in the loss and Jincy Joseph added 17. Tamil Nadu men bounced back from their disappointing semifinal loss against Uttarakhand yesterday to defeat Punjab and secure third place. Tamil Nadu dominated the game in the second half and ran away to an 82-68 victory. Tamil Nadu forward Aravind Annadurai scored a game-high 33 points in the contest and teammate Rikin Pethani chipped in 18. Gagandeep Singh (18) and TJ Sahi (17) were Punjab's leading scorers.

      The gold medal winning teams were awarded a cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh each. Runners up were awarded Rs. 50,000 each and the third placed teams were awarded Rs. 25,000 each.

      On Friday, the tournament's semi-finals were capped by a memorable comeback by Uttarakhand Men, who bounced back from 20 points down to defeat Tamil Nadu and book their spot in the Finals. India internationals Bhriguvanshi (21) and Yadwinder Singh (21) played a big part in Uttarakhand's comeback bid, as the Dehradun-based unit outscored TN 24-12 in the final quarter to win 71-69. In the second Men's semi-final, Services ended Punjab's roaring charge in style, doing most of their damage in the opening and final quarters. The trio of Jairam Jat (20), Ashutosh Rai (18), and Joginder Singh (16) proved to be too much for Punjab too handle. Services won 83-66. Punjab were led by young star Gurvinder Singh Gill (16).

      The women's semi-finals on Friday turned out to be relatively one-sided affairs. Indian Railways used their experience and guile to make short work of the surprise team of the tournament - Telangana - for a 78-50 win. Experienced India star Anitha Paul Durai led Railways with 20, while Divya P. had 21 for Telangana in the loss. Kerala relied on some heroic performances by their star players to turn a potentially tricky game against Delhi into an easy win. India's rising star Jeena PS had 30 points and 10 rebounds while Stephy Nixon pitched in with 19 points and 19 rebounds to help Kerala win 82-41. Pratima Singh scored 21 for Delhi's Women.

      Final Scores
      • Men: Services (Joginder Singh 26, Narender Grewal 20) bt Uttarakhand (Murali Krishna 24, Vishesh Bhrighuvanshi 20) 73-67 (15-17, 25-14, 16-15, 17-21).
      • Women: Indian Railways (Anitha Paul-Durai 16, Navaneeta 14) bt Kerala (Stephy Nixon 17, Jeena PS 14, Anjana PG 14) 72-55 (12-15, 26-13, 19-13, 15-14).
      Bronze Medal Games
      • Men: Tamil Nadu (Aravind Annadurai 33, Rikin Pethani 18, Prasanna Venkatesh 13) bt Punjab (Gagandeep Singh 18, TJ Sahi 17, Rajveer Singh 13) 82-68 (17-17, 15-20, 30-19, 20-12). 
      • Women: Delhi (Raspreet Sidhu 21, Pratima Singh 19, Prashanti Singh 16) bt Telangana (Anusha Anto 24, Jincy Joseph 17) 71-66 (21-21, 12-20, 15-11, 23-14).
      Final Standings Men
      • 1. Services
      • 2. Uttarakhand 
      • 3. Tamil Nadu 
      • 4. Punjab 
      • 5. Karnataka
      • 1. Indian Railways 
      • 2. Kerala 
      • 3. Delhi 
      • 4. Telangana 
      • 5. Chhattisgarh

      January 11, 2016

      Karnataka sets sights on a state basketball league, the KBL

      Ever since the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) fractured into two and the ruling executive committee behind the federation shifted from Delhi to Bengaluru, the center of Indian basketball - and a new BFI office - has shifted south, too. Under BFI President K Govindraj, a former player from Karnataka and current president of the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA), several major events have been held in and around Bengaluru over the past year, including the South Asian basketball U18 qualifiers, Team India trials and practices, and the current Senior National Championship in Mysuru.

      It was during the launch of the 66th Senior Nationals - India's biggest and most-prestigious basketball championship - that Govindraj announced the next major step forward for Karnataka Basketball. Inspired by the national Cricket's Indian Premier League (IPL), Govindraj mentioned that the KSBBA is planning to launch a basketball Karnataka Basketball League (KBL) in the near future.

      Via SportsKeeda

      "An Indian Premier League-style basketball league is in the pipeline," said Govindraj, "We plan to launch the KBL soon. We will have the teams divided into four or five groups, from all parts of Karnataka. The initial group matches will be held at non-Bengaluru venues like Bellary. The winner and runner-up from each group will then play the final league, to be held in Bengaluru."

      Karnataka already has a decent structure of school and college level basketball events around the state, but they have limited professional options via banks, railways, or other units. Now, the KBL can potentially open more doors to provide longer basketball careers to those devoted in elongating their professional basketball career. There is still no information if the league will provide a long-term full-time salary to players, but that should be the ideal goal for the KBL's organizers.

      India still doesn't have a full, national basketball league. If the KBL can be a success at a small level, hopefully it ignites a flame that can spread nationwide.

      January 9, 2016

      Sacramento Kings pull out the stops for India - and stop Kobe - on Bollywood Night 2016

      अपने पैरों पे खड़॓ होना मुंबई से सेक्रामेन्तो तक.

      (Get on your feet, from Mumbai to Sacramento).

      And with that energizing message, the Sacramento Kings launched their ode to the Indian community in the USA and back in India - their third annual Bollywood Night - during their game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, January 7 2016 at the Sleep Train Arena. Led by Vivek Ranadive, the first Indian-born majority-owner of an NBA team, the Kings made this year's Bollywood Night bigger than ever before. As a special bonus, they won a thrilling game, too, holding off former rival Kobe Bryant in his last professional game in Sacramento.

      Ranadive, tech billionaire, bought the franchise in the summer of 2013 and has since taken several efforts to further the relationship between the Kings and India, between Sacramento and his birthplace Mumbai. This year was the third consecutive season that the Kings hosted a Bollywood themed night, after its previous two editions in front of sell-out crowds. The night included India-inspired fabrics and decor, cuisine, Bollywood-themed fan giveaways for those in attendance, and performances from leading Indian-American entertainers and celebrities.

      Tapping into the global appeal of Bollywood on the décor and merchandising front, the night witnessed colourful fabric sheets hung from the catwalks over the bowl, rally towels on seats for all fans, Indian cuisine, Bollywood scarves and t-shirts in the team store, mehendi for fans, and warm-up shirts for the Kings’ players.

      The first Miss America of Indian-descent – Nina Davuluri – joined the Sacramento Kings Dancers for a special Bollywood-themed dance routine. Davuluri was interviewed by Kings.com about Bollywood Night before tip-off. The Kings Dancers also dressed up in Indian garb on the night, as was Slamson the Lion, the Kings' official mascot. The starting line-ups for the Kings and the Lakers were introduced by a special guest announcer in Hindi. The Kings also showed a special introduction video before tip off - from Mumbai to Sacramento.

      Ranadive's daughter, the aspiring pop-star Anjali World, performed at halftime, along with rapper 6speed. Other events included Punjabi sword fighting and dance performances by the California-based Ankhiley Gabroo dance group. Sacramento native and artist Pam Shankar, of Indo-Fijian descent, sang the pre-game national anthem.

      The game itself was a perfect Bollywood movie plot for the hometown team. The first half was lighthearted and jovial, with the home-team taking a 27 point lead behind an incredible performance by their hero DeMarcus Cousins (29 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) overcoming a strong performance by their arch-nemesis Kobe Bryant (28 points). But no Bollywood film is complete without conflict, and the Lakers made a heroically cinematic comeback in the fourth quarter to take the lead behind strong performances by guards D'Angelo Russell (27) and Jordan Clarkson. Eventually, the Kings were able to withstand the blow and give the home fans a happy ending with a 118-115 win.

      After years of memorable playoff battles between the Lakers and the Kings in the early 2000s, this was Bryant's final game in Sacramento. The home crowd got a victory, but as the credits rolled in the end of the Bollywood bonanza, Bryant got a loud ovation from their rival fans. Bollywood Night was over, the respected villain lost, and the heroes notched up another win to get closer to an unlikely playoff spot!

      January 8, 2016

      India's National Basketball Championship to tip off in Mysuru (Karnataka) on January 9 with the country's finest talents

      Welcome to Mysuru, formerly Mysore, the third-largest city in Karnataka. Known for being the 'cleanest city in India', descending from a proud history of the Kingdom of Mysore, boasting beautiful palaces, and known for its popular silk saris.

      And now, hopefully, for its basketball, too.

      From January 9-16, the entire Indian hoop nation will descend in Mysuru for India's biggest and most prestigious basketball tournament, the 66th Senior National Basketball Championship for Men and Women. The 'Senior Nationals'- organized by Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA) under the aegis of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) - will tip off Chamundi Vihar Stadium Complex in the city on Saturday. The Senior National Basketball Championship is returning to Mysuru after a gap of 29 years. 29 men’s teams and 24 women’s teams representing most of India's states and provinces have confirmed participation.

      Karnataka's chief minister Siddaramaiah will inaugurate the tournament on Saturday evening.

      Last year's Senior Nationals were held in Bhilwara (Rajasthan). In the Women's section, Chhattisgarh repeated after 2014's surprise win to once again win the gold. In the Men's tournament, 2013 champions Uttarakhand bounced back to reclaim their place at the top. Chhattisgarh's Poonam Chaturvedi recovered from a brain tumor to win the tournament's MVP in the women's division, while Uttarkhand's Amrit Pal Singh was the Men's MVP.

      Chhattisgarh’s Women team will attempt to complete a three-peat of titles after breaking Indian Railways’ monopoly over the trophy two years ago. In the Men’s section, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Services, and hosts Karnataka will feature stacked rosters competing for the title. India’s best players will be there competing for the nation’s most prestigious domestic title. Over 160 matches will be played in this premier league cum knockout gala that will see the country’s top international stars in action. Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (Indian men’s team captain), Anitha Paul Durai (veteran Indian women’s captain), Jeena PS (Kerala) and Karnataka’s own international stars Arvind Arumugam, Bhandavya HM and Rajesh Uppar are just few of the big names expected to participate in this marquee event.

      "In terms of number of teams to register, this is the highest participation we have received in a long time," said K Govindaraj, President of both the KSBBA and the BFI. "Bengaluru hosts many Championships, we wanted to give Mysuru an opportunity to showcase its infrastructure and host a National level event. With this exposure, hopefully Mysuru can also conduct an Asian level competition in the future."

      Speaking on the innate potential of basketball, he said, "If you go to any school, taluka or district stadium, you will find a basketball court. That is the ubiquitous presence of basketball, which we are going to take to greater heights."

      Participating Teams

      • Level 1: Group A: Uttarakhand, Haryana, Karnataka, Punjab, Delhi.
      • Level 1: Group B: Tamil Nadu, Services, Kerala, Indian Railways, Telangana.
      • Level 1: Group C: Chhattigarh, Chandigarh, Goa, Odisha, Puducherry.
      • Level 2: Group D: Rajasthan, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura.
      • Level 2: Group E: Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh.
      • Level 2: Group F: West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh.
      • Level 1: Group A: Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh.
      • Level 1: Group B: Delhi, Indian Railways, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Punjab.
      • Level 1: Group C: Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir.
      • Level 2: Group D: Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha.
      • Level 2: Group E: Bihar, Gujarat, Puducherry, West Bengal.
      • Level 2: Group F: Chandigarh, Goa, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand.
      Besides on-court action, the BFI and KSBBA will also be organizing the FIBA Asia Development Plan - Referees clinic at the Chamundi Stadium from January 14-16. This will be conducted by Heros Avanesian, Head of Competition – Asia, International Basketball Federation, FIBA Asia. As per the FIBA Asia directives & guidelines it is mandatory for all National and FIBA Active referees to participate in the clinic. Non-participants or referees who fail the tests will be deprived from officiating FIBA ASIA events.

      The Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah will be inaugurating the Championship at 5 pm on 9th January. Other chief guests will include V Shrinivasa Prasad (Minister of Revenue & Dist. in charge, Mysuru), Dr. HC Mahadevappa (Minister of Public Works Department), Mahadev Prasad (Minister of Co-Operation) and K Abhaychandra (Minister of Youth Services and Fisheries).

      January 4, 2016

      Hoopdarshan Episode 23: Basketball in Exile - How basketball bonds the Tibetan refugee community in India

      In early October, Hoopdarshan co-host Karan Madhok traveled to McLeodganj and Dharamshala - hill-stations in the Indian Himalayas home to a vibrant community of Tibetan refugees - with photographer Angad Sodhi to cover a basketball tournament among the refugees. The epic trip turned into a story for the upcoming issue of SLAM Magazine (# 195) encapsulating together sports, politics, and travel. In Episode 23 of Hoopdarshan, host Kaushik Lakshman, Karan and Angad talk about the story behind the story, featuring how basketball bonds the refugee community together, the Tibetans' relationship with China and India, unforgettable characters from McLeodganj, and the quest for the perfect momo.

      McLeodganj is home to the 14th Dalai Lama - in exile from Tibet to India since the late 50s - and his Temple. Dharamshala hosts the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Both towns have thus become hosts to tens of thousands of Tibetan refugees over the past few decades and exist as idyllic worlds of peace, spirituality, and surprisingly, basketball. This episode should be heard as a preview or a companion piece to Karan and Angad's work on SLAM Magazine, the print edition of which will be available in US in early January and worldwide soon after. It will also be published on SLAMOnline.com soon.

      Angad Sodhi is a professional photographer in Chandigarh, best known for his modern wedding photography around India. You can find some of his best work on his Instagram page or on Facebook.

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

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

      Hoopdarshan can be found on...

        January 1, 2016

        India's combined FIBA ranking drops to 52 at the end of 2015

        Happy new year readers! As per tradition here at Hoopistani, we will start the new year by quickly catching up with India's place in the basketball world.

        Indian basketball had a roller-coaster of a year in 2015. There were some strong performances, like the Men's squad making it to the Quarter-Final of the FIBA Asia Championship for the first time in a dozen years. But there were also disappointments, like the Women's team getting relegated to Level 2 of the FIBA Asia Women's Championship. The up-and-down year resulted in India's combined FIBA rankings (Men, Women, Boys, Girls) dropping one spot - from 51 a year ago - to 52, with 66.6 points. India is the ranked 8th in Asia in the combined rankings.

        FIBA – the world’s governing body of basketball – bases their world rankings on the major FIBA World Championships, the continental championships, and the Olympic Games. Rankings are made based on the performance of each country’s Men’s, Women’s, and Youth rankings where applicable. Youth rankings are based on the performances of the U19, U18, U17, or U16 teams in international competitions.

        On the back of their impressive performances at Changsha's FIBA Asia Championship, India's Senior Men jumped eight places up to 53 from 61 last year. Despite domestic turmoil, the 2015 FIBA ABC turned out to be a fruitful tournament for Team India. India sent a tweaked 12-member squad to Changsha, featuring new head coach Sat Prakash Yadav and minus the presence of many veteran players, but they did well enough to finish the tournament with a 3-6 record at 8th place. Amjyot Singh proved to be India's breakout star of the year.

        India's Women contingent - a young, rebuilding squad - returned home disappointed from the FIBA Asia Women's Championship in Wuhan, taking several steps back after their historic performance at this same tournament two years ago. Playing in the higher Level 1, India lost all five of their Preliminary Stage game to end the tournament at sixth place. They then lost a Level 1 playoff as well and fell to Level 2 for the 2017 FIBA Women's ABC. The Women fell one place to 40th place.

        At the FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Men, India in Jakarta (Indonesia), India found themselves in a tough Group D, which featured two semi-finalists - Korea and China - as well as Iraq. The team was led by Head Coach Mahendar Singh Rathore and captained by rising young star Baladhaneshwar Poiyamozhi from Tamil Nadu. The team ended the tournament with a 2-3 record and dropped to 13th place. Their FIBA rank dropped one place to 52 from last year.

        India's under-16 Women suffered a miserable outing at the FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women in Medan, Indonesia, losing all five of their Level I in comprehensive fashion and losing the qualifying last game as well to fall to Level II in the tournament's 2017 iteration. Despite their performances, however, results elsewhere and participation points actually helped the Girls rise up one spot in the end-of-year FIBA rank.

        Once again, USA reigned supreme in all the FIBA rankings, combined or otherwise, ranking atop the charts across the board.

        India's FIBA Rankings at end of 2015
        • Combined: 52 (66.6 points; Change -1)
        • Men: 53 (9.0 points; Change +8)
        • Women: 40 (15.9 points: Change -1)
        • Boys: 52 (14.7 points; Change -1)
        • Girls: 38 (27 points; Change +1)