I lived in Beijing for three years and, in my time, played a lot of pick-up basketball with the locals. There was a clear language gap with the guys I played with, since they spoke limited English (and no Hindi) and my Mandarin was almost nonexistent. In the universal language of basketball, however, we managed. I will never forget the one time when I was taking part in a 3x3 game, and a Chinese teammate discovered, in his broken English, that I am from India.
"India?" he asked. "Okay, so you be Raju. I will be Rancho, and he," he pointed at our third teammate, "is Farhan."
I was confused. "What do you mean?"
"You know, like the 3 Idiots! You are from India, right?"
I laughed out loud - his first reference to India was 3 Idiots, Aamir Khan's iconic film about the struggles of college life in India (and a perfect 3x3 basketball team team). I discovered that the film had been a cult-favourite in China, too.
Well, here's an even stranger story. Earlier this week, Aamir Khan was back in China to promote his new movie, and this time, his paths crossed with one of the most iconic basketball players of our generation: Stephon Marbury.
Aamir Khan is an Indian cinema legend, who has acted, directed, or produced some of the most memorable and successful Indian films, including several of my personal favourites. Stephon Marbury is a star American basketball player, whose career made him an icon in the NBA and a celebrity in China. The point guard is one of my favourite All Time players - his Knicks' jersey is the first I ever owned!
Khan was in China this week to promote his film Dangal, which he produced and played a starring role in, based on the true story of the Phogat family's success in Indian wrestling. Dangal was released in India in December. Marbury, meanwhile, starred as himself in a Chinese biographical basketball documentary about his own life, My Other Home. It was the distributors of both these sports films that brought Khan and Marbury together in Beijing to promote their respective releases in China.
Marbury reserved some heavy praise for Khan on two posts on his Instagram page:
Chilling with #bollywood LEGEND #aamirkhan As we tease the movie screen distributors with his movie and my movie. Never in my life would I have thought up until now my path would lead towards acting and being paired with a living legend in another profession. I'm deeply humbled and completely thankful for all that God has done for my family and I in this life. #starburymovement #starbury #LoveisLove
BBALL by me and Wrestling by #aamirkhan #bollywood Legend Two sport movies coming soon. The anticipation is getting closer #myotherhome
Khan, whose films have broken box office records around the world, is also the most popular Bollywood star in China due to movies like 3 Idiots, Dhoom 3, and PK. To promote Dangal he attended events in three major Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu.
Marbury, of course, is no stranger to transnational popularity. He was once considered the biggest basketball star out of New York, became an iconic NBA player for the Timberwolves, Nets, Suns, Knicks, and Celtics, before contentiously ending his NBA career. Marbury has since played in China for Shanxi, Foshan, and eventually, in Beijing, where he found career nirvana: he won three CBA titles with the Beijing Ducks, saw a statue of himself erected outside the MasterCard Center in Beijing, has stamps bearing his image in China, has starred in a musical play about himself, and been awarded a Chinese green card. His film My Other Home will be about his basketball journey in the US and China.
A few years ago, I interviewed Marbury in depth while in Beijing about finding home in China for SLAM Magazine.
Now, thanks to the magic of cinema, Bollywood and Basketball have again crossed paths in a surprising way. I'm wishing the best to both these legends in their ventures ahead. Now that Marbury has gotten some acting experience, perhaps Khan can find a place to cast him in his next blockbuster. Considering that they have the pulse of the audience in two of the world's most populous countries, I'm expecting this fictional future Star/Khan venture to break every record conceivable.