December 31, 2013

Indian Basketball Legend & Arjuna award winner Khushi Ram passes away

The man who was once called The Magician of Basketball in India, the legendary Khushi Ram, passed away at age 77 on December 29, 2013. Ram will go down in history as one of the India's greatest ever basketball players and - at his time - one of the top talents in all of Asia. A former captain of India's national Men's team, Kumar was handed with the Arjuna Award in 1967.

While we live in a time when basketball players in India rarely get the respect and admiration that the sport deserves, Ram was one of the leaders of an era when Indian basketball was on the rise. Ram was an integral part of India's national team from 1964-72, and captained India in 1965 at their first ever appearance at the Asian Basketball Confederation Championship (now known as the FIBA Asia Championship) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. India finished 7th at the tournament. He was the highest scorer at the championship (the only Indian at the Senior Men's level to be the tournament's highest scorer). In the next two Asian Championships in Seoul (Korea) and Bangkok (Thailand), he was the tournament's second and third highest scorer respectively.

Ram was also the father of another Indian basketball legend, the Dhyan Chand Award Winner Ram Kumar, and of the late Asok Kumar.

Ram was born in Jhamri village in Rohtak district in Haryana on August 7, 1936. His interest for basketball began at age 14 when he joined the Delhi-based Army unit Rajputana Rifles as a Boy Recruit in 1950. He made his debut as a youth player at the National Basketball Championship in 1952 representing the Armed Forces team. From a young age, he was known for his shooting ability - which helped him become an unstoppable scorer for the course of his career - and for his high IQ and sense of the game.

From 1958-68, Ram was associated with the Army. The Armed Force team won India's National Basketball title 10 consecutive years, with Ram leading the helm several times as the tournament's best player. In 1969, he moved to Kota (Rajasthan) to join Shri Ram Rayons. He represented the state of Rajasthan for the next five years in National Basketball Championships.

Ram's fame was at its height in 1970, when he dominated at the 10th Anniversary Celebrations Championship in Manila and scoring 43 points (highest by an Indian in an international) against the hosts Philippines.

After announcing his retirement he took over as the coach of Shri Ram Rayons Basketball team in 1976 and also coached Rajasthan's Basketball team for many years. Under his helm, Shri Ram Rayons became one of the best teams in India and won many All India tournaments.

Even until his final years, Ram was coaching basketball to students at the Modern School in Kota.

We wave goodbye to a pioneer of Indian Basketball, one of the greats to have paved the way for the path that all of today's players now follow. Ram received a lot of tributes for his achievements in his lifetime, but the most lasting tribute to his memory would be a concentrated effort by the basketball fraternity in the country to help India reach it's old glories again, and perhaps even shoot for a higher level than ever before.

December 28, 2013

Sacramento Kings sign partnership with Indian company Krrish Group & Jimboy's Tacos

NBA, India, and Tacos.

So get your head around this announcement. Sacramento Kings - the first NBA team owned by an Indian-born (Vivek Ranadive) - have signed a deal with Indian real-estate company the Krrish Group and Sacramento-based Mexican food chain, Jimboy's Tacos. The Krrish Group will open multiple franchises of Jimboy's Tacos in India. And the Kings will promote this relationship through in-arena, broadcast, and digital advertising. Win, win, win?

So here are the points of interest:

- Ranadive has made his intentions very clear in the past to expand the Kings' business relationships with India, and on the Kings' opening night this season, displayed a bonanza of Shaq-cricketing, cheerleader-Bollywooding, and curry concession-eating action. But this is their first official business partnership with an Indian company. "I am thrilled that The Krrish Group shares our global vision and sees the economic potential of a partnership with the Kings," said Ranadive. "Given the increasing popularity of basketball and the Kings in India, we hope that this will be the first of many important business partnerships from the region. As we strive to become India's home team, we are proud to call The Krrish Group and Jimboy’s Tacos our partners."

- The Kings aren't finished. The press release for this news made it clear that they'll be announcing several more business partnerships with India next season.

- Jimboy's Tacos who? The relatively small taco company might be known in certain parts of Sacramento, but none of my Southern California brethren had ever heard of them. Still, their website promises that they were voted "Best Taco" by Sacramento Magazine.

- No Del Taco, no El Pollo Loco, no Loteria. Even Taco Bell only has two outlets in India (I think), both in Bangalore. Jimboy's are somehow going to become the biggest American franchise of Mexican food in India. Vivek Ranadive is a valuable friend. "We are excited to be part of Vivek (Ranadive]'s 3.0 initiative as we begin our national and international expansion," said Karen Knudson Freeman, CEO of Jimboy’s Tacos.

- Who are the Krrish Group, apart from being a company named after a horrible Bollywood superhero franchise? They are a real-estate company, originally founded in 1983 as a liquor manufacturers. They are dynamic real-estate players in the Delhi-NCR region, are building skyscrapers in Sri Lanka, and own a team in India's badminton league.

- "The Indian consumer and retail market has literally been exploding during the last 10 years and the trend is projected to continue for many years to come, with the restaurant sector projected to grow more than double in the next 5 years," said Prakhar Gupta, Vice President of Business Development for The Krrish Group. "With a dynamic and fast growing business portfolio, we see our partnership with Jimboy’s and the Kings as a perfect opportunity."

Since purchasing the Kings earlier this year, Ranadive has directed a business philosophy coined "NBA 3.0," which focuses on investments in technology, globalization and deep community partnerships.

This is just the first step. Both Sacramento Kings fans and Indians should start getting more familiar with each other: there's going to be a lot more force-fed into this unlikely relationship in the coming years.

Speaking of force-feeding, DeMarcus Cousins must be really looking forward to this. Something tells me that he would be the perfect brand ambassador for all types of tacos.

December 27, 2013

Ahmedabad to host 2014 Federation Cup Basketball Championship

9 men's teams and 9 women's senior basketball teams from across India will face off against each other at the 28th Federation Cup National Basketball Championship for Men & Women, scheduled to be held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, from January 4-9, 2013. The Federation Cup pits India's most successful recent clubs or states against each other. Therefore, in the Men's division, the participating teams will be chosen from the best club sides from India's top ranking states in the previous National Basketball Championship, while the Women's teams will be represented by the top rankings states or railway units themselves.

This year, the defending champions ONGC (Men) and Tamil Nadu (Women) will be looking to defend their titles in Ahmedabad, after winning last year's Federation Cup trophies in Bangalore. The tournament will be organized by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance, in conjunction with the Gujarat Basketball Association. Matches are scheduled to be held at the YMCA International Center in Ahmedabad.

Participating Teams

Men: ONGC (Uttarakhand), Bhilai Steel Plant (Chhattisgarh), Bhavnagar District (Gujarat), Northeast Frontier Railway, Central Excise (Kerala), Border Security Force (Punjab), District Sikar (Rajasthan), Army Red (Services), India Overseas Bank (Tamil Nadu).

Women: Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Southern Railway, Punjab, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Delhi, Chhattisgarh.

The Federation Cup, which began in 1984, is held annually and is the most coveted tournament in the BFI Calendar for basketball clubs/state teams throughout India. Roopam Sharma, the CEO of the BFI said, "I am pleased to announce that the 28th Federation Cup National Basketball Championship for Men & Women will be held in Ahmedabad. The city has been an excellent host in the past, and BFI is thankful to Gujarat Basketball Association for rendering its support in hosting the event this year. Federation Cup National Basketball Championship continues to be one of the most competitive basketball tournaments in India at the highest level and has been growing year after year."

The winner will take home Rs 1 lakh while the first and second runners-up will receive Rs 75000 and Rs 50000, respectively.

December 26, 2013

Rajasthan's Junior Basketball player raped; accused held

Unless you've lived under a rock, you've probably heard of the disturbing rise of news reported on sexual assaults in New Delhi and across India over the past year. As a matter of fact, even though the international concern on the treatment of women in India has spiked up since the 'Nirbhaya' case, women across the country have been victimized from birth to death for as long as civilization itself.

This is a sports blog, and no matter my strong personal feelings on the subject, I have long resisted the urge to speak about certain social/political injustices in my writing or through my social media. But sometimes, these injustices are inescapable even in our relatively sheltered sports world.

On November 15, a 16-year-old national-level basketball player, who is a member of Rajasthan's state basketball team and represented the state at the 2010 Sub-Junior National Basketball Championship, was raped in the city of Chittorgarh in South-East Rajasthan. The victim's family filed an FIR at the Sadar police station in the city about the incident on November 20.

The accused had absconded, but finally, there has been some good news trickling in about the case. The Times of India reported that Chittorgarh police arrested the accused on December 24, nearly six weeks after the crime. The accused was named Yogesh Sharma, an employee at ICICI bank, who, according to Rediff News, had been stalking her for the past three years. About two weeks ago, the local police were accused of being too lax to follow up on the case because they were too "busy with local elections." Sharma has since been in police custody and will soon appear in court.

This is a stark reminder that women in India - hell, women in a lot of other countries around the world - are unsafe, no matter what path they choose in their life. In this case, unfortunately, the life of a promising young basketball player was effected. Looking ahead, I hope that both men and women in the basketball fraternity across the country show sensitivity towards the victim and other young women. I don't know any further details of this case, but I look forward to fair justice being imparted to the accused to provide some sense of closure - no matter how small it may seem - to the victim. Sometimes, the best closure may be found back the happy place for these young athletes - the basketball court itself.

December 23, 2013

Orlando Magic to host 2nd 'India Day' on January 19th

Hey, if we Indians can't make our way into the NBA with basketball talent, let's make sure to do it culture.

The Orlando Magic, joining hands with the Indian American Chamber of Commerce (IACC), will host the second annual 'India Day' programme at Orlando's home game against the Boston Celtics on January 19th. The event follows the success of the Magic's India Day last season and the growing interest of NBA teams to reach out to fans of Indian origin (and perhaps to Indians back home, too).

Orlando's interest into the Indian community and culture follows the three years of 'Bollywood Nights' that were held the Golden State Warriors when Vivek Ranadive was their minority owner. Ranadive since went on to become the first Indian-born majority owner in the NBA when he purchased the Sacramento Kings and has brought all kinds of India swag to Sac-Town, from Shaq playing cricket to cheerleaders regularly performing Bollywood dance numbers.

The Magic could certainly do with some distractions: they currently stand at the bottom of the Southeast division, but at least have the piece in Aaron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo, and Nikola Vucevic (plus a high pick in next year's loaded draft) to build something interesting for the future.

This season's India Day in Orlando will feature an appearance by 2014 Miss American Nina Davuluri, the Indian-American from New York, who unfortunately become more famous for receiving racist backlash than for actually winning a beauty pageant. Davuluri will share the story of her rise to fame and her platform on racial diversity with Magic fans. There will also be a street festival that will include Henna tattoo artists, Indian dances and Indian cuisine.

Dr. Amish M. Parikh, an Orlando resident and one of the organizers of the event, said, "We were encouraged last year that we were able to bring everybody together on one day and celebrate the Indian American community. And it was a sporting event that brought all of us together. "Sports create a venue where we can all enjoy a good time and be happy and sad together. We’re excited that the Magic are our local sports team that we can all rally around."

The IACC will donate 1,000 tickets of the game to nonprofit organizations throughout Central Florida, up from 600 last year. There will also be a special ticket offer (call 407-916-2679) and a street festival that will include Henna tattoo artists, Indian dances and Indian cuisine.

The Magic's website says that the success in Orlando last year - which featured a street festival and Bollywood-dancing cheerleaders - also caught the eye of teams around the NBA and several other India Nights are being planned this season throughout in the league.

Now if only one of them can invite Aziz Ansari for his views on cultural diversity, Calvin Cambridge, and saris. He might be a Knicks fan, too.

December 22, 2013

Bangalore's 2013-14 BFI-IMG Reliance School Basketball League tips off

After getting a successful kick-start in various cities around the league, the modified and expanded version of the 2014-14 BFI-IMG Reliance School Basketball League tipped off in Bangalore on December 18th. Bangalore is the latest stop of the ongoing league, which is being held in eight Indian cities, including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Ludhiana, Indore, and Chennai.

Like every other city, Bangalore is fielding 20 total school teams in the league - 10 each in the boys' and girls' sections respectively.

Participating Teams


Group A: Vidyaniketan School, New Horizon Public School, National Public School (Rajaji Nagar), Sri Kumaran's Children's Home, Kendriya Vidyalaya.
Group B: Bishop Cotton's School, Delhi Public School (South), Mallaya Adithi International School, St. Joseph’s Indian High School, Shantiniketan High School.


Group A: Bishop Cotton's School, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Mary Immaculate High School, Stella Maris High School, PPEC Indira Nagar.
Group B: Sri Kumaran's Children's Home, Mallaya Adithi International School, National Public School (Rajaji Nagar), Nirmala Rani High School, Carmel Convent High School.

According to the BFI, one of the main goals of the School League is to start the first pan-India League, as opposed to the current system of competition - tournaments. BFI and IMG Reliance have put aside money for each participating School for refurbishments of their home courts. With the help of the State Basketball Association, BFI and IMG Reliance will be hoping that this initiative will incentivize schools to invest in basketball.

December 21, 2013

BFI, FIBA, & NBA get together to organize basketball coaching certification courses across India

To support the great hall of basketball in India, the game needs the strongest pillars to support it. And three of those pillars - the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the NBA, and FIBA, have joined hands between December 2013 - February 2014 to bring expert training to India's most influential basketball coaches. These efforts will help build a link so the chosen coaches can then pass on to other coaches and young players across the country, thus lifting the quality of the game nationwide.

120 Indian coaches from four zones around the country will receive the FIBA Level 1 Coaching Certification as well as BFI Certification, thus enriching their knowledge of teaching fundamentals to the youth. The coaches were selected strategically based on the curriculum's content. The curriculum is based on FIBA's “Basketball for Young Players” book & CD for U13-U18 age players.

During the clinics in each zone, experts from FIBA, the BFI, and the NBA are pitting their talents together. FIBA's experienced coaching instructor Nelson Isley and NBA-India's Senior Director of Basketball Operations Troy Justice are conducting the FIBA Level 1 Coaching Certification programme. The BFI's head coaches for India's Senior Men's and Women's team - the American Scott Flemming and the Spaniard Francisco Garcia - will be conducting the BFI Certification Programme.

Representing India's West Zone, the first of the clinics was held in Mumbai - at Don Bosco High School, Matunga - from December 8-14, 2013. New Delhi is currently hosting the courses for the North Zone at the KD Jadhav Indoor Hall from 16-22 December 2013.

In February 2014, cities from India's South and East zones will be chosen to host the certification courses, too - dates and cities are yet to be officially announced.

Speaking from the Coaches Certification programme in New Delhi, FIBA Coaching Instructor Nelson Isley said, “I am very satisfied with the attendance of the Indian coaches at the clinic. They have shown a lot of interest and are open to learning new basketball coaching techniques. It has been a very positive experience for me in India.”

Isley has been associated with FIBA since 2000. He has over 4 decades of coaching experience and conducting national development programmes, and has taught FIBA coaching clinics in Iceland, Mozambique, Swaziland, Nicaragua, Guatamala, Haiti, Spain, Chile, Bolivia, England, Zimbabwe, El Salvador, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Maldives, and Canada among other countries.

Flemming has been Head Coach of India's National Basketball Men's Team for a year. Prior to that, he was Assistant Coach of the Texas Legends in the NBA Development League. Garcia has been India's Women's National team coach for six months, and has 22 years of coaching experience across clubs in various European countries. Justice has spent several years in India spearheading NBA's programmes on grassroots level with coaching clinics, tournaments, and much more.

December 18, 2013

WNBA superstar Swin Cash is in India

Swin Cash of the Chicago Sky, who is one of the marquee players of the WNBA over the past decade and a superstar of women's basketball, is in India. Cash, who has won several team and individual accolades through her 11 year WNBA career, will be spending three days in Mumbai while promoting basketball at the grassroots level, especially amongst young girls.

Cash is amongst a very rare number of players to have had success at all three major levels - NCAA, WNBA, and Olympics. She won two NCAA Women's Division 1 Championships with the University of Connecticut in 2000 and 2002. She has won two Olympic gold medals with the US Basketball Team, three WNBA titles with her previous teams (Detroit Shock and Seattle Storm), a FIBA World Championship, and capped it all off with four visits to the WNBA All Star Game.

Cash was drafted by the Shock back in 2002, with whom she played for five years, winning two championships. She joined the Seattle Storm in 2008 and led them to a championship in 2010. In 2012, she was part of a blockbuster trade sending her to the Chicago Sky to play alongside fellow superstar Sylvia Fowles.

According to the Times of India, Cash will be helping to spread grassroots awareness for basketball in India during her visit, which lasts till December 20, 2013. Her presence will also help to support the growth of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme in the country. On December 18th she also appeared live on Radio 1 in Mumbai.

After an exciting summer that featured Chris Bosh's visit to India, it's refreshing to see a Women's superstar visit the country in a way to support girls' basketball players and provide them with a role model to aspire to as well.

December 9, 2013

Ernakulum (Men) & Thiruvanathapuram (Women) win 58th Kerala State Basketball Championship

After five days of exciting basketball action, the finale of the 58th Kerala State Basketball Championship came down to a few familiar faces. On December 8, the Sree Kerala Varma College in Thrissur hosted a repeat of both the Men's and Women's Finals from last year. In the Men's competition, Ernakulum repeated their triumph from last season by thumping Thiruvanathapuram en route to a 89-48 win. Thiruvanathapuram were able to save some face in the Women's division though, when last year's losing side defeated reigning champs Palakkad 71-54 to snatch the gold medals.

Teams from 14 districts from Kerala battled for the honors in the Men's section and 12 teams in the Women's division at the state championship. The tournament was organized by the Kerala Basketball Association under the auspices of the Thrissur District Basketball Association.

Thiruvanathapuram's Women's team - led by India internationals Jenna PS and Stephy Nixon - showed no trouble getting some revenge on last year's loss for their big victory. Jeena was fearless throughout, leading the way with 37 points. Neenumol PS and Liji Mol of Palakkad added 18 and 17 points respectively in the loss.

An onslaught of offense led by Abhilash (27) and Monish Wilson (20) led Ernakulum to a repeat title victory over Thiruvanathapuram, who were paced by Vijobi Vakkachan's 19 points.

Earlier in the day, Kannur's Women side secured third place in the championship with a close win over Kottayam, 68-63. Premi P. Lal had an impressive 32 point outing for the victors, while Kottayam were led by young star Poojamol KS (19) and Minnu Marium (17). In the high-scoring men's third-place game, Pathanamthitta - led by Nicewin M (28) and Edwin Irvin (19) - outlasted Kottayam to score a 86-78 win. Akhil Mathew Sunny had a strong 30 point outing for the losing side.

The best performers of the championship will comprise of the state team to represent Kerala at India's Senior National Basketball Championship, slated for February 2014.

December 5, 2013

Time for the NBA to end the Conference/Division divide

This year, the balance of power between the West and the East is simply bordering on ridiculousness. 10 teams in the West have a winning record so far, while the East only boast of two. It's time for the NBA to be done with conferences and divisions altogether. Teams should play each other an equal number of times all season, without division or conference biases. Rank playoff spots based on record alone, and not conference or division. It’s time to reward excellence, not mediocrity.

Click here to read full feature.

December 4, 2013

With or Without You: Some teams suffer without their star players – others are better off without them

This feature was first published in the 120th edition (2013 - No. 23) of SLAM China magazine. Here is my original English version of the story.

Rewind back to the 1999 NBA Playoffs. Even on hobbled feet, Patrick Ewing is able to average 17 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game to be the best player of a mediocre New York Knicks team. The Knicks end the season 8th in the East, but once the playoffs begin, they surprise the world by winning the first two rounds to set up a Conference Finals matchup against the Indiana Pacers. Unfortunately, an Achilles tear to Ewing in Game 2 rules him out for the rest of the playoffs, and thus ends New York’s championship aspirations.

And then, miracles happen. Without their dominant big man in the middle, the Knicks shift to small ball, and share the responsibilities of the one missing centerpiece amongst the rest of their contributors. Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Larry Johnson, Marcus Camby, and the rest step up to defeat the heavily-favoured Pacers three times over the next four games. The Knicks become the first ever eighth-seed to make the Finals. The fairytale came to an end here though, because the Twin Towers of Duncan and Robinson prove to be too much for New York’s thin frontline to handle.

Still, the Knicks making an addition by subtraction – losing Ewing and then actually improving their team-play – made a lasting impression on a popular American sports journalist. And thus, Bill Simmons created the ‘Ewing Theory’.

Nearly 12 years later, the Knicks would play a major part in a new example of the Ewing Theory. The Nuggets traded their All Star Carmelo Anthony to New York in return for role players. As it turned out, the Anthony-less Nuggets were suddenly happier without him, and without a ball-dominating scorer, they turned a team full of self-less no-names into big winners.

The NBA is a superstar-driven league, and having a star player to lead the offense is almost always better than not having one. But every once in a while, the Ewing Theory comes into action, and teams are able to find chemistry and balance in the absence of a star more than they did in his presence.

After last season’s injury crisis – where Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Amar’e Stoudemire, Danny Granger, David Lee, Danilo Gallinari, Andrew Bynum, and many more missed valuable time – teams around the league had to reconfigure their systems to survive. This season, many players have made a return back to action, while there are some superstars still recovering on the sidelines. But faint remnants of the original Ewing Theory continue to this day, and many teams have found a way to be more than competitive in doing more with less.

The biggest example of that this season – and the last – have been the Indiana Pacers. For five consecutive years, Granger was the Pacers’ leading scorer, and in the process, he won recognition as an All Star and the league’s Most Improved Player. But patellar tendinosis limited Granger to only five games in the 2012-13 season. Instead of folding without him, the Pacers moved Paul George to his small forward position and gave the starting shooting guard slot to Lance Stephenson. Granger’s absence became George’s opportunity, as the youngster developed into a superstar talent and helped the Pacers to their best post-season performance in over a decade. Granger’s injury problems have carried into the new season, but his absence didn’t hurt the team at all: the Pacers started off as the hottest squad in the NBA and George developed into an early MVP candidate.

Last season, Chicago’s former MVP Derrick Rose missed the entire year, leaving the Bulls without their most consistent scoring option. Without Rose, they weren’t able to match their achievement to finish with the league’s best record again like in the previous two seasons, but they weren’t any slouches, either. The core group of Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Carlos Boozer kept the Bulls’ ship steady throughout the regular season. In the playoffs, Chicago were able to survive more injury troubles and rely on unexpected heroics from Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler to make it into the Second Round and impress basketball fans everywhere. Rose returned to Bulls this season, but the team struggled to find their cohesiveness with him in the starting lineup and both team and player suffered from a slow start. Rose suffered from early hiccups, and so the team did, too. Now, he's set to miss another season to a different injury.

The Warriors lost All Star David Lee at the beginning of the playoffs last season, but his absence provided Coach Mark Jackson to become smaller, moving Harrison Barnes to the power forward position, and help upset the higher-seeded Nuggets in the first round. Despite their Second Round loss, the team had done enough to show that their roster was deep enough to survive the loss of their big man and still remain strong. Lee has returned to the team this season, and in this case, they have found a way to seamlessly fit him back into their successful offensive plans.

For the surprising Philadelphia 76ers, it must feel like a heavy burden has been lifted. Although Andrew Bynum never played a single game in the 76ers uniform, he was a part of the team all of last year, and unfortunately, his injury and upcoming free agency proved to be more of a distraction than a positive force for his teammates. With Bynum bolting for Cleveland this offseason, Philly were able to get more focused about their future. No more were they tied down to planning around their big man. Instead a young, hungry group of stars – led by Michael Carter-Williams – have been able to give the squad a refreshing change of direction.

Despite all the examples above, there is still no replacement in the league for a game-changing superstar to lift the fortunes of a franchise. The explosive comebacks of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook have helped get the Timberwolves and the Thunder back on track. And there is no doubt that fans of the Lakers and the Celtics will be counting days until their All Star guards – Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo – can suit up to ignite their teams again.

Losing a superstar in the NBA can be brutal. And most teams would agree that it’s better to have found a superstar and lost him, than not to have found him at all. But ‘Ewing Theory’ suggests that there is some hope for every team: It takes a brilliant coach, a deep and motivated supporting cast of players, and a good dose of healthy team chemistry. And every once in a while, the absence of a star can equate to the presence of team success.

December 3, 2013

BFI to Conduct Training Camp for U14 Boys and Girls in Gujarat

The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) has announced the names of 25 boys and 25 girls as probables to attend an under-14 training camp at the SAI Training Center in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. The camp is being held from December 2-21, 2013.

The players have been chosen based on their performances at the 40th Sub-Junior National Basketball Championship back in August, which was held in Bihar. This will be the first training camp of the session for the under-14s, and will aid to select India's national sub-junior teams for future invitational basketball tournaments.

Head Coaches PC Anthony and Sushil Kumar will run the boys' and girls' camps respectively, with guidance from India's foreign senior team coaches Scott Flemming and Francisco Garcia.

List of probables

  • Kunal Choudhary (Andhra Pradesh)
  • Manish Kumar (Andhra Pradesh)
  • Raunak Kumar (Bihar)
  • Binod Rajak (Chhattisgarh)
  • Saif Ali Khan (Chhattisgarh)
  • Akash Singh (Chhattisgarh)
  • Virender (Chhattisgarh)
  • Md. Salim Ali (Chhattisgarh)
  • Abhay Verma (Chhattisgarh)
  • Attaul Hussain (Jharkhand)
  • Md. Mahtab Alam (Jharkhand)
  • Rahul Sona (Jharkhand)
  • Sejin Mathew (Kerala)
  • Devansh Sapre (Madhya Pradesh)
  • Himanshu Singh Bist (Madhya Pradesh)
  • Sameer Mohd. (Madhya Pradesh)
  • SK Riaz (Odisha)
  • Aman Deep Singh (Punjab)
  • Gagandeep Singh (Punjab)
  • Ashish Trivedi (Rajasthan)
  • Md. Ashfak (Rajasthan)
  • Ashish Singh Bisht (Rajasthan)
  • K Tamil Vanan (Tamil Nadu)
  • L Karna (Tamil Nadu)
  • Akshay Sharma (Uttar Pradesh)
  • Head Coach: PC Anthony
  • Coach: Bharat Bhushan
  • Senior Coach: Scott Flemming
  • Yamini Singh (Assam)
  • G Meenakshi Reddy (Andhra Pradesh)
  • Gulabsha Ali (Chhattisgarh)
  • Manisha (Chhattisgarh)
  • Mahima Bhardwaj (Chhattisgarh)
  • M Laxmi Sravanthi (Chhattisgarh)
  • Vimla Ekka (Chhattisgarh)
  • Sushantika Chakravortty (Delhi)
  • Shubham Ohlan (Delhi)
  • Pallavi Negi (Himachal Pradesh)
  • Anagha N (Karnataka)
  • Festy P Jose (Kerala)
  • Isha Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh)
  • Divyani Gangwal (Madhya Pradesh)
  • Shrankhala Jain (Madhya Pradesh)
  • Neha Vinod Shahu (Maharashtra)
  • Sakshi Yashwant Kotian (Maharashtra)
  • Durga Alhad Dharmadhikari (Maharashtra)
  • Prabhjot Kaur (Punjab)
  • Sakshi Sharma (Punjab)
  • Annie Sheoran (Rajasthan)
  • Srishti Suren (Tamil Nadu)
  • Ishwarya J (Tamil Nadu)
  • Vaishnavi Yadav (Uttar Pradesh)
  • Liza Deb (West Bengal)
  • Head Coach: Sushil Kumar
  • Coach: Jeena Jacharian
  • Senior Coach: Francisco Garcia

December 2, 2013

Kerala's 58th Senior State Basketball Championship to tip off in Thrissur

The 58th Kerala State Senior Basketball Championship is set to be held at the Sree Kerala Varma College in Thrissur from December 3-8, 2013. The best performers of the championship will comprise of the state team to represent Kerala at India's Senior National Basketball Championship, slated for February 2014. Teams from 14 districts from the state will battle for the honors in the Men's section and 12 teams will take part in the Women's division.

The tournament will be organized by the Kerala Basketball Association under the auspices of the Thrissur District Basketball Association. The Municipal Stadium in Thrissur will also host some of the games of the tournament.

Ernakulum (Men) and Palakkad (Women) will be looking to defend their titles from their victories last year.

Participating Teams

  • Group A: Ernakulum, Kollam, Palakkad, Kozhikode.
  • Group B: Thiruvanathapuram, Pathanamthitta, Alapuzha, Kottayam.
  • Group C: Thrissur, Kasargod, Wayanad.
  • Group D: Kannur, Malapuram, Idukki.
  • Group A: Palakkad, Kollam, Kasargod.
  • Group B: Thiruvanathapuram, Ernakulum, Wayanad.
  • Group C: Kannur, Kozhikode, Malapuram.
  • Group D: Thrissur, Kottayam, Alapuzha.

December 1, 2013

China win 3rd FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women; India finish 5th again

China's young stars were at the top of their game as they stole the show in Colombo (Sri Lanka), defeating Japan in the Final to capture gold at the 3rd FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women on November 30, 2013. It was China's second gold at the competition, and their 62-50 triumph held Japan from repeating after their 2011 triumph.

For the second straight iteration of the tournament, India finished fifth with a 2-4 record and continued to solidify their stake as Asia's best women side after the dominant top four of China, Japan, Korea, and Chinese Taipei.

China used a balanced and defensive strategy to overwhelm Japan in the Final, bouncing back from a 17-9 deficit at the end of the first quarter to take a halftime lead, and then stretch out their advantage to a 62-50 victory.

Earlier on Saturday, Korea cruised past Chinese Taipei to a 86-64 win to secure third place. Heji Ann had a triple double for Korea with 22 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds, while Yejin Kim added 19. Yu-Lien Hsu (19) and Jing-Ting Wang (18) were the leading scorers for Chinese Taipei.

In the semi-finals stage, China showed no mercy as they put up a dominant 81-55 win over Korea, led by Haimei Wang (19) and Dilishati Dilana (17). Japan also joined them in the Final with a big win against Chinese Taipei, 99-60.

Placed in Level I with Asia's best, India were expected to play the role of minnows in the Preliminary Round, and started with their worst defensive performance, losing 112-45 to Japan.

India didn't get much better a day later against eventual champions China, who rode behind the efforts of Zhen Wang (24) and Jia Niu (21) to dominate from end to end and win 109-51.

India's most crucial encounter came in their third game, against Malaysia. They needed a win to secure at least fifth place, and started well, leading 29-24 at halftime. But Malaysia bounced back to tie the game at 43 by the end of the third quarter. In a neck-to-neck final period, India outlasted their opponent and survived to a secure a close 57-55 win.

India were back to losing ways as Chinese Taipei were the next team to exploit India's defensive deficiencies 105-50. Yu-Lien Hsu had a game high 24 points.

In their last Preliminary Round game, Yebin Yun had 23 points and eight points to lead Korea to a 106-56 win over India, who then finished at fifth place in their group.

India had to play one last game in the tournament to ensure that thy would return to Level 1 for 2015 against Level 2's second-place side Kazakhstan. They had their best showing, as three Indian players scored 20 or more points - Riya Verma (24 points), Bhandavya HM (23 points, 12 rebounds), and Srividhya Venkataraman (20 points, 11 rebounds). While the game was tied at 36 at halftime, India took charge of the third quarter to take a 11 point lead, and finish the game to win 84-71. Anastassiya Arzamastseva had a valiant performance (21 and 15) in a losing effort for Kazakhstan.

While Coach TD Biju's side showed some great performances against lower-seeded sides, they don't seem to have made any progress against the top teams who have a stronghold at the top of standings. Bhandavya HM and Riya Verma have showed the most potential for the side and could grow to be regulars for India's future senior teams.

November 22, 2013

India's 12-member squad heads to Sri Lanka for 3rd FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women

India's Senior Women's squad took one of the biggest steps in history last month as they won their first ever game in Level 1 of FIBA's top Asian basketball competition and finished at a best-ever 5th place. But to continue this positive momentum, India will now need to ensure that the future stars are ready and prepared to take on the challenge. Now, their opportunity is here: the national under-16 women's squad has headed to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to take part in the 3rd FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Women. The tournament is slated to be held from November 23-30, 2013.

After finishing 5th at the previous edition of the championship in Jinan (China) in 2011, India's girls will return to Level 1 of the competition, where they will face off against only the other top teams: reigning champions Japan, China, Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Malaysia. Head Coach TD Biju will be leading India's 12-member roster.

The team recently concluded their last training camp at the CBA Basketball School in Dongguan, China, in preparation for the U16 Women's ABC.

India's U16 Women's Team
  • Vimmy Varkey
  • Shinu George
  • Bhandavya HM
  • Vandana Arya
  • Gagandeep Kaur
  • Sakshi Pandey
  • Riya Verma
  • Mughda Amraotkar
  • Srividhya Venkatraman
  • Aneeta Varghese
  • Mayukha KT
  • Lopamudra TK
  • Head Coach: TD Biju
  • Coach: Abhay Chavan
Participating Teams
  • Level 1: China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Chinese Taipei.
  • Level 2: Hong Kong, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Thailand.
India's Preliminary Round Schedule - All times IST
  • November 23 - 1300 - Japan vs. India.
  • November 24 - 1500 - China vs. India.
  • November 25 - 1700 - India vs. Malaysia.
  • November 26 - 1700 - Chinese Taipei vs. India.
  • November 27 - 1500 - India vs. Korea.

As it is in any such tournament where India is grouped against Asian Women's Big Four (Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, Korea), India's best hope for a win is going be against their fifth opponent, which in this case, is Malaysia. India is ranked fifth in Asia now in the U16 Women's category behind the big four, and they will have to fight hard to defend their spot. A win against Malaysia is a must. But can India dream bigger and try to get an upset over one of the big four sides? If so, they could be able to secure an unprecedented spot in the tournament's semi-finals.

November 21, 2013

Q&A: India's Women's Head Coach Francisco Garcia - "It's always a special feeling when you make history in a country."

With little prior experience or knowledge of the country, Spanish Coach Francisco Garcia was invited to India five months ago to take the hot seat as the Head Coach of India's Women's Senior National side. He didn't have too much time to get acclimitized before the team had to prepare for it's biggest challenge in two years: the 25th FIBA Asia Women's Championship, scheduled in Bangkok from from October 27-November 3. Garcia and his team survived backroom selection drama, a crucial injury, and an aging superstar to head out to Thailand and take on the best teams in Asia.

India were returning to Level I of the competition, which meant that they would have the esteemed privilege of only playing the continent's superpowers in the Preliminary Round - the 'Big Four' of China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and Korea, with Kazakhstan rounding up the group. India had never won a game in Level I. India lost to the Big Four by large margins, but it was against Kazakhstan where Garcia led the girls to make history. They defeated Kazakhstan in an overtime thriller to win their first ever Level I game, and then defeated Malaysia in a Level I playoff game to finish at a best-ever fifth place finish.

I caught up with Coach Garcia recently for a candid interview as he reflected on the achievement of his team, shares some of his experiences in India, and looks forward to the future.

Hoopistani: Congrats on the historic 5th place finish in Bangkok. Honestly - was the team surprised at their achievement?

Garcia: Thanks, but as I always say, the coaches are here to help the team and not to act as the heroes. We must try not to disturb the team on and off the court. The real stars of the movie are the players. At the end they worked hard on court and they deserved this performance. I wouldn't say I was surprised, but yes, I was very pleased for the achievement. They know very well all the problems we faced and the short time we had to prepare for this championship. So in that sense, it is a really happy moment.

Hoopistani: How did you celebrate?

Garcia: I'm not a man of big celebrations. I know for India that this is an important achievement. So just knowing that was celebration enough.

Being in Level I, you played only the best teams in Asia. Which team was the toughest challenge?

Garcia: In my view I would say Japan [who were the eventual champions] were the best team. They played very dynamic basketball and had good balance on their side.

Hoopistani: After all the practice and preparation for this tournament, once you got to Thailand, did you have to make any drastic or unexpected change in your tactics?

Garcia: We had the injury of Akanksha Singh one week before the championship, so we had to re-adjust some things in the team. The most important thing was that the roles in the team were well defined and especially, that these roles were accepted by the players.

Hoopistani: Unlike previous years - where India relied mostly on Geethu Anna Jose - this year's team used a slightly more balanced offense (even though Geethu was still the highest scorer). Was this always the plan?

Garcia: I believe that in basketball teams must have balance in the inside and outside game. You are not gonna win by only shooting 3 pointers and neither will you do it playing just close to the basket. The game has moments where your advantage can be inside or outside, and we must be able to read that advantage.

Hoopistani: Which player surprised you most with her performance in Bangkok?

Garcia: I think the key was that we worked as a team, so each player had her moment in the games. All of them were important. Some in defense, some in shooting, and some in rebounding... It was a successful mix.

Hoopistani: How were you able to make sure that the girls don't let their head down after losing the first 4 games by a large margin.

Garcia: This group is mentally tough. We had some big losses in the important games, but they knew to come back strong in the next one. It was very important that they had in mind that our championship really started against Kazakhstan, and other games were there to prepare us for those two last matches.

Hoopistani: The game against Kazakhstan was a classic. You took a big lead, Kazakhstan came back, and the game went to overtime, where India took charge again. What was your favourite memory from that game?

Garcia: Without doubt it was seeing the girls' happiness at the end as they hugged each other on the court. At the end it is their achievement and they fought for it with their hustle and winner's mentality, especially after all the problems we faced in the game.

Hoopistani: How did it feel when the game ended and you had finally led India to their 1st ever Preliminary Round victory?

Garcia: It's always a special feeling when you make history in a country. So we felt really proud for some time. We could not forget that the championship was not over and the game against Malaysia was looming. If we lost that game then nothing we did against Kazakhstan would've counted

Hoopistani: Looking ahead, who do you think will replace the hole in the middle if and when Geethu finally moves on from the national team?

Garcia: Looking at the future, I think this country must put the focus on working hard continously with the younger kids, because they are future. People are needed here [in India] who work for basketball and leave aside their power hunger and their egos. When you work for your country and the national team, you must put your ego towards the country and the team's service. Not the opposite. Better investment in players is needed. India are number 5 in Asia, and believe me, many countries would love to be in that position, especially the ones with professional leagues. A professional league is urgently needed in India, plus they need to have exposure trips for players to get some more experience. The biggest mistake now after this achievement would be to be content and not to put in the right tools to keep growing.

Hoopistani: How has your experience been so far, working in India

Garcia: It's been pretty interesting. We've had no problems on the court. The girls have been open to all the things I have been explaining. But there were some selection problems in trying to construct the team. I just think that we should have more unity in the selection process.

Hoopistani: How long will you be in India?

Garcia: I have contract until June 2015, but after June 2014 I can re-negotiate. Right now, we're trying to build a good programme here. If things go the right way, I have no problem staying here longer. For now, I am here, and we need to make some progress in basketball.

Hoopistani: Do you think India can break into Asia's big four - China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea? If so, how can they do it?

Garcia: In these countries basketball is the first or the second sport, so it is not easy to get close to them. Professional leagues, proper training, better facilities... If you want to get closer to the big four, you must build a reasonable working line from the grassroots with the goal of preparing players for the senior team. Obviously, many things must change. In general, unfortunately, basketball on court is secondary in India. In my stay here I have been quite disappointed with some mentalities at the human and professional level. So if you want to grow you first need the unity to work properly and clear the mind to focus on basketball.

Hoopistani: Off the court, have you had any interesting experiences in India so far?

Garcia: Well for me, on the first day I was here, I saw people eating food with their hands, and I was a little shocked! Now, after five months, I find myself doing it too, and I'm getting used to it.

Hoopistani: So what Indian food do you like?

Garcia: I really like to eat biryani, Chicken Tikka Masala, and Gulab Jamun. And whenever I need the urge to eat food from my home country, I have found a Spanish restaurant in New Delhi which I have tried a few times.

November 20, 2013

140 PE teachers attend NBA's Train the Trainers Programme in Kerala

A little over a month ago, the NBA and Reliance Foundation announced a multiyear partnership to launch a comprehensive school-based youth basketball strategy for India: the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme. As part of this programme, a three-day workshop was held at the Rajagiri School in Kalamassery, Kerala, which was attended by 140 Physical Education teachers from around the state.

The PE Teachers were trained by Troy Justice, Senior Director Operations International of NBA in India, along with Australian coach Adrain Newell.

The first year of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Programme in Kerala will operate in more than 100 schools in the districts of Ernakululum, Kottayam, Alappuzha, and parts of Thrissur and Pathanamthitta from Nov 20th to January 8th. 5 international coaches have been recruited for this programme by the NBA and Reliance. Along with them, assistant coaches recruited locally and the trained PE teachers will conduct daily basketball-led physical education classes for grades 4-10 in their schools.

In addition to the in-school portion, select schools will make their courts available four days per week for after-school basketball programsmes comprised of more advanced training and individual skills and team-based competitions. These will include 3x3 and 5x5 competitions, and the top players and teams from each school will be selected to compete in a citywide competition.

A Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Hot Shot Competition will identify the best shooters in each school to compete in a citywide championship at the end of the program. Kerala for the first time will have the chance to see an NBA or WNBA legend at the end of the programme to work with players and coaches.

November 19, 2013

Indian coach Paramdeep Singh participated in NBA's coaches training workshop in Orlando again

For the second time, 34-year-old Indian Basketball coach Paramdeep Singh took part in the NBA's coaches training workshop, organized from November 3-9 in Orlando, Florida, in the USA. Singh was the only Indian coach in the small contingent of coaches - mainly from China - invited to this workshop. This was his second time participating in this workshop, after being invited to the NBA's training sessions in Texas back in 2011.

Singh is currently associated as an assistant coach with India's U18, U16, and U14 teams.

Upon his return to India, Singh spoke to Hindustan Times recently, where he discussed his selection and hopes of a bright future for Indian basketball.
"My selection came as a surprise to me and it was an honour also as no Indian coach has ever been selected for this training workshop. Observers from the NBA were present at the Mumbai workshop, which was organised by the Indian chapter of NBA in 2011, when they spotted me and selected me for the prestigious workshop in US."

Paramdeep, who is working as an inspector with BSF, shared with HT his dream for encouraging young talent to opt for this game. "We aim to spot young talent and train them for future by using techniques and methodologies being used in US and European countries. We are also getting renowned industrial houses as sponsors. With stuff available with us, we can hope that the future of the sport is bright," he said.

November 18, 2013

The Cult of Kobe: In China, the Lakers' Superstar is more myth than man

“Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!”

The referee called foul and the player stepped on to the free-throw line. The chant broke out from the majority of 17,000 NBA devotees packed inside the MasterCard Center in Beijing, China, watching the Lakers play the Warriors in the first of their two pre-season exhibition games in the country, on October 15th. Fans had flocked the arena in jerseys and presumed allegiances to both teams, but when it came down to it, attendees in both Laker and Warrior jerseys started chanting Kobe’s name.

The only problem was, Kobe wasn’t the player shooting the free throws. He wasn’t even on court. He wasn’t dressed for the game at all. He sat on the bench amongst the assistant coaches in a business suit, still nursing his healing Achilles tendon. The chants continued nevertheless, in a vain attempt to perhaps see him change into Laker gear and step on court, or simply acknowledge their existence, or maybe just see his face flashed once more on the jumbotron.

The chants continue, whether it’s Pau Gasol or David Lee or Stephen Curry or Steve Blake on the free throw line. They continue during the timeout, they continue at the halftime break, and they continue well after the game ends and the players exit to the locker rooms.

Outside the arena, following a 100-95 Warriors win, Beijing briefly turns into bizzaro Downtown LA. Kobe jerseys, T-shirts, hats, mouse pads, iPhone covers, bags, scarves, and pretty much anything else that could possibly be merchandized are being hawked. The subways are full of fans of all ages in Kobe jerseys. The NBA may have held the game at a neutral venue, but with the Mamba on deck, the Lakers were  always going to be the home team.

Such is the impact in China of the cult of Kobe. While Bryant has collected championship rings, All Star accolades, an MVP award, and legendary status back home in America over the course of his 17-year-career, he has also been able to cultivate a unique following in the world’s most populous country. In China, Kobe has developed into more than a man. He’s a myth. He’s spoken of in reverence, and alluded to like a demi-god.

There was that time when he dunked on the Great Wall of China.

The time when he scored 68 points in 15 minutes at a celebrity game.

There is that statue of him in the city of Guangzhou.

There was the time when he had 15,000 fans waiting for him at a venue at 9 in the morning, in line for his scheduled appearance at 4 in the afternoon.

And the time when the Asia Society celebrated him as a Cultural Ambassador to China and others referred to him as a “one-man State department, reaching directly to the people.” 

For a country that has long thrived on the socialist philosophies of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, China have a complicated history with personality cults, starting with the Supreme Commander himself. With changing times, a new type of celebrity obsession has hit the Chinese youth, and everyone from Rihanna to Justin Bieber to David Beckham draw colossal numbers of screaming fans with their every move.

Basketball has long been one of the favourite sports, and with the success of Yao Ming, the NBA has become by far the most popular sporting league in China. Yao is considered one of the country’s greatest ambassadors and is a role model for many, but now that he’s settled back in China, his presence isn’t as novel as it once used to be. Amongst current NBA-ers, LeBron James has dominated Chinese social media (renren, sina weibo, tencent weibo, youko, etc.) more than any other Western celebrity over the past year. Tracy McGrady attracted big crowds in every Chinese small town where he CBA team visited last season, and was even welcomed by 2,000 screaming fans when he first landed at the Qingdao airport. Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, and of course, Jeremy Lin are a big deal here, too.

But nothing matches the strange and wonderful veneration of Kobe. It started in the last 90s, when a young Kobe began to host basketball camps around China. The mainstream popularity of the NBA in the country synchronized with the Shaq-Kobe three-peat, and by the time Yao became an NBA mainstay superstar, Kobe was hitting game-winners on the regular and scoring in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 80s.

By the time he had won his fifth championship, the legend of Kobe in China was sealed. Mamba was visiting the country nearly every off-season and visiting smaller off-beat towns to get closer to more and more hardcore fans. He was part of the US Olympic Basketball squad that won the 2008 gold medal in Beijing, and in front of the crowd at the same MasterCard center, it was Kobe that memorably stepped up as the brightest star in a team full of superstars to defeat Spain in the Final. On the side, he became involved with charity projects and set up the Kobe Bryant China Fund, which ended up raising millions to help those affected by natural disasters in the country.

Judy Seto, a trusted physical therapist of Bryant, reveals many of the strangest stories about Kobe’s popularity in China, and she adds that, “He’s made an effort to cultivate that relationship [with China] every year. And it’s not just, ‘Let me make this stop at this store.’ It’s, ‘Let me hold this clinic to work with some of the kids and spend some time with them. Let me understand what this city has in terms of culture or the main manufacturing or what’s the main draw.’”

Before the Lakers-Warriors exhibition in Beijing, NBA Commissioner David Stern tried to explain the Kobe phenomenon in China. “Well first of all, he’s playing for the Lakers,” Stern said, “He’s been playing for a very long time, as viewership and interest in our game has grown dramatically. And he has come to this country quite often and understands what it is to cultivate a fan base which totally understands that he has, shall I say, the heart of a champion. His Chinese fans totally expect him, beyond all odds, to make a full recovery from his injury because they have come to have enormous confidence in his ability and his determination. I think that’s because he’s shown the ability and determination at different stages of his career to win, to play at his highest and to elevate his teammates.”

Bryant, however, slightly deflects the answer from himself when speaking on his own popularity. "If you go back to the States, fans have gone through this progression of hero marketing,” he told Mike Bresnahan of LA Times, “They kind of lived through that in the '80s with Michael [Jordan] and Magic [Johnson] and having the fanaticism of fans. With so many [U.S.] media outlets, I think it's evolved to something beyond that, where we're a little bit more desensitized by celebrities. Out here, not so much. It's something that's kind of relatively new.”

In recent years, the two championships for the Miami Heat, coupled with the forgettable years for the Lakers, have boosted LeBron’s popularity amongst the newer, younger NBA fans, many of whom are more active on Chinese social media. China likes winners, and yet, despite the fact that Kobe’s last meaningful playoff game came over three years ago, fans have remained loyal to him. Regardless of the problems of the present – the injury, the age, and the declining roster – the Myth of Kobe is secured. “China likes him because he is always working so hard, and he always wants to win,” describes Sun Yimeng, an editor and writer for SLAM China and one of the most famous Kobe fans in China, “I have seen grown men crying in his presence because he inspires them so much.” She also tells the story of a fan – one of many – who bought a Mercedes-Benz ‘Smart Car’ simply to put his name into a lottery of those (in the thousands) with a chance to meet Kobe. “Luckily for him,” she adds, “He won!”

The love for Kobe reached its peak in the player’s darkest on-court moment. When Kobe went down with the Achilles injury to the Warriors at the end of last season, Weibo – China’s version of Twitter – erupted with good-will messages for Bryant. Kobe, who has over 2.3 million followers on Weibo, posted a photograph of himself preparing for surgery on his account. Within 24 hours, the photo had accumulated 45,000 comments and forwarded over 70,000 times. ‘Pray for Kobe’ and ‘God Bless Kobe’ became amongst the most popular trending topics in the country, and fans didn’t hold back with their emotional outpouring of their favourite Kobe memories, their wishes, and their determination to believe that Bryant would be back to his best again. (Jason Q. Ng compiled a fascinating, long list of Weibo comments for Kobe post his injury).

Outside the borders of Mainland China, down to Hong Kong, eastwards to Taiwan, and then around in other Asian nations who are slowly falling deeper in love with the NBA, the Kobe mania continues. In Taiwan, Kobe is in commercials with the country’s most popular entertainer Jay Chou. In the Philippines, the crowd at the recent Rockets-Pacers exhibition game chanted Kobe’s name at his former Laker teammate Dwight Howard. In India, where basketball is still a minor sport, fans on Facebook ran a petition to try and get Kobe to visit the country.

While Kobe – and LeBron, too – are the dominant NBA personalities amongst most of China and Asia in the present, there is a special place still saved for the man who was once bigger than the sport of basketball itself. In China, legions of followers still swear by the gospel of Michael Jordan, and to many of Asia, interest in the NBA is still stuck in a 90s time-warp. According to the Financial Review, back in 1992 during MJ’s heyday, a survey taken by students in China revealed that Jordan was considered the most influential person of the twentieth century.

Jordan made way for Iverson, Iverson for Yao and McGrady, and then, to the new era of LeBron, with Rose and Durant and others. And then there’s Kobe, who has survived all the post-Jordan eras and maintained his popularity and relevance in world basketball.

“Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!”

The venue now is Shanghai, and it’s the second of two China preseason games on October 18th at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. A loud cheer greets Shanghai’s proudest son – Yao Ming – who waved at the fans in attendance. An even louder cheer was saved for Kobe Bryant, who via Philadelphia to Italy to Los Angeles become a legend to a country of hundreds of millions of basketball fans.

Bryant didn’t play in either game in China. The Lakers lost both games. But it didn’t matter. Fans screamed. Fans cried. He was mobbed everywhere he went. Some got to see him in person. Some saw on him on the jumbotron. Some watched him with pride on the Television, excited that he was back in their country. And others sent him messages online.

The chants never stopped. And the cult of Kobe continued.

November 17, 2013

Kolkata tips off their edition of BFI IMG Reliance School League

The 2013-14 BFI-IMG Reliance School League tipped off in Kolkata on Saturday, November 16th, with a grand opening ceremony at the West Bengal Basketball Association Grounds. On the largest year of the School Basketball League's in India which aims to oversee tournaments in eight cities over two months, the league in Kolkata has followed on the heels of league's already tipping off in Ludhiana, Hyderabad, and Delhi over the past few weeks.

The School League in Kolkata was inaugurated by by MP & Arjuna awardee Prasun Banerjee and Guest of Honour Ajit Banerjee, the president of the Bengal Olympic Association. DPS (Megacity) and La Martinerie will be defending their title this year in the Boys' and Girls' categories, respectively.

Participating Teams


Group A: DPS (Megacity), South Point, St. Anthony, La Martinerie, National Gems.
Group B: Khalsa High School, Chetla Boys School, Bharatiya Bidya Bhavan, Nalanda Vidyapeeth, Khalsa English High School.


Group A: La Martinerie, Chetla Girls School, Loreto Eliot, Loreto House, Rashmoni Balika Vidyayala.
Group B: Sushila Birla School, Nalanda Vidyapeeth, Calcutta Intenrational School, Calcutta Girls School, Modern High School.