June 06, 2014

A major newsworthy event outside of the Commonwealth Games happened in Indian sport this month and it took place in the sport of Basketball. China may have effectively destroyed most arguments that our economy would grow faster than theirs over the last 10 years, but we negated the pain of all those billions lost on a wonderful evening in Wuhan as India beating the hosts in basketball game 65-58!* As an Indian sports fan more used to seeing my teams losing to those we should beat, it was refreshing news to see us beat a team ranked 50 spots above us in the rankings, especially considering the sport.

You see, while basketball at its essence is a relatively simple game to learn - toss a ball through a hoop 10 feet high - it requires extreme physical ability to play at an exceptionally high level. The greatest players in basketball have been supreme athletes who would have physically dominated any sport they played. One look at Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant or Lebron James in either street clothes or their jerseys and you know that they have been built to play sport. It is no coincidence either that they all play basketball, a sport that undoubtedly favours physical dominance as the taller, stronger, faster you are the greater your chances of success as a professional basketballer are.

Unlike sports such as football, cricket, tennis where the greatest players such as Lionel Messi, Sachin Tendulkar or Roger Federer could easily disguise themselves as bankers or accountants (ok maybe not accountants) , great basketball players would look more at home in the Avatar future rather than the boring 21st century Earth, their physical prowess clearly apparent to every human, animal and alien life-form that dared cross their path. Keep that picture in mind now while you now assess the average Indian male who is approximately 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a well defined turnip-shaped shadow following him during his exhausting forays from the car park to his house or office. Finding 12 men therefore to represent our country in basketball, even though we have a fair few men to choose from, is no easy task and it is why we have been more successful in virtually every sport from hockey to boxing to shooting to golf than we have in basketball.

Now before you say, "Hang on we only beat China - we didn't beat the Americans" , please consider the greatest Chinese basketball player of all-time was a man named Yao Ming who stood 7 feet 6 inches tall and made 94 million dollars playing basketball before he retired when his body couldn't handle the rigours of basketball at the age of just 31. China has produced 5 NBA level players - the closest an Indian has got to the NBA in over half a century of its existence was actually last month when Sim Bhullar* was drafted by the Sacramento Kings to play in their Summer League. The Sacramento Kings also happen to be owned by an Indian, Vivek Ranadive, but I am no way suggesting that Mr. Ranadive influenced the stringent recruiting process by favouring a player of Indian origin.* Unfortunately, after Sim Bhullar scored just 2 points in 4 games, it is more likely we see Mr. Ranadive play an NBA game before Sim.

I therefore really think we should make a much bigger deal out of this achievement than we are. We need to make legends out of those 12 men, we need the media to tell us their individual stories, we need to have the game replayed every afternoon on television so that our children can be inspired by it, we need every basketball coach in the country to learn the X's and O's from that victory and we need every sports administrator to look at the tape and believe that their jobs are valuable to our country. We need to change our collective psyche from being surprised at victory to challenging ourselves to learn from it and to expect it. We have already overcome the odds in creating a basketball team that can play against some of the best in the world. Now, we need to develop players who believe they can beat the best in the world. Thanks to China we may have just found some of that belief.

* Not really, but lets dream for a moment.

** He is actually Canadian but we will still claim him.

*** Maybe just a little bit of influence.