The day Indian basketball went viral

On 13th July, #indiabasketball made history when our players beat China in China, a feat that is happening after 80 years. Why don’t we talk about it?


Does India even have a basketball team? Aren’t we too short for it? Don’t we lack the genetics to succeed in such a high energy sport?

Over the last week or so, misinformed questions like these changed to:

Did you know that the 61st ranked Indian basketball team beat 12th ranked China? Did you know that the Indian men’s hoops squad is collectively called the ‘Young Cagers’? Did you know that many other sports are growing by leaps and bounds in India?

That’s quite a wide knowledge leap from ignorance to expertise.

An Indian Team Huddle. Pic: Chawn Hoffert Flemming

An Indian Team Huddle. Pic: Chawn Hoffert Flemming

Why this win was a turning point for us

On July 13th 2014, our national men’s basketball team were up against hosts China in the 5th FIBA Asia Cup 2014 that was being held in Wuhan. Coming into this match against Asia’s highest ranked team, India’s preparations were far from ideal. The team was to play exposure games prior to the tournament, which were allegedly cancelled by the Basketball Federation of India a day before the team’s scheduled departure date. So, India landed in China to directly play an elite international tournament after a competitive gap of over two months.

The lack of match preparedness showed in the opening game against Japan—a jittery India kept turning the ball over to fall tamely to a 52-75 loss.

India’s next game being against a much stronger China side, the few thousand basketball fans back in India following this tournament were already fretting an even bigger drubbing. Once the match tipped off, surprisingly, India led by more than double digits (24-11) at the end of the first quarter, thanks to their pestering man to man defense. China though, mounted a ferocious comeback in the next two, to lead 50-48 at the end of the third period.  

The final ten minutes of play saw India make a sensational late charge with guard Pratham Singh knocking down high pressure three pointers and forward Amjyot Singh sealing the match with an NBA style highlight alley-oop dunk that had the entire Indian bench jumping up and down, shrieking at the top of their lungs and throwing towels in the air.

Amjyot Singh’s alley-oop dunk:

#indiabasketball was trending the whole of last week on Twitter and Facebook. Celebrities across the board suddenly awakened to basketball in India. “Anand Mahindra, Sidin Vadukut, and Farhan Akhtar were all tweeting about it. This has never happened before,” says Karan Madhok, the only Indian basketball reporter at the venue.

#indiabasketball was trending on twitter last week with celebrities waking up to our win.

#indiabasketball was trending on twitter last week with celebrities waking up to our win.

Comparison with China

Our country rarely does better than China in any field of activity, from manufacturing to sports to defence. Just last year Chinese troops reportedly intruded into India and camped in Arunachal Pradesh undetected for over two days. The reality of Indian basketball is at odds with China. Unlike in India, where basketball has remained a fringe sport, in China, it is a huge draw. The Chinese have their own domestic basketball league similar to the IPL in India. As many as six Chinese players have already played in the National Basketball Association (NBA), the globally renowned American basketball league (which is synonymous with basketball itself).

In the absence of a domestic league, our basketball players (even the ones who represent India internationally) are in reality ‘semi-professionals’ with day jobs at public sector companies that takes care of their livelihood. Most of them come from middle or lower middle class backgrounds, often from small towns and villages. Basketball is a glamorous sport at the level of schools and colleges, but ‘adult’ basketball is considered unattractive.

The team at a celebratory dinner. Pic: Chawn Hoffert Flemming.

The team at a celebratory dinner. Pic: Chawn Hoffert Flemming.

How did we do it?

The current Indian men’s team has three players from the Indian Overseas Bank, four from ONGC, two from the Indian Air Force, one from the Railways, one from Income Tax and one just out of college. One of the main factors that distinguish this side from those in the past is that the ‘core’ is very young. The entire squad, barring three players, are under the age of 25. India’s Captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi is in fact just 23 years old and has already represented the senior national team for over six years, making his debut at the age of 17. Unlike in the past where our players were bogged down by the weight of prior failures, these post liberalisation boys are more of the mould of “why not us?” So what if India has never beaten China before?

Tip offs. Pic: Chawn Hoffert Flemming.

Tip offs. Pic: Chawn Hoffert Flemming.

Coupled with this fearlessness, what was also on display in the match against China was a never-before-seen level of athleticism. Across sports, throughout history, from the days of Vijay Amritraj tiring in fifth sets, to our ‘men in blue’ getting outfielded by South Africa and Australia, we Indians have matched opponents in skill and will but rarely in physicality. “If you don’t work out then where will you get the energy to play a high intensity contact sport like basketball?” says Pratham Singh, one of India’s star performers in the final stretch against China

Indian basketballers only attract stares for their height. Maybe they’ll now be recognised for their skills too.

Watch the full match here.

Also read: Amritpal, Indian Basketball’s Cinderella Man


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lawyer by degree. Independent writer by profession, with a soft spot for stories on Indian basketball. Co-creator of ekalavyas.com, India’s first and only basketball news website. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lawyer by degree. Independent writer by profession, with a soft spot for stories on Indian basketball. Co-creator of ekalavyas.com, India’s first and only basketball news website. more

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