Robert Horry’s visit to India was marked with much fanfare and gave an indication of the rapid strides the game was making in the nation. A large number of basketball enthusiasts turned up to catch a glimpse of the legendary forward, who had arrived in the country to promote the NBA 3X version of basketball.
However, within all this euphoria, the NBA star had found reason both to be excited and to regret. The talent on display was exciting and had the scope of being built up into something far more special; maybe to the level that the NBA demands and preaches. But the commitment, the passion and the culture for the sport was far from inspiring.
The scenario for the sport might have seen an improvement in the last decade, but it still hasn’t reached a level of popularity that would see it being considered a premier sport in the nation. Even today the BFI and the players are seen sparring over issues like the non-existence of a competitive league and the absence of proper basketball facilities. But in hindsight everybody knows that these facilities can go only so far in improving the apathy surrounding the sport in today’s date.
What the sport really needs today is the evolution of a basketball culture in the nation. The call is to find the identity of the sport in the country and that can’t be built up in stadiums or inside the gym. The videos on YouTube won’t help develop the same and nor can these be discovered in any coaching manual. As with cricket that derives its identity from the “gully’s” and the streets, the sport of basketball needs to develop from the streets as well. Sachin’s introduction to cricket wasn’t at the Wankhede, it was in the streets where he discovered his love and destiny through many cracked windows and crashed flower pots. And if we ever are to realize the immense potential that the sport has in our nation, the culture of playing basketball on the streets should be encouraged.
The best blueprint on developing an efficient street basketball culture was derived as far back as the year 1950 at 155th Street in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. The park famously known as the Rucker Park gave the lesser privileged masses a chance to explore their talents. The Park in its elite history has seen several greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and the more recent Rafer Alston, grace the green asphalt and use the platform to develop both as basketball players and individuals. Even after their glorified careers were over, these players have openly admitted that the strategies, the coaching and the training in the NBA made them into better players, but the lessons that they learnt on the streets made them into Champions.
In Street basketball, the emphasis is on individual brilliance; be it the cross-overs, or the alley-oop throw-downs. It encourages people to be more creative with the ball, to explore their skill-set further and develop the fortitude and proficiency to execute the most difficult of manoeuvres with ease and confidence. It is an open pantheon where players are encouraged to showcase their repertoire of skills and athletic ability.
The rules aren’t pre-defined and vary from one neighbourhood to another. The players call their own fouls and set their own standards on the level of physicality that will be allowed. Thus there is no scope of flopping; no lousy charges are to be called; just simple and pure basketball. There is no referee that one can complain to, and the only way to survive is to play hard and overcome the obstacles that come in the way, be it physical or mental.
However, not playing by the rule-book has its fallibilities. The players are allowed to get away with many instances of travelling, carrying the ball, using the luxury to take an extra step and revel in the window provided by the uncalled violations. The dicey part of this bargain is that it may so happen that such violations may become an incorrigible part of their game, and in their quest to finish their whimsical moves, players might be digressing to a version of handball rather than basketball.
If one is under the impression that the game on the streets is languid and easy to get by, one can’t be more mistaken. Yes, it is a selfish game, where the onus is onto showcasing one’s brilliance. It is 5 individuals’ v/s 5 individuals, not a contest of two teams. But it sure isn’t a walk in the park. The players involved pride themselves on their defensive ability, to stand up to the expansive tricks being thrown at them and stay toe-to-toe with the offensive player. They play in their own backyard, but even then the stakes are very high. There are no stars and nobody is given an inch. To succeed one has to play real hard; to win one’s respect even harder. The play does get physical and it is in these environments that individuals grow and imbibe the spirit and character of a champion. The same qualities that saw a certain Allen Iverson excel in the NBA. Allen wasn’t the biggest player, often prone to ball-hogging and show-boating. He was a street ball-player and prided himself on that. But he had the heart to win it all, and come clutch time it is that champion in him that surfaced driving his team along with him. The little guy put up many virtuoso clutch performances, dominating bigger guards with his speed and indomitable spirit. A true champion, who played with his heart, because on the streets that is all that you learn.
The concept to promote street basketball is all about creating a platform where people can come and play the game. It is not for the money, nor for the spotlight or the fame, but for the love of the game; to earn the respect of the people who matter. It is about identifying and promoting the game, in places that are easily accessible and arenas that allow every sport lover to play. There is no discrimination based on colour, caste, age or sex differences. In such courts the only thing that qualifies you as a basketball player is your love and passion for the game. Whether you are 55 years old or a juvenile kid, a mother of two or a teenage girl, it doesn’t matter. A similar structure exits for cricket, but for the discrimination based on sex, and one can hope to go a step higher and eliminate even that in basketball.
The Chinese have adapted the blueprint of streetball, and so have the other Asian power-houses like South Korea. Street basketball in the form of 3v3 has also been adapted by FIBA and is all set to make its debut on the Olympics stage in Rio. So, for all the fundamentalists who consider it nothing but a rabble rousers game, it is time to re-evaluate their prejudiced thoughts.
Many basketball enthusiasts in India have their hopes pinned on Satnam Singh making it to the NBA. Whether he does succeed or not, it is acrimonious on our end to place an entire nation’s hopes on a teenager. The minimum that we can do is to ensure that we evolve and develop the sport to an extent that his contribution makes a difference. Why wait for him to inspire us to follow our dreams.
The time is ripe for us to make a mark on the basketball scene. Pushed and dismissed as a minority sport, the only way to redemption is from the grass-roots. It is time to populate the neighborhood courts’ donning your shiny sneakers, sporting the jerseys of your favourite stars. Let the motivation be to enjoy the game, to love it for what it means, not for the opportunity that it can serve.
There will be no spotlight, so there won’t be any inhibition either. Just a few blokes, who share a common love for the sport and crave for an opportunity to play the game in the way they like. And it is our chance to break some ankles with the cross-over, bamboozle everyone using the teleporter and the Red Sea. In USA, almost every single street corner, every isolated driveway has been populated by hoopsters of the neighbourhood. We still don’t have the resources, but we do have enough courts to get the ball rolling.