Tale of two halves: 10 Most defining moments in Indian basketball from 2010 to 2019

Amjyot Singh finishes a dunk during India's match against Japan in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship
Amjyot Singh finishes a dunk during India's match against Japan in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship

Sports comes with its own in-built storytelling format- underdogs, heavyweights, individual falls from grace and stirring moments of redemption. And while storytelling in the traditional sense follows a three-act format, sports like football and basketball adhere more to the tale of two halves. (Yes I know basketball follows a four-quarter format, but grant me some literary license here!)

Indian basketball over the last decade has had its own shares of highs and lows. After a dominant first half where India's basketball scene looked set to lay a strong foundation for the future growth of the sport in India, the latter half of the decade largely saw us slide back into age-old mediocrity.

We count down the top 10 defining moments in Indian basketball between 2010-19:

A dominant first half...

2010: BFI-IMG Reliance Deal

Amid great fanfare, the late BFI chief Harish Sharma signed a 30-year deal with sports conglomerate IMG-Reliance, which granted the latter, the commercial rights to launch Pro Basketball Leagues in India.

One of the earliest consequences of the BFI-IMG Reliance deal was the decision to send eight budding basketball players – four boys and four girls – on a full scholarship to train at the world-class IMG Academy in Florida.

What's significant about this? One of those eight budding players was none other than a 14-year-old Satnam Singh - who would go on to become the first Indian national drafted in the NBA.

Sadly, the BFI IMG-Reliance would remain a paper deal, as a faction fight between two rival factions of the BFI vying for power in 2015, led to the freezing of funds by IMG-Reliance that continues to this day.

2011: Geethu Anna Rahul’s WNBA tryouts

3rd Asian Beach Games: Beach Basketball Day 3
3rd Asian Beach Games: Beach Basketball Day 3

Kerala's 6'2 Geethu Anna Rahul (back then known as Geethu Anna Jose) was already dominating in the Asian Championships as one of its top scorers when she got invited to tryout with three WNBA teams.

Geethu's tryout invitations were the first time any Indian national – male or female – had ever been invited to tryout with the NBA/WNBA. Sadly, Geethu wasn't able to make the cut, but her achievement firmly put the talent of Indian basketball players on the international map.

2014: India beats China

Termed the 'Wonder of Wuhan', an upcoming Indian men's team featuring dynamic superstars like Amjyot Singh, Amritpal Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi registered a historic maiden victory over China at the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup. What made the victory sweeter is that it came in Wuhan right in front of the Chinese home crowd.

2015: Satnam Singh gets drafted in the NBA

Basketball - Commonwealth Games Day 3
Basketball - Commonwealth Games Day 3

Within five years of getting selected for the IMG Academy Scholarship, the now 20-year-old 7'2 Punjabi lad hit national and international headlines by becoming the first Indian national to get drafted in the NBA. Drafted by the Dallas Mavericks as the 52nd pick in the second round, Singh was quickly touted as India's Yao Ming.

But the basketball familiar audience knew Singh was still very much a work-in-progress. After two years of getting limited minutes with the Mavericks' minor league affiliate, Texas Legends, in the NBA Development League, a dejected Singh had to return to India. A year later, he would be back to North America to compete in Canada's National Basketball League (NBL) for the 2018-19 season.

2017: Amjyot Singh plays for NBA G League

Just as Satnam was falling away from prominence, another Sardar from Punjab, then 25-year-old Amjyot Singh established himself as India's most exciting prospect by getting drafted by NBA G League (earlier known as D League) team Oklahoma City Blue. After a season with OKC Blue, Singh played for another G League team Wisconsin Herd in the 2018-19 season. Singh is now back in India and it remains to be seen what the future holds for him.

A disappointing second half...

2017 (November): India's shocking loss to Syria

After the individual and team milestones between 2010-17, from the latter part of 2017 onwards Indian basketball started witnessing a steep decline. The Indian men's team began their FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers in November 2017 with a loss to Lebanon, followed by a shocking home upset to minnows Syria.

In the next window of games in February 2018, matters turned for the worse when India's two starters Amritpal and Amjyot, despite being present at the venue, did not step out on the floor. When questioned, BFI offered contrasting and questionable explanations for their absence. Either way, their contributions were sorely missed as India lost its two home games and fell 0-4 in the Asian Qualifiers.

2018 (Early June): Player bans on Palpreet and Amjyot

By this time, the high handedness of the Basketball Federation of India was becoming increasingly evident, as India's only two players to get drafted directly into the NBA G League – Palpreet Singh and Amjyot Singh – both got handed controversial one-year bans on flimsy reasons.

Amjyot's absence, in particular, would come to be immediately felt in the latter windows of India's Asian Qualifiers campaign. Facing a must-win situation in order to stay alive in the Asian Qualifiers, India finished winless across all its six games to get knocked out of the competition in the first round itself.

2019 (October): Historic NBA India Games

A big bright spot in an otherwise disappointing last few years of of the decade was the conduct of India's first-ever NBA Games. Two back to back encounters between Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers in Mumbai saw sell-out crowds and finally ushered in an era of live NBA basketball in India.

2019 (November): Roadside player brawl

While between 2017-19, India's women's team managed to return to Asia-Oceania's elite Division A only to get relegated back to Division B, the already declining fortunes of the Indian men's team saw matters take an ugly turn for the worse.

Earlier this November, a roadside brawl broke out between some of India's leading players during a camp in Bengaluru that raised more questions than it answered. A committee has been formed by BFI to decide on the fate of the players involved and it remains to be seen what action will be taken against the three players involved.

2019 (December): Satnam fails dope test

A few days ago, just as the decade winds down, another bombshell hit in the form of Satnam Singh failing a NADA dope test. Singh has claimed innocence, but if found guilty, he could face a maximum ban of four years.

From far-reaching commercial deals at the start of the decade that promised to revolutionize basketball, faction fights that froze essential funding and derailed the sport, rebel leagues that drew the ire of our National Basketball Federation (BFI), individual milestones that put Indian basketball talent on the world map, the successful conduct of a historic NBA India Games, to failed dope tests and brawls, 21st century's second decade was a topsy turvy mixed bag of stupendous successes and demoralizing failures.

One can only wonder what's in store for Indian basketball in the third decade of the new millennium!

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Edited by Raunak J
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