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Thanksgiving, Indian basketball team, Asiads and Afghanistan

Take a team of players from all over the country, not all of whom have a common first language or background. Now throw in a coach from USA and give him the assignment to bring the team up to speed in a couple of months. This sounds like a plot for a culture shock-comedy movie. With the coach being played by a gora who doesn’t speak Hindi and half of his players being under 23, it does have some elements of a promising funny feature film. Although the players won’t see the funny side of it.

If you were in their shoes, you wouldn’t be laughing either. Laughter does not come easy when you are out of breath to the point of collapse from running sprints across the court. The team is working on man to man defense, for which it’s important to be in prime physical condition. Hence the sprints. After a couple of rounds, their jerseys get damp with sweat and start to weigh down a bit. But that weight is feather light compared to the weight of the expectations of a country of a billion people, which these youngsters carry with them. The captain himself is 19 years old. The team was the youngest at the Asiads (23 years avg).

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Asian Games qualifier: India vs Afghanistan

Indian Men’s team beat Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago. The next day I excitedly opened my morning paper, hoping to see a glowing article about that win. I kept searching, thinking maybe it has been crammed in somewhere. It wasn’t, not even a footnote. There is a section of people here that follow Indian basketball closely; to them that win was a sort of revenge game as India had been beaten by Afghanistan earlier this year in the SAF. Also, Jagdeep Singh, who had missed some lay ups in the last few minutes of the SAF final, redeemed himself in this game. He had a game high 22 points on 9/12 shooting, to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 steals.

Earlier, in international news, there were a couple of articles about the gritty underdogs, Afghanistan. After India defeated them, I hoped to read something along the lines of how the Indian team vanquished their demons of the SAF games; I thought that finally there will be some international acknowledgment of the team. There was a mention, the next article read “Afghan campaign cut short, but message delivered”.

Its heads I win, tails you lose.

There is a rich irony here. The team’s wins are going to be overlooked by the general media, and the losses are going to be hailed as an example of why basketball as a sport in India isn’t going to flourish. Basketball in India hasn’t really been shown in a glowing light.

An excerpt from the ‘message delivered’ article:“It was an emotional finish for the squads with a growing rivalry. As the final buzzer sounded, several Indian players ripped off their jerseys and started jumping up and down in front of the Afghan bench setting off a round of shoving. A water bottle flew from the Afghan delegation section behind the bench toward a scrum of Indian players”

This reminds me of the story about the sailor with an impeccable record, who was drunk one night, and his captain reported it in his log. The sailor urged the captain to add mention that it just happened once; the captain refused and insisted that he had just stated a fact. Later the sailor entered a log that the captain was sober today, thus implying that the captain was tight every other night.

A half told story can give false impressions.

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India vs Afghanistan SAF Games

The excerpt from the article paints the Indian players’ actions as aggressive and untoward. There is a part of the story left out. Going back to the SAF games, I spoke to another writer, the coach, he said that it’s surprising that they took their jerseys off and jumped up and down in front of the Afghan players, because that almost unsportsmanlike. But it’s probably a result of the last time they played in the SAF games finals, when Afghanistan won and stormed the floor and celebrated after the game.

I looked up a video of that match. This is how it went down: with 4 seconds left, and India inbounding the ball from its end, an Afghan player stole the ball at half court. I don’t know if India were in the penalty or had any timeouts remaining, but as no Indian player moved to foul the ball handler I assume that neither was the case.

As I read it, the scenario was: Afghanistan stole the ball, they have possession with a 1 point lead, and the game is over from the Indian side. Rather than run the clock down, one of the Afghan players drove in and dunked the ball, the time had expired and the basket didn’t count. After that, some players from the Afghan team went over to the India bench and taunted the Indian team. Afghanistan beat India by a point.

This SAF Games anecdote is not to condone/condemn either team’s actions. It’s just to fill in the part of the story left out, and show that our team was provoked before, so if our players returned the favour in this Asian Games, it wasn’t unwarranted.

Emotions run high in competitive matches. LeBron is said to have shouted at his mom to sit her ‘butt’ down, when she was arguing with an opponent. And who can forget the ‘Malice at the Palace’. I could go on for a while on this theme. Everyone rubs their wins in their rival’s faces. Rivalries make games interesting, and we shouldn’t make too much of it. But the complete picture ought to be shown.

Here’s the video: India vs Afghanistan SAF final

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Indian Men’s performance at the Asian Games:

Here are some positives to take from these games from the performance of some of the players:

Note how two of our players gave their best against Iran. They helped us stay toe to toe with the same Iran team which had given the USA problems in the World Championships earlier this year.

A look at the team roster

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Motivation-Hygiene Theory (I know, bear with me, it’ll make sense)

There is a theory of Motivation Hygiene in business studies; the gist of it is that there are two sets of factors which invoke feelings of motivation.- One towards whose absence we are indifferent, but we’d like it if it were present. (motivation factor)- The other whose presence won’t give any motivation but its absence is a negative motivating factor. (hygiene factor)

Our team’s performance is seen as a hygiene factor, it should be the opposite. I’ll explain the connotation with a business example, followed by the related basketball team analogy.

Hygiene factor:

Example:- A roof on the office building doesn’t motivate anyone to work. But take the roof off and it causes discomfit.

The way our team is perceived:- Our team holding it’s own with superior competition is nothing to laud. But their losses are going to be taken as an affront and held up as a blow to Indian basketball.

Motivation factor:

Example:- A new vending machine boosts morale, but not buying a vending machine won’t decrease moral, the purchase is seen as a sort of bonus.

The way our team ought to be perceived:- As a country, our players owe it to us to give their best and do everything they can to get better. We in turn, owe them our support. We’ll take the wins (vending machines) as they come; as long as they give 100% effort, as fans we should be behind them. And if the wins aren’t there, no matter, it’ll come in time.

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I know that the only stats that matter in the end are wins and losses. The point here is not to accept bad performance. We may have lost at the Asian games, but we had not played in them for the last two decades, and we did put up a fight. I’m not suggesting that the players are above criticism. Only, it’d be nice to have some more loyalty and pride towards the team. After all, it’s Thanksgiving, a time to be thankful.

Disclaimer:I’ve read that the team were working on man to man defense. I’m assuming they ran sprints with sweat laden jerseys. I haven’t actually seen them perspire in the manner described.

Edited by Staff Editor
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