Yesterday, reliable sources dropped the bombshell news that Amjyot Singh, the most talented Indian basketball player of the current generation, has been banned for three years. In addition to Amjyot, his Punjab and India teammate Arshpreet Singh has also been banned for one year. These bans are a result of the Basketball Federation of India's (BFI) disciplinary action stemming from their training camp brawl in Bengaluru last month.
It is still unclear if these bans will actually be imposed, considering that both these players starred for Punjab in their recent gold medal run at the 70th Senior National Basketball Championship 2019.
But if carried out, this ban will be Amjyot's second in the span of two years, ruling him out of the crucial FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers in February 2020.
As we wait to decipher the contours and ramifications of this latest ban, it is important to look back and understand that player bans in Indian basketball are nothing new. In fact, talented Indian ballers have been getting banned right from the 70s (maybe even earlier).
So without further ado, here is the list of the top five player bans in Indian basketball history:
#5 Jayasankar Menon - Three Years
Kerala's Jayasankar Menon was a talented power forward who was the mainstay of the Indian national men's team in the 1990s. He was even named an Asian All-Star reserve in 1997, one of the few Indian players to be bestowed with the honour. However, in 2005, when Menon was already in his waning years, he was part of an ugly brawl on court. Thereafter, he was served with a three-year suspension following which he chose to retire.
#4 S Robinson - Two Years
Having blocked Yao Ming twice in a single game, you can imagine the kind of otherworldly talent the 6-ft-8 Sozhasingarayer Robinson must have been. The Puducherry-born Gujarat-bred Robinson was a legit 'stretch four' almost 10 years before the term became commonplace in NBA parlance. The legend of Robinson is still whispered with awe, especially among old timers. He remains the only Indian to have played professionally in Iran, and also to be invited to play in New Zealand.
So, you can imagine, that talent of his calibre must have frequently felt out of place in mediocre domestic circuits. Matters reached a tipping point when Robinson failed to attend a Tamil Nadu state selection camp in 2006, following which he was banned for two years.
#3 122 UBA players & officials - Indefinite Period
Echoing the whole ICL situation from cricket in the late 2000s, in 2016, 122 basketball players and officials were indefinitely banned for being part of the 'rebel' United Basketball Alliance (UBA) Pro Basketball League. As the UBA eventually shut shop after having suffered through constant impediments imposed by BFI, all these banned players and officials eventually 'returned' to the 'official' BFI fold.
#2 Amjyot Singh & Palpreet Singh - One Year
As Amjyot Singh was making his mark internationally by playing in the NBA G-League, back home, his star status was becoming increasingly hard to digest for the BFI. An altercation is said to have broken out between Arshpreet Bhullar and Amjyot Singh at a practise session during the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia. Amjyot is said to have slapped Arshpreet, following which BFI used the opportunity to ban Amjyot for a period of one year.
Interestingly, in the same circular that Amjyot's ban was announced, another NBA G-League draftee, Palpreet Singh was also slapped with a one year ban for having allegedly put out a derogatory social media post against BFI. (This despite the fact that it was subsequently proven that the post was actually put out by another player and not Palpreet!)
#1 Abbas Moontasir - Three to Six Years
The original bad boy of Indian basketball, this legendary point guard was active through the late 50s to the mid 80s. Moontasir's peak coincided with the 'angry young man' era typified by Amitabh Bachchan movies of the 70s.
Born and raised in the famous basketball suburb of Nagpada, 'Abbasi bhai' was never shy of taking on the authorities, especially the referees. In his words to me just a few months ago (which I am paraphrasing): "When I spend eight hours a day working on my game, why should I be forced to respect those who don't even spend six hours a week thinking about the game?"
Moontasir served two separate suspensions, effectively removing him from the game for a period ranging from three to six years, which is almost half the playing career of any professional athlete. Despite this, or perhaps because of these bans, the Arjuna Awardee/Asian All-Star stayed active right into his mid-forties, representing Railways in the 1986 Federation Cup.
It is unfortunate that such a 'Top Five Player Ban' list should even need to be compiled. But 'disciplinary' action on Indian basketball players is not new. In fact it seems to be a sine qua non of being a talented baller in India. There is no doubt that each of the above bans need to be understood on a case to case basis, and some of these bans may even be justified. But there is also no doubt that looking at the above cases, a clear pattern emerges. The more talented a player you are, the more chances of you running 'afoul' of the 'system'.
This is because talented players in India are usually ahead of the 'curve'. Having somehow managed to 'beat' the system, they are vocal and clear about all the deficiencies in Indian basketball. So naturally such players are viewed as a "threat", especially by those in power, who are more interested in holding on to their administrative posts rather than working towards the betterment of the game.
Another interesting takeaway that can be gleaned from the above five player bans is that all of them are male players (although there are reports that BFI had attempted to bar India's star woman's player Geethu Anna Jose from playing in Australia).
Whichever side of the debate you are on, one thing is clear: it is high time that instead of stifling players, the BFI starts supporting and nurturing talent. The garb of 'disciplinary action' cannot be used to cover for the insecurities of our sport's administrators.
Any incident of player misbehaviour, however serious, needs to be understood from a much deeper level. We need to address the root causes behind why the player is forced into such (mal)actions, rather than simply making a scapegoat out of our own players. This only leads to further alienation and a disenchantment with the system.
More important, it is the Indian basketball community as a whole that suffers a loss of face by virtue of poor performances by our short-staffed teams at the international level. Indian basketball has suffered enough anguish in its 80+ year history, without needing to bear through such unnecessary self-harm.