For an Indian who is a sports connoisseur, the world of sport revolves around just one game, cricket, or so popular opinion goes. Which is far from the mark, for since the explosion of satellite television in many homes across the country, we have been exposed to other sports that are arguably better evolved, more exciting (without any dilution of basic principles unlike Twenty20 cricket for example) and even better administered. One such sport is basketball, the best version of which is played out in the National Basketball Association in the United States.
This aficionado got hooked to the game of hoops, transfixed by the athletic ability, naturally given body strength, and dexterity of its purveyors in the 1990s when the NBA games were first telecast on satellite in Indian homes.
Basketball has an easy ability to captivate. In the NBA, it is a game dominated by the Goliaths but the best of them tend to be advanced in their understanding of space, power and speed and are required to be quick thinkers and chess-like strategy implementers rather than mere imposers of physicality.
Unfortunately, the rudimentary telecast of the NBA games in India tended only to focus on the sport as spectacle. It did not help that the game itself was marketed as a visual treat involving “stars” and “heroes” in the United States for the outside world to marvel at.
The Internet revolution over the years, though, has helped salvage the situation. One got to read basketball purists, coaching wannabes, and experts explain the art of team basketball in many ways that temporally limited telecasts were unable to do.
Soon, since the late 2000s, the basketball fan in India could appreciate the nuances of the “triangle offence”, the pick and roll game, post play, individual and help defence, for example, as game breakdowns were uploaded onto YouTube and sportswriters, publishing on the Internet, became more technical in their writing treating their readers more as fellow enthusiasts rather than mere spectators.
Meanwhile, the irregular, early morning/unearthly hour live telecasts of the NBA on frequently changing TV networks or the blurry streams on obscure websites continue to make up for the general lack of interest in coverage.
As for playing the game itself, basketball courts are few and far between in urban India — restricted to some elite campuses or to inaccessible gymnasiums. Ironically the game is portrayed in popular culture as an elite pastime, even though the stereotype of the game in the country of its birth is that it belongs to the working class and the urban ghetto.
As the savvy and team-oriented San Antonio Spurs play the stellar and individually brilliant Miami Heat in the ongoing NBA finals, one hopes that the game is given sufficient play and due as a major sporting extravaganza in its coverage in India.
It would also do justice to those who are tired of the incessant coverage of cricket and who would like fellow Indians to pick up a ball, dribble it and focus on hitting nothing but net through a basket. Trust this writer; it is far more inexpensive and participative as a team game than the one that we Indians are so obsessed with.
Srinivasan Ramani is a Senior Assistant Editor with the Economic and Political Weekly