The face of Delhi basketball has been pretty neat for over a decade. The Delhi women’s team has the record of having beaten the mighty Railways for the only time in the last 25 years. The Delhi girls finished runner-up eight times after its triumph in the 2002-03 Nationals in Hyderabad, but finished fourth in the past two years.
“Delhi became champion and won medals because of the eight players employed with MTNL (Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited). Their legacy has now been maintained by some talented and hard-working youngsters, who do not enjoy the advantage of employment through sports quota,” says former National Prashanti Singh, the only member of the champion team who has continued to serve Delhi with distinction. Of course, last year Prashanti and her sister Akanksha Singh could not make the Delhi team owing to injuries. The year before, Delhi had lost the semifinals to Chhattisgarh by three points.
“It was basically the junior India team that was drafted in by MTNL. There was no further employment afterwards,” says Divya Singh, who along with another star Shiba Maggon, has diversified into coaching the juniors at the National level. With Pratima Singh also a key member of the National team, including the recent Asian 3x3 championship-winning side, the contribution of the Singh sisters — Divya, Prashanti, Akanksha and Pratima — has been vital for Delhi. “Both Akanksha and Pratima have focused on their studies and are well qualified with masters degrees from good institutions. They can now become lecturers in colleges,” says Divya.
Love for the game
The man with tremendous love for the game and vision, Harish Sharma, had worked relentlessly in lifting the overall standard of basketball players (not just in Delhi, but at the National level as well), as the secretary general and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Basketball Federation of India, before he died two and a half years ago. “The driving force is not there any more in Delhi basketball,” says N.S. Rathore, a coach and technical official who has been associated with the sport for long.
Roopam Sharma had taken over the mantle both at the State and National level, but it would take some time to match the vigour with which her husband Harish Sharma rallied his forces around for the betterment of the game. Once the monsoon season is over, there will be a series of tournaments at all levels, including schools and colleges. Ashok Rangeen who operated as Harish’s right-hand man for many years hopes that the MCD stadium in Karol Bagh would serve Delhi basketball once again.
The all-India Master Prithvi Nath Sharma tournament, in memory of Harish Sharma’s father, was conducted with a lot of pride at the venue, till efforts to make it an indoor stadium met with considerable resistance, and reduced the tournament itself to memory, as the place had been dug up for construction.
The Delhi junior boys have been winning National titles and the girls trying their best not to be left too far behind the boys. A few tournaments, including the Royal Club tournament, started more than 50 years ago by the late Raj Kumar Kaushik continues to be hosted with pride every year.
There is a lot to cheer for Delhi basketball, but even as we appreciate its vibrant health, we do realise that its heart is missing. The biggest friend of the players, Harish Sharma was too good an administrator to be easily replaced.
But the good news is that everyone associated with the game in the Capital has vowed to carry on with his legacy.