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'Hoop Nation': This is how basketball unites these Indians

Girls of Gangyap: The EMRS girls in Sikkim have transitioned into a strong team

Girls of Gangyap: The EMRS girls in Sikkim have transitioned into a strong team   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A docuseries on the game of basketball shows the sport’s influence on the lives and dreams of people from four different walks of life

Who doesn’t love an underdog?

Sporting history is dotted with numerous examples of unthinkable come-from-behind victories, where grit drops one over might.

Like Kansas City Chiefs overcoming a 10 point deficit in the fourth quarter to down the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, or the Premier League football club Liverpool FC standing poised to break a 30-year drought to get their hands on the coveted league trophy.

Similar tales of grit and courage, but closer home, is what Hoop Nation, the four-video series (sponsored by NBA and Uber) captures.

The parallels stop there; the stories documented are not of nail-biting, photo finishes to a game or series. For the people featured, the fight is about how their passion for the game of basketball allows them to dream big, offering them a shot at living life itself.

“What made all of them different is the revelation of how the players, coaches, families and the supporters have uniquely made the game of basketball their own,” says Mairu Gupta, senior director, global media distribution, NBA India, adding that the stories show how sport “brings together disparate communities”.

Breaking barriers

It includes the differently-abled bound by a wheelchair — only when throwing hoops — and not in spirit.

Madhavi Latha

Madhavi Latha   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Led by Madhavi Latha, who founded and heads the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI), — and who is herself a national paralympic swimming champion (having earned that accolade at the age of 40 after learning to swim at 37) — the community is ever growing, drawing strength in numbers along the way.

In 2019, WBFI held its sixth national championship in Mohali, an event that had 23 men’s and 14 women’s teams participate.

What Madhavi saw, in 2014, when the opportunity arose to form WBFI and bring coaches from abroad to train prospective talents, was a platform to “inculcate leadership skills in the disabled”.

Who’s who
  • Directed by Shreeda Patel and produced by Asad Abid, Hoop Nation featured four click tracks (one for each location) composed by the sibling musical duo of Anushka and Shikhar Yuvraj Manchanda, known professionally as Nuka and Rākhis.
  • “It took us about a month to shoot the series," says Mairu Gupta. Each video features a track sung by hip hop artistes.
  • Vocals for WBFI in Chennai is by Deepa Unnikrishnan (known as Dee MC) while for Gangyap Girls it is the Shillong-origin teenage hip hop crew Symphonic Movement. For LBA, rapper Kaam Bhaari (Kunal Pandagle), who made an impression in the Bollywood feature Gully Boy, adds thrust with these lines — Jeetne ka shauk hai to khud ko atal banana padega (if you have the desire to win, make yourself firm). Spitfire (Nitin Mishra) is the featured artiste for the Dharamshala video.

“Because wheelchair basketball is such a dynamic game. A disabled person has as much desire to be active and dynamic as any other young person,” says Madhavi. The response was “amazing” as interest came in from nooks and crannies of Tamil Nadu, she adds.

The best among the lot is Partha, whose spinal injuries after falling off a building while a student with the Vellore CMC confined him to the wheelchair.

“He was a basketball player before his accident. He was feeling bad that he could not play the game like before, and when he heard of WBFI, he approached us,” she adds.

Hoops on Wheels: An athlete with the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India

Hoops on Wheels: An athlete with the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In 2017, despite limited training, Partha travelled with the U-23 team to Thailand, where his display earned plaudits from other teams and coaches.

That first impression was enough, for Partha is now a student at the University of Alabama, in USA, having earned an adapted athletics scholarship to study kinesiology and exercise science, even as he continues to train and improve his game.

A parallel can be drawn to the case of 24-year-old Nima Doma Bhutia, now a member of the senior Indian women’s national basketball team.

Nima, who hails from a tribal community in Gangyap, Sikkim, is a product of the Eklavya Model Residential School, and was inspired to take up basketball by Siddharth Yonzone, the school’s principal and coach. Until Yonzone started his work here in 2007, dropping out at the middle- school level was the norm among tribal girls.

Nima Doma Bhutia

Nima Doma Bhutia   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“It was not just sports but music too that I infused into the children. For me, education for first generation learners from such remote areas had to be done differently. These activities kept the tribal children happy, occupied and, most of all, gave them confidence and self-belief,” says Yonzone.

For Nima, the brightest light out of Gangyap, the road to stardom has not been without difficulties.

“It has taken me a number of years to understand that it is extremely difficult to get selected for the nation, especially when one belongs to a minority hailing from a village of a very tiny State. But basketball has changed my life; it is more than just a game. It taught me to aim higher as we shoot the ball high in the basket,” says Nima.

Dominant dons

So good are the ‘Girls of Gangyap’ at the moment that they are now considered favourites to win when they contest the CBSE nationals, although they have a long way to go before being considered the giants of this game in India.

Athletes training at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy

Athletes training at the Ludhiana Basketball Academy   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

That crown belongs to Punjab, more specifically to the Ludhiana Basketball Academy (or LBA), which has trained “every single Punjab player” to have played for the national team, according to Indian men’s team player, Arshpreet Singh Bhullar.

“[LBA] has played a major role in contributing basketball talents to the national team,” he says.

Punjab recently won the 70th national championship. They had also won it the previous year. Such domination of the sport — as Bhullar notes: “at least seven or eight national team players are from Punjab” — is, perhaps, why the concept of fear is discussed much in the video about Ludhiana’s talents.

Arshpreet Singh Bhullar

Arshpreet Singh Bhullar   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“The opponents always have this fear that Punjab’s players are the best and that their youth will also be good,” he says.

It is what the LBA is also enabling, allowing Punjabi youth to dream big.

Satnam Singh Bhamara, 24, from Barnala, is a famous graduate from here, and was drafted by the NBA team Dallas Mavericks in 2015. Others like Amritpal Singh and Amjyot Singh followed in his footsteps in graduating to play in foreign leagues. The latest entrant is Arvinder Singh Khalon, who has been selected to train at the NBA junior academy in Noida, and is expected to take flight to US soon.

Ray of hope

But the sport of basketball stretches its boundaries to accommodate even the most impoverished among marginalised communities — refugees. In this case, it is the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) in Dharamshala.

The refugee children at the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamshala playing a game of basketball

The refugee children at the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamshala playing a game of basketball   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Kamo Rezen, all of 10, is quite the baller and adores Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. He drops hoops with ease, and lays it up for his friends to dunk home. Founded in 1960, the TCV is home to children most of whom have separated from their parents, either at birth or while escaping persecution.

“We encourage them to play after class. It should be okay as long as they don’t fight,” laughs Geshe Tenzin Damchoe, lecturer, Sarah College of Higher Tibetan Studies. He adds that students in the village learn to play volleyball and badminton as well — “because health is as important as education”. As the video ends, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that this sport is much more than just an escape. It offers hope.

Hoop Nation videos can be viewed on YouTube and Facebook Watch.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 6:39:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/this-is-how-basketball-unites-these-indians/article30752661.ece

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