Because We Have Our Own NBA
That would be the Nagpada Basketball Association. The players you see in the picture above comprise the “B” squad of the NBA’s mini boys or under-13 team. Just before they had been photographed, they had routed the Chembur YMCA 48-8 in the qualifying rounds of the ninth NBA Invitational Tournament currently underway at the Nagpada Neighbourhood House (NNH) court. It’s very likely that some of them will grow up to be Indian basketball’s brightest stars.
The NNH court, located at the end of a shanty-lined lane near the J. J. flyover, is almost next door to another court run by the Mastan YMCA (named after a Sufi saint who lived in the area)—a sign of the long association the south Mumbai neighbourhood of Nagpada has with basketball. “Nagpada has a history of producing many international players right from the 1970s to the 2000s; the popularity of the game is relatively recent in other areas [of Mumbai],” said M. Venkatesh, the vice president of the Basketball Federation of India (the body that governs the sport in the country) and the honorary secretary of the Maharashtra State Basketball Association.
Basketball is believed to have come to Nagpada in the 1940s about a decade after US missionaries founded the NNH in the locality. The focus was on volleyball until, as the story goes, a basketball-crazy American named (rather appropriately) Mr. Longfellow introduced the neighbourhood to the sport, which then thrived under the stewardship of an Indian coach, Mustafa Zahoor Khan, who earned the alias Bachoo Khan owing to his popularity with children. The NNH court is better known as the Bachoo Khan ground.
It’s under Khan’s rigorous training, most former players say, that Nagpada was able to generate a steady run of national- and international-level junior and senior basketball playing stars such as Gulam Rasool Khan, Abdul Hamid Khan, and Abbas Moontasir. Till date the only Arjuna awardee for basketball, Moontasir captained the Indian team to its best-ever performance at the Asian Basketball Championship, when they finished in fourth place at the 1975 edition of the tournament in Bangkok.
The NBA was created in 2000 by over a dozen former international-level, Mumbai-based basketball players, including the aforementioned former stars, after they took over from the old guard at the NNH. Today, the NBA carries forward the legacy of Bachoo Khan through no less than nine teams—there are four under-13 boys’s teams, one under-16 boys’s team, two under-18 boys’s teams, a men’s team, as well as a much-documented (on account of the fact that Nagpada is a conservative Muslim neighbourhood) girls team (read about it here and here). “Our mission is to save the boys from a life of crime and take them ahead in life,” says Abdul Rashid Sheikh, who coaches all the eight male teams.
Among his most promising young wards is 18-year-old college student Fardin Khan, a member of the Maharashtra state under-18 team, who like many of his teammates from Nagpada hopes to eventually get a government job “with ONGC or the Railways” under the sports quota, like his father, a former basketball player who used to be employed by the Income Tax department and now works for State Bank of India. But before that, he has a very good chance of making it into the Indian national team. “You can tell a player is from Nagpada by the way he plays,” said Khan’s grandfather Afzal Khan, a former international-level player and the current president of the NBA.
Most basketball fans agree. “Bachoo Khan is still revered for his strict disciplinarianism and dedication towards the game; this has led to a culture of playing as a team as opposed to the individual glamour as promoted now by the NBA shows of America,” said Shankhajeet De, a New Delhi-based filmmaker, who is making a documentary on the evolution of basketball in India. “Though the average height of the team members [from Nagpada] is not very high, when they play, they can be easily distinguished on ground for their team co-ordination, confidence and killer spirit.”
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