Well, I might as well start in the beginning. After travelling to and from China for many years bouncing the orange ball and trying to master a language with no letters and contracts are negotiable, I decided to have a go at another bric – INDIA. . . a place where cricket is king and queen and kingdom of sports, religion and politics are abundant, and Bollywood is everything else.
In the fall of 2006, two major events happened that changed course of India basketball history and my life. At the time, I had been looking to expand my global roving basketball school into India and was approached by the board of Chinar.org, an orphanage in Srinagar, Kashmir to arrange a program. They invited me to visit and develop a three social program to aid in the psycho-rehabilitation of the at-risk orphan youth. Many of these kids had lost parents to the earthquake and conflict. It was from this place that ‘Hoops for Health’ was born. As divinity would have it, simultaneously, a young man wrote me an email note expressing his dream to become the first Indian basketball player in the NBA and asking if I would be willing to come visit his hometown (Pune) to show him, and his club (Deccan Gymkhana) a thing or two. Always up for a hoops adventure, and knowing it was on the way to Kashmir (sort of) — I agreed.
Little did I know until stepping off the hot and humid tarmac in Mumbai that early May, 2007 morning that 200 participants from around the country would be waiting for the training that was sponsored and promised by the Mahrastra State Basketball Association. In a half daze, I was garlanded as I cracked coconuts to bless the court and start what’s been written in local papers as ‘a new age’ in India basketball. Despite the courts still being painted upon arrival, the training sessions went very well. I was told that this was the 1st American basketball camp to ever come to India. Maybe its true, maybe urban Indian legend; regardless, it became the first of many. . .
Somewhere during the course of the past three years — between the masala dosa’s, the heat, the colors, the questions: the “um, dude WHAT are you doing here again? Basketball, why in India? cricket yes, basketball, no”, and my favorite – – the hourly “um may I ask, sir -how tall are you, sir’s?’ the humanity (and sometimes lack of), the hospital visits, the power on/off , off/ on and the chapati, I fell in love –with INDIA. Like Om Shanti I believe it was fate that decided to make my life’s mission to grow the game in this incredible land.
As word spread quickly of myindiahoopslove disease and ability to work in region, I kept getting invites and coming back and staying longer and longer. 13 trips and twenty-five months later, JDBASKETBALL (which is now, me + my new Indian homeboys/ coaches = team JDBASKETBALL) has operated throughout ten cities and villages throughout the subcontinent. Mumbai, Chennai, Pune, Kolkata, Kerala, Bangalore, Midnapore, Patiala, Delhi, and Srinagar.
To date over 5,000 youth directly benefited from my program and I have been keeping a keep eye out on keen talent and we are soon to announce our home base and training center, but more on all that later . . .
In India, I have run basketball camps in 110-degree heat in Midnapore and during monsoons in Mumbai. I’ve seen the top talent in India — and taught future national team coaches at prestigious Sports Authority of India’s NSNIS the finer points of the game. I have been to South India, and used the game as a means to teach English to young Muslim women with no shoes and in full dupatta. I have found myself teaching dribbling and shooting techniques at all types of schools, YMCA’s, street corners, cricket fields, indoor facilities, outdoor playgrounds and even one place that had hosted a dunking elephant! Basically, when it comes to India basketball, I think I have seen it all.
I have enjoyed learning about life while training and watching all types of players crossing hundreds of cross sections of religions/dialects/ food choices /colors and holidays (most of which I am still unsure what they were, but I sure had a lot of fun celebrating). Experiencing what is meant by ‘Guest is God in India’, I am now thankfully, the ‘big gora who’s back again’ and treated more and more like a local.
Studying her rich history from the Moghuls, the English and the railways, to Gandhi to partition, to now — modern day India. I am completely enthralled with such an amazing civilization, and how it has evolved- where it’s going – and what role, if any will basketball plays in shaping the next generation.
My time promoting world peace and diplomacy through sport with the US Consulates in North, South, West, and East Indian regions has been some of the most gratifying days I have ever spent. It has carried even deeper meaning as I rode past the military occupation in Kashmir and from being in the TAJ lobby just about a day a half before the attacks.
I have stayed at amazing hotels, and some not so amazing hostels. I have seen incredible gardens and exquisite temples and monuments, I had only dreamed and read about. I have survived the looks received after telling the Chennai women’s TNBA basketball team that gallons of chai and fistful of biscuits during game time-outs was not good advisable, and tasted the sweetest of lassie and goats milk. I enjoyed 6 days in a Delhi hospital where I lost 20 pounds (and almost an appendix unnecessarily) and I’ve hit my head requiring 7 stitches while scouting out potential courts with Mr. Jockin (a Ramon Award Winner- like Nobel Prize) where six million people live (basically, where they filmed slumdog) in the Dhvari slums in Bombay.
I have been around like a million people and could not breathe or move, and I have been myself and seen no one but empty fields and rice paddys. I’ve been robbed in my sleep, and given heartfelt gifts from strangers that you cannot imagine. I have gotten my yoga on, climbed the Himalayas on a little horse and gone weeks without finding a treadmill or place to run in site. I’ve seen the hi tech parks, farm houses, heli pads and Mercedes of the super rich, and sadly, the impoverished living on the streets begging for food.
I’ve said out loud, I hate India, I love India over 20 times a day on multiple occasions and I’ve argued with cab drivers and Ricks pretty much everyday. I’ve been to wedding after weddings during wedding season, and been present when kin to new family ‘expired’. Only in India could I have run past monkeys to a conduct a basketball clinic.
I’ve seen big people, short people, skinny people, fat people, smiling people, dark people, lite people, old people, young people, cricket playing people, field hockey and football playing people, people dressed in Indian clothes, people dressed in western clothes– and everyone in between. In country, I’ve meet people from all over the world, and even bumped into a guy playing basketball from the town I used to run my camps in Long Island. I’ve heard Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Hinglish, Bengalish, Tamilish, Marati, Marati-ish, English and a whole lot more.
I’ve got video and pictures on pictures on pictures.
Over the past three years some of the hi-lites include; winning an ASHOKA NIKE Changemaker grant for three-year ongoing project in Kashmir, a special award of distinction from Pune Municipal Corporation (Mayor’s office), by party Mayor and (now former) ‘Leader of the Opposition’, Vikas Mathkari, and a long term tie-up and tri-yearly trip to Jain International School of Sporting Excellence in Bangalore. In 2008, I was on hand as a special guest in Chennai with US Consulate General Mr. David Hopper to garland a statue of Mr. Harry Buck at oldest YMCA in India, and humbled by some really kind words given by Mr. Michael Owen — the head of India for Department of State at our program in slums of Nagpada. I received the famous ’shake and pound up all the players before the game starts’ at the Fr. Crispini special, at Don Bosco – at the Savio Cup 3 years straight and been fortunate enough to learn about the past and future of India basketball thru conversations with top brass, the head of basketball in India, Mr. Harish Shirma. I feel lucky to have coached some really cool multi-cultural youth at the famous Delhi Public Schools, ASB, Sanskriti, and AES. Throughout this quest, I have received gifts such as flowers, Titan watches, samosas, a painting of Jesus, more flowers, institutional statues, and a holographic trophy for doing a coaches clinic at the National Championships, but most importantly lasting friendships and a life education I could never find in a classroom.
To date, I have conducted clinics for eight State Basketball Associations while conducting tons coaches clinics in Kolkata’s West Bengal Basketball, Pune’s Fergusson College (Pune), Tamil Nadu Basketball Association and for the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, and enjoyed in-depth talks on defense in Bangalore’s stadium with the Indian National Team Head Coach, Alexsander Bucan and Olympic official Mr. Govinraj. Some of these clinics have been used for coaches’ certification purposes for State Associations.
This past May, (2009), I ran programs in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, and Punjab; my last clinic in being held in Mumbai for Basketball Federation of India’s National Jr. Championships (Nagpada, Mumbai) for over 700 in attendance.
Now the NBA is promoting the game in India!
Time magazine says that India is 40 years behind China, in basketball and every way else — and in a lot of ways, from spending a lot of time in both — maybe there right. Regardless, while people tell me everyday that basketball can’t grow in India, it’s a challenge, I love to take on. And everyday I can’t wait go back at it again. . .
Stay tuned, this will be the first of many a blog I will be writing on India basketball here on TalkBasket.net.