Backyards tell stories of basketball hoops attached above garage doors. Of passing down the love for the game from fathers to sons. Of sibling rivalries as baby steps lead to Euro steps. Of pounding cracks in the pavement as you dribble your way from fumbling bounces to behind-the-back crossovers. That 18-inch ring, perched 10-feet high that you see as you drive past it has got scores of stories to tell.
I had a premium basketball court in my backyard and nobody could tell me otherwise. A rim, backboard and a net that goes swish are all you need. The muddy surface, littered with rocks & debris, wasn’t ideal. Rains would coat the ball in soil and muck, it was too soft for a satisfying bounce. This was my Staples Center, where I’d shoot for hours every day.
I needed a basketball with enough grip to offset mud and thick skin to absorb the rocks. Having made do with the local options, it was a revelation to use the Tarmak Magic Jam basketball for the first time. It had enough grip to offset the mud, enough bounce to come back up on the soft earth. My friends call it the ‘Tractor ball’ because of its texture resembling a fat tire.
Rains wouldn’t stand in the way of buckets, but when it poured buckets, I’d McGyver rims like these- a simple rim, tied to a stick, anchored up with a rope.
Later, I got my hands on The Hoop. She was beautiful. No drilling necessary, just tie it around a pole and you’re set! My first impression of Decathlon was of a company that created answers to “If only…” and made it accessible. If only there was a basketball that could endure bounces on rocks and have enough grip to play in mud. If only there was a way to hang a basketball hoop on a pole without having to drill a hole. If only…
It’s in the game
The NBA Live 2003 video game was my introduction to the colorful and action-packed world of NBA basketball. Watching the players execute between-the-legs and behind-the-back dribbles, spin moves, layups and more inspired me to go and emulate them. Initially, the ball would bounce all over the place. Over time, fumbles gave way to keeping the ball on a string. Playing fantasy mode and drafting my own team led to marathon sessions of selecting which player to pick over whom and why, differences between field goals and 3-pointers, player heights and weights, names of teams, cities and much more. Geeking out over sports video games is a cool way to learn the ropes.
Kheloge, koodoge, banoge…?
English language had never been my strong suite in school. Becoming a writer of any kind, blogs/content/social media/copyrighter was the last thing on my mind. If you struggle in English, it’s difficult to understand the other subjects as they are of course taught in English.
I chose to repeat a class in Std 8 after changing schools to Delhi Public School, Digboi to get a handle on academics. I went from reading Chacha Chaudhary comics in Hindi to Amar Chitra Katha and Sherlock Holmes in English, that helped me get a hang of the language and academics seemed comprehensible again.
School was a good time to be introduced to sports. The weather would be cool in upper Assam, and we’d enjoy playing basketball, volleyball and competing in athletics. I made it to the house basketball team in Std 9, that was my first time playing in a refereed competition. We were down by 8 in the semi-finals, where I hit a three and a couple of long jumpers to help us come back and win. Probably because I was kinda open. That was my first taste of winning on the court, it got me hooked on the competition and the process of getting better.
My college, JD Birla Institute of Management, had a basketball court and a couple of volleyball courts. Having launched thousands of shots on a homemade rim and now finally getting a real one to shoot on? You could not pull me away. Before college, after classes, during breaks, during classes on rare occasions, after exams, swish, swish and swish some more. On weekends, I’d shoot from 11 AM to 5 PM.
A picture of our weekend warriors, balling together for almost a decade at SAI, Kolkata.
The writing bug bites
I wrote my first blog, about the love for shooting a basketball, on Sportskeeda in March 2010. A few months later, when the Indian basketball team took part in the Asian Games, I got an opportunity to get paid for writing and work as a part time basketball editor.
Porush Jain, the founder and CEO of Sportskeeda, is responsible for launching careers of hundreds of sports professionals in India. It’s a fun pastime to browse Linkedin and see how far these writers and editors have come.
Through Sportskeeda, I got an opportunity to talk to NBA players, Robert Horry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Luc Longley, to the NBA’s team in India- Troy Justice, Akash Jain, Yannick Colaco about the NBA’s vision and efforts to grow the game in India.
Horry was the first NBA player I got to talk to. I was like that tiny puppet that kept badgering the MVPuppets of LeBron James & Kobe Bryant with questions. “Why play if you can’t turn pro? What’s it gonna take for hoops to take hold in India? Is it fair to overlook players based on their height? What adjustments did you have to make as a player coming into the NBA?” Horry was patient and engaged, after a few days I forgave him for his part in helping the Los Angeles Lakers beat Allen Iverson and Steve Nash.
A career in sports
In India, you can grow up to be anything you want, as long as it's in the Venn Diagram of the holy trinity. Doctor/Engineer/MBA. A career in sports wasn’t even a concept. A newspaper ad pointed me towards a Post Graduate Diploma in Sports Management from Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management. Management from the lens of sports was an infinitely interesting subject. What do sponsors look for in a sports property, creating a sporting event and experience, ins and outs of running sports academies, psychology of an athlete, it was endlessly fascinating to look at the layers behind all that we knew about sports.
If sports is life with the volume turned up, there are few quicker ways to get the measure of a man or woman than by observing them in the arena. We've known campus recruitment to involve group discussions and personal interviews. One company took an approach with more vitality. decathlon's recruitment day involving an obstacle course, touch football and some team activities. Replacing boardrooms with open fields felt like a breath of fresh air. Of course, we had a personal interview round as well. I got a chance to join at Bengaluru with Prajval Ray and Sanjay Mahar, but moving to Bengaluru wasn't feasible at the time.
I spent almost a year helping my family and making time to write relentlessly in the remaining hours of the day. With the 2012 Olympics, there was room to write more on Sportskeeda, and I found out that writing came easier with time.
The business of sports
While studying sports management, I got an opportunity to intern with Saran Sports in Mumbai, they’re at the pinnacle of Corporate Sports in the city. Sanjiv Saran Mehra, the founder and energy behind it, told me about how he stayed up at night during his first event, planting signages on the field. The journey of entering Limca Book of records for Saran Corporate Cricket 7s started with solitary steps for him.
My classmates were interning at Sport 18, a subsidiary of Network 18. Some days, I ran from my office to theirs to catch up and see their preparations for Kolkata Cyclothon. This was the first time I got to create something tangible for a business through content. I shared my work on Sportskeeda as reference, and pitched a proposal to promote the Cyclothon online, in exchange for on-ground branding during the event.
I got a small BMX and cycled through Kolkata, running experiments – having friends enter a metro station and racing the train to the destination, comparing time taken by a bus to cover 15 km vs time it takes to cycle that distance, exploring the logistics of having a cycle sharing scheme in Kolkata for schools and colleges and more.
Years after that cyclothon, I watched Maverick Carter, CEO of SpringHill entertainment, talk about his start in value creation through a cycling event. One may be in love with basketball, but the passion for one sport translates easily into others. The cycling project became a part of my dissertation as well. Probably the only time in the 60-year history of IISWBM that a BMX entered up to the 1st floor of the college as a part of a presentation.
Awards are a fun thing to win, regardless of humble speeches given by one and all. Around this time, I won the Sportskeeda Veteran Keeda Award, given to “the writer who has been the most regular and dedicated contributor at Sportskeeda over the last 3 years.” After putting together scores of features, listicles, interviews, poems, comics, videos, and more about a sport which was seen on the fringes, it was gratifying to be recognized as a ‘Most Valuable Keeda’, and later to win a Basketball Writer of the Year award.
Although basketball blogs didn’t get as many views as other sports, the reads that we got came from all over the world. It made my day to hear from Ted Faye, who produced the Showtime documentary on Allen Iverson. They had come across my 9000-word analysis, The Baggage of Allen Iverson- both sides of his issues, and took a few references from it to tell his story. That further reinforced the importance of focusing on doing good work over hunting for reads. If you say the right thing, the right way, you can be heard.
After writing ceaselessly for years, I saved up and got a job at Protouch Golf Academy at the Tollygunge Club/Royal Calcutta Golf Club in Kolkata, working with the director of the Academy, Indrajit Bhalotia.
Golf below par
This was my first full time job, it challenged me to expand my comfort zone and move away from the laptop screen to interact with people. Admitting new children in the academy, engaging their parents, managing a team of 40 coaches, running events and competitions, pitching stakeholders/sponsors, it helped me become more vocal and precise.I wrote my first book here, Golf Below Par, a coffee table book published with Times of India for a Linde corporate tournament. Not being an expert in golf, I wrote it around the universal emotions of the game, the craft, and what you can learn from it.
As I continued to write, the opportunity came along to write on NBA.com/India. This was a dream come true, to be able to tell stories about Indian basketball on the biggest platform. About legendary coaches, the late greats Dr. Subramanian and Rajesh Patel, about their academies, Ludhiana Basketball Academy and Chhattisgarh Basketball Academy, about our stars- Anitha Pauldurai, Yadwinder Singh; it was gratifying to get an opportunity to tell their inspiring stories.
I got a chance to write game recaps for United Basketball Alliance Pro League during its 4th season. Writing game recaps involves diving into the thick of the action to pick moments to express. Watching the action from the broadcaster's table was a whole new ballgame. It felt like being swept up by the hurricane, finding the eye of storm within and letting the action wash over you as you channel it into words that hopefully share the experience with the readers. Allowing them to be transported to the sidelines as we collectively bear witness to the theatre of live sports.
Fast breaks are a blur from the side. On a break, it feels like going down on a rollercoaster as the ball makes its way to the rim, gaining momentum, opening up possibilities, powered by athletic freaks. Along with writing game recaps, there was an opportunity to chime in as a guest commentator. It was one of the best experiences to work with Paul Crane, Victor Howell, Ridhima Pathak and the entire broadcast crew.
I used to think that broadcast booths were tense and dense dens resembling a rocket launch or Wall Street Trading Floor, with the pressure of live television boiling things. This broadcast room was far from that. The atmosphere was cheerful and lively but everyone was precisely on point with their roles. Paul Crane introduced me to a new definition of work ethic. He would call out back-to-back games live, go back to the hotel and work well past midnight to share notes for the next day's slate, and be on top of the world the next day. A lot of people work long hours, but his consistently kind approach was incredibly humbling to be around and learn from.
After Season 4, I got a chance to move to Pune to work full-time with the UBA in Marketing and Communications. Our team worked on social media and ways to increase the visibility of the players online and offline. Asa Ferriera and Socio Loca guided the way on marketing and social media management, this was my first exposure to looking at social media in a professional way and the layers that go behind engaging storytelling. One of the boons of working in the league was to get to learn from Paul. I’ve yet to meet anyone as passionate, driven, detail-oriented, patient and kind. He was completely devoted to increasing the visibility of Indian basketball and our players, to share the joy of the game which we see with the masses. Another thing to cherish was getting to interact with Indian basketball players and get to share their stories and highlights.
Of all the writing, working on the scripts of Saturday Morning Live, the NBA show on Sony, has been one of the most memorable highlights for me. To get to work with the team and see the episodes take shape live with the anchors adding their interpretation felt like live theater at its best. The regulars Manas Singh, Rannvijay and Harman Singha, Simmran Kaur Mundi, Meiyang Chang and more brought on megatons of energy and spiced up our takes of the NBA with desi tadka. It’ll be fun to see more of Indian flavor mixed with the universal language of basketball.
Painting the city of joy blue
I practically wheelied into Decathlon Salt Lake on the day of its opening, in search of an adjustable stem to elevate the handlebars of my oversized road bike. The billing queue extended from the main gate all the way to the stairs. I kept the product aside and popped back at 6 AM the next morning to get it. It was the biggest store opening weekend for a Decathlon store in India. On one visit, I asked at the welcomed desk if they were looking for someone to work on content. As luck would have it, the store leader, Shubh Chhajer, was at the desk, and we soon hit the ground running. It may have been the first time someone joined a Decathlon store to work primarily on content.
It’s been a fun journey sharing our love for sports online and offline.
We get to tell inspiring stories online and create new events like a 3-point shootout and free throw challenge as part of Tarmak basketball Utsav.
Working here, I got to meet and interview Cat and Raz, two inspiring ladies who are cycling around the world on a tandem bike. As luck would have it, they were passing through Kolkata on 1st Oct, 4 days before the first NBA India Games in Mumbai. I had planned to ride down to Mumbai, covering about 500 km a day and riding through Decathlon stores.
Owing to the delayed monsoons and videos of bikes being swept away in floods in Maharashtra, the plan was shelved. After meeting this dynamic duo and looking at how cheerful they were talking about punctures and riding through the world unsupported by any vehicle, it made me rethink the dream to ride and I took off the next morning.I made the journey on my Yamaha FZ25, the least expensive 250cc bike with ABS, covering 448 km, 783 km, 830 km and 162 km on the 4 days with the games being on the 4th day. Along the way I got to meet teammates at Decathlon Bhubaneswar (Phulnakhra) and Vijayawada (Enikepadu). While the stops for fuel kept the bike going, the pit stops at Decathlon stores were a great boost at the end of a 12-hour ride. If there’s any place where people understand the sporting spirit, it’s at a Decathlon store. Riding all day can be a lonely affair, it was uplifting to share the journey with other sports passionate friends along the way, and carry them with me in some way to the games. Having the journey shared by the NBA, and having fellow Sportskeeda alumni Yash Matange cover the journey on NBA.com was especially touching.
Coming back from the trip, I felt the need for more information about biking and backpacking. There are people who are experts in either, but not usually in both. We got to conduct a Bikepacking workshop for bikers who want to explore backpacking. Working in sports has helped me shape my identity. Writing about it has led me to practicing it and working in the industry. Interning in Mumbai gave me an opportunity to run the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon completing it in 3:31. Part of my motivation for running was to be able to breathe easier. I had a few problems that made breathing difficult, with a deviated septum and enlarged turbinates in the nose keeping them blocked, and an enlarged uvula adding on sleep apnea. A couple of surgeries at 24 were life changing, albeit a decade late, they eliminated daily head pain and let me breathe well again. I remember waking up post-surgery feeling like a sharp point on my forehead has been removed.
I like to look at the bright side, one positive of dealing with it is that most of my training had been hypoxic, i.e. in the presence of reduced levels of oxygen. And while being unable to breathe well meant that I didn't speak up a lot, maybe it had something to do with a push to express myself through writing, which led to commentating and more.Playing around on the basketball court let me attempt a Guinness World Record at the junior nationals in Kolkata for the longest 3-pointer made while holding a one-hand-handstand. Even though the first blooper reel was a mile long, with 42 attempts over 2 hours
The more I work in Decathlon, the more I get to explore my passion for sports, and that in turn helps me try new things at work. Work truly feels like play when we keep pushing to create with fellow driven sports passionate individuals. I’m looking forward to finding new ways to inspire people through our shared love for sports and help more and more discover the joys of the game.