Nearly five decades ago, a priest named Brother Rocha brought together a group of boys in Matunga to encourage them to take up some form of physical activity. With a motto of ‘keep busy, keep fit,’ and a membership fee of just 50 paise, Br Rocha formed the Savio Club in the Don Bosco High School, Matunga, campus. The same club that now proudly hosts one of India’s most prestigious international basketball tournaments, the Savio Cup also provides a training space for children from the locality.
The Savio Cup that concluded last Sunday with American team Sportspower USA beating ONGC in the Men’s finals, saw people from all walks of life: school kids, senior citizens, and teenagers yelling at every wrong move; parents reliving their love for basketball and former state basketball champions, now in their 70s. Sikhs, Gujaratis and South Indians — we spotted diverse communities cheer for their favourites.
Basketball owes its popularity in Mumbai to its neighbourhoods and playgrounds as much as it does to the Savio Cup or schools like Don Bosco High School. It’s a sport whose reach has transcended communities, class and socio-economic strata. We visit two such breeding grounds in the city.
The story behind this heaven for basketball players is one of passion and love for the game. This place started as a mud ground to play basketball, but during the monsoon, the slush would make it difficult to dribble. In 1976, when construction on RA Kidwai Road was in full swing, a few kids approached the contractor working on this Kidwai Road and requested him to build a concrete court for them.
But they had no money to offer. Seeing their passion for the game, the contractor agreed to build it for free and within 21 days, a concrete court was ready for them. “It’s the same concrete ground that is still in use,” says Shanker Iyer, a former basketball player from the Hoopers Ground.Although cracks are very clearly visible on this 36-year-old court, Shankar says that Hoopers was, and still is, the best training ground for basketball players. The ground is popular among kids from Wadala, Matunga, Mahim and Dharavi.
“There is no professional coach at Hoopers, but you will always find the most hardworking kids at Hoopers. Every player here is a coach. It’s like a brotherhood. Anybody with a love for basketball is welcome to join,” he adds. The skills are passed on every year from the older players like Shankar, who often take newbies under their wing and teach them the game.
At: H Adenwala Road, near RA Kidwai Road, Matunga (E).
Nagpada Basketball Association and Mastan YMCA
The spirit of brotherhood in basketball has nowhere been as successful as in Nagpada, a Muslim dominated area in south-central Mumbai, which has, over time, produced nearly 22 international level basketball players, national coaches and basketball officials. Most names emerge from two clubs: Nagpada Basketball Association (NBA) and Mastan YMCA.Although a few paces away from each other, Dimtinkar Road that separates both, means that the clubs fall in different zones at the District Level Championships, as a result of which they often vie for top honours.
Both clubs, however, have a conjoined history that dates back to the 1950s when Mirza Ismail Baig founded the Basketball Federation of India at Mastan YMCA. Soon, the Nagpada Neighbourhood House (NNH) ground, where the NBA is now situated, snatched the crown when it came to producing champions. Under Mustafa Khan Sahur Khan aka Bachoo Khan’s guidance, a strict disciplinarian, NNH have produced basketball heroes like Abbas Moontasir, Gulam Rasool Khan, Afzal Khan and Abdul Hamid Khan who became state and national heroes.
Sixty years later, former basketball players like Sayed Rasool, have kept the light alive, by training kids at NBA, daily. Sayed’s day starts with his family business and ends with training kids at Don Bosco High School and NBA. “Basketball here is more than just a game. Many lead successful lives because of the game. It’s a way of life,” he says. With the Bachoo Khan Championship a month away, preparations at NBA are in full swing. While the seniors practice, the juniors, seated in a line, watch and learn.
Sayed trains four teams daily, including boys and girls, something that was impossible till recently. “A girl’s team in this conservative area seemed impossible , but with help from former senior players, we gave Nagpada’s its first women’s team,” he adds.
On the other side of the Dimtinkar Road, is the Mastan YMCA. The basketball club supported by YMCA has received a new lease of life with aid from Ibrahim Lakdawala, a former state level basketball player and also vice-president of Maharashtra State Basketball Association (MSBA). “When people think of Nagpada, drugs and crime come to mind, which is untrue. With basketball, we have shown the real side,” affirms Ibrahim, adding, “We played without shoes and, yet succeeded. Nagpada has created a name, nationally and internationally. We want to keep that alive, and take it higher.”
The success of Mastan YMCA is also dependent on former players like Nasir Ansari, who have sacrificed social commitments to dedicate hours everyday to train kids, who succeed despite their short stature. “True, our kids are not tall, but we have something others don’t. Kids here are born with a gift for basketball. It will be unfortunate to let it be wasted. I return home at late hours but it’s good to know that I can help gifted children play better basketball,” reiterates Nasir.
At: Dimtimkar Road, Nagpada.
>> Some of Nagpada’s international players include Abbas Moontasir, Afzal Khan, Sayeed Bijapuri among others.
>> Gulam Rasool Khan was known for his showmanship. People would come to watch him play; crowds would famously joke Gulam Rasool toh Paisa Vasool!