Adults shall play
First football, and now basketball. Roots, the city's favourite sports league, is allowing Mumbaikars a chance that few get post their 20s - to head out in the evening with friends and hang out at a park
It's a balmy evening, and we are chatting with team Warriors at the Podar basketball turf in Santa Cruz. The fighters — a yoga instructor, film producer and construction businessman — are dressed in shorts and tights and their weapon of choice is the basketball. Despite the unforgiving heat and humidity, they look happy to be out here, sweating, laughing and cheering each other on as they shoot the hoop.
"Basketball is a lot like life, you know," says Santino Morea, founder and COO of the Roots Basketball League. "It's all about making, unplanned, split second decisions — shoot or pass." Morea must be good at the sport, as he surely is good at life decisions. The basketball league has come close on the heels of the success of his first initiative, the now two-and-a-half-year-old Roots Football League, which also has Harpreet Baweja as CEO/founder. Much like the football league, the basketball league aims at not just promoting the sport, but also creating a community of adults — a place where they can meet, play, network and connect beyond their social circle.
Eight teams have eight players each. One is a solely celebrity team, with members such as Tiger Shroff, Disha Patani, Kalki Koechlin, Anusha Dandekar and Jim Sarbh. Other teams, with non-celebrity players, are owned by filmmaker Ekta Kapoor; RAW Pressery MD Anuj Rakyan, filmmaker Sanjay Singh; actor Arslan Goni and choreographer Shabina Khan. There are trials and auctions, but the main rule is: no pros, only amateurs, who happen to love the game. People have to pay R2,500 for a season that spans 7 weeks. Teams practice in the evening, whenever they can block the court.
Morea says, "In football, we started with 16 teams, now we have 40. In basketball, we have eight in the first season, which ends today, but the second season, which starts in August, has around 12-14 teams lined up. It's about meeting like-minded people. The networking that can be done here is at another level. You can be playing with a CEO or a pilot or a doctor. I don't think most of us would have ever met each other in normal circumstances. But anyone can be here, as long as you have the love of the game. No matter who you are, everyone is seen on the same level."
Kalki Koechlin and Jim Sarbh play for Roots Hoops
For film producer Sanjay Singh, who has been behind films like Udaan, owning Warriors and playing in the team is about returning to his own roots as someone who played in an Under-19 level in his college days. "It's an amateur league, so everyone gets to play, and it's more about fun. We had the weakest team, because we didn't know each other well, but now we are more in tune," says Singh, 42. His team member, Kartik Jain, 24, a Juhu resident, has also been playing since he was a child. He says that other games could be more about competition, while the feeling at a Roots game is that you are "among friends and family".
"Here, it feels like you are here for the love for the game," says the infrastructure businessman. Another team member, a yoga instructor from Bandra, Simonne Mascarenhas, says she didn't know anyone in her team when she joined. "I wondered how I'd play with them when I don't know them. But they practice and have meetings, and slowly, we have built a bond. You get to know so much about yourself and other people. Now, I am the one who pesters them on the WhatsApp group, 'are we meeting today?'," laughs Mascarenhas, 29.
Much like the Warriors, members of other teams also come to court, not just to play, but to make a few friends along the way. They come from as far as Colaba, and Andheri, and have all been amateur basketball players at a given point in their lives. Fashion photographer Vijit Gupta says that since he works as a freelancer, he doesn't meet many people, and the ones he does meet are all from his own line of work.
"It's not been easy to make friends. But at Roots, I have met musicians, doctors, artists, bloggers, brand owners — it's one space where nobody judges where you come from. It's about what you do on court, and if you have the spirit, then that's all that's needed," says the 32-year-old, who plays for Boogie Nights, owned by actor Arslan Goni and producer Ekta Kapoor. His thought is echoed by Maithili Bhuptani, 23, who works at Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre. "I used to play basketball in school but have never played with actors and models. It's a completely different environment," says the sports psychologist, who has also been using her expertise on court with the her team, Warriors.
Sanjay Singh of the team Warriors. Pics/Sameer Markande
Like children, adults do fight. But they can't run home crying. Bhuptani says the team did suffer its share of arguments. "Before the last game, we all came in two hours before and spoke about our issues. The game we played after that bonding session was incredible."
For Rakyan, Roots has helped him reconnect with childhood basketball buddies. A Colaba boy, who went to Campion School and then St Cathedral and John Connon School, playing basketball was routine growing up.
"I have met so many of the guys I used to play with way back then. Also, Harpreet runs Butter Events as well, and yes, people used those events to connect at bars over drinks too. But even then, it's all about a certain TG. But with sport it's slightly different. It really cuts through the class and socio-cultural differences. It's a pure thing and no one has an ego, and it's quite humbling to come together and do something positive," says the 39-year-old.
In a way, Roots has managed to take niche sports and cultivate an amateur sporting culture around them. But as Morea sums it up, the success of the leagues depends on their ability to create happiness. "I think many people come here to find a release. It has helped people get over tough times in their lives. Sports does that you know. They get up in the morning and pack their Roots bag first. It helps them laugh again, and that makes all this worthwhile."
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