Let's shoot some hoops
By Golam Rezwan
In Bangladesh it is hard to imagine anything else competing for cricket's popularity, but for some people, cricket pales in comparison to another sport that’s pretty global in outlook and. According to some, much more exciting. Of course, I am talking about basketball.
The rise of basketball as a popular sport is fairly recent although it was being played in Bangladesh ever since the liberation war. It was mainly popular among the missionary schools in Dhaka, such as St. Joseph's, St. Francis Xavier Green Herald, Notre Dame and St. Gregory. These schools were headed and run by Christian missionary priests and thus basketball as a relatively foreign game could gain impetus here. Furthermore, these schools all had great basketball courts, which to this day remain the best. It was also popular in the army and thus consequently you can see a lot of basketball courts clustered around Cantonment, the most famous of all is the Adamjee Cantoment School and College. These guys have been playing basketball for over 20 years, before even we the know-it-all ESPN and STAR SPORTS Laden English medium people heard of the game. However ESPN and STAR SPORTS did play a part because gradually helped by their increasing coverage of NBA it spread to other schools and colleges through out the city.
In many schools in Dhaka, basketball has become the premier sport and the reason for its popularity is also simple. Apart from the obvious fun in the game, basketball takes up much less space than the other two popular sports, football and cricket. You can simply turn a garage into a court by fixing basketball hoops on the walls. Or simply put, creating 'facilities' for basketball is easier and convenient for most crammed up schools in the city. Furthermore it is a much more active sport than cricket anyway, where the majority of the time you just have to watch others play.
Basketball also had the advantage that you can basically play alone, by trying to shoot the ball into the hoop and even with two people you can have a perfectly fun game. That beats football and cricket any day where you need an army to play. Another interesting factor for its increasing popularity has been coined by a disgruntled ex A-Level student who claimed that cricket was popular in school because it was played in school and all the girls watched it! Nowadays basketball has taken over and guys find it a better medium to impress girls!
Ok, I don't know how true this is but the guy is obviously being a sexist because not only basketball is popular among guys but increasingly popular among girls as well and that is the beauty of it, literally. Each major school has a girl's basketball team who are regularly competing in tournaments. Go to basketball courts any day and you would see well, not throngs but lots of girls playing alongside, against, with, guys. Now that is a positive sign.
Although most of the players rarely look for the health benefits and play the game for the fun itself, basketball offers a tremendous health benefit. A very seasoned basketball player tells me:
“Unlike football where you can basically occupy a position, in basketball everybody always has to move because there is no circled defense or offense. You have to always mark your opponents and if you can't move the way they are moving you can't keep up with them. Obviously this is a very fast paced game and having a good physique obviously helps.”
At this point I asked the question which comes up when everyone thinks of basketball.
Can short people play it and can you become taller if you play the game?
Apparently it turns out that not only short people can play the game, but also they happen to be the best players around. Short people are much faster and their low center of gravity helps in an obscure way which my basket baller friends failed to make me understand. And yes, it turns out jumping and stretching yourself a lot does make you grow a bit taller. So all you, falling in this category, out there, you are not being discriminated. Grab a ball and start shooting some hoops. Or at least wait until the older players let you.
Forged by popular interest, many clubs and basketball teams have sprung up all over Dhaka. This includes the school teams, the elaka-team and the teams you can form with a couple of friends.
The team however only becomes official and well known to be permanent if you register to play and come good in at least the second division. The most popular teams are Nakhalpara, Bashabo and obviously the missionary school teams such as St. Gregory's and the Josephites. Interestingly while Josephites originally started out with the students from the St. Joseph's school it now strangely has no players who are originally from St. Joseph.
Sources tell me that one can join the Josephites or at least invited to play for the Josephites if you can prove you are good enough. And believe me that's a very tough standard to meet, considering the reputation of the Josephites in the basketball circle. However a team almost everyone speaks with reverence has to be the Bokshibajar team, which is based as you can guess from Bokshibajar.
They have been playing in the first division ever since god knows when. Apart from the schools and your local club teams the ever-strong BKSP also plays teams for the second division.
Obviously you cannot play against the best immediately. Teams start from the 2nd division league, which is organized by the Basketball Federation of Bangladesh with the help of local clubs and sponsors. Almost any team can register to play in the annual 2nd division league although they might need some 'backing' or recommendation. The top two teams of the 2nd division qualify for the first division, which consists of real professionals like the Bangladesh Army! Make it to the first division consistently and you can become a permanent 1st division team, and from there you can make it to the Bangladesh national team- although I clearly have no idea what it actually does.
Apart from this high-profile tournament several smaller tournaments are held, organized by schools, such as the Aga Khan School Basketball Tournaments and the weird 3 on 3 tournament held a few months back, where each team had three players. This tournament was hilarious with the standard of some of the competing teams. Apparently there was a team who had lost 140-3!
Like what you have read? Where do you play basketball?
If you live in the Gulshan/Banani/ Baridhara area, the most popular place is the Baridhara DOHS Basketball court. The environment here is fantastic, with proper lighting system and a neat lake beside the court to provide the ultimate refreshing yet exhilarating environment. Most of the serious players visit this court. Gulshan 2 Park also has a basketball court, which is usually less crowded, and so if you are starting out, you can try out there. However the best place to play ball are the basketball gyms.
In Dhanmondi, the most accessible place is the Abahani Indoor Gym. For a small registration fee of 400 Tk and a monthly fee of 200 tk, you can play over their six days a week under the supervision of a coach. There is also an indoor gym in the Mirpur Stadium and BUET however that is most likely not accessible to your normal basketball players.
So when can we expect Bangladesh to be winning the world through basketball? Well, that day is a very long way off. But basketball sure is becoming very popular and among those who play it, they play it almost religiously and love the game more than any other thing in the world. That sure speaks something about the power of the game itself.