Battling against all odds

July 19, 2015

Basketball might not be flourishing in Pakistan but it isn’t dead either

Battling against all odds

With hockey being our national sport, cricket our national obsession and football our newly-acquired love, there is hardly any room or time for some other sport to flourish, let alone one as demanding as basketball.

It would be fair to say that basketball has not managed to emerge as a dominating sport in the country but that doesn’t mean it was always as side-lined as it is today.

Basketball in Pakistan didn’t always look so bleak. At the time of Independence, an actual, professional basketball association -- Karachi Amateur Basketball Association -- existed.

It was raised to the level of Pakistan Amateur Basketball Federation in February 1952 and started its functions in early 1953. PBF was affiliated with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC).

In the late ‘20s, basketball became one of the regular University Sports.

In Karachi, school-level basketball got a boost in popularity during the stellar run of Jeremy Nazareth as coach of St Patrick’s High School as they had a winning streak from 1979 to 1994 in the Directorate’s inter-school tournaments and inter-district playoffs.

The YMCA proved a heaven for the few basketball fans around, as various tournaments organised by former national player Mohammad Khan were held there.

The Christian community had a love for the sport as various teams played competitive basketball in various courts across Karachi, the major ones being the Arambagh basketball court under Abdul Nasir, Nishtar Park basketball court under Ghulam Rasool and the Bounce Club at the KMC Sports Complex under Raza and Mehdi.

With the passing of Mohammad Khan, the game’s popularity began to decline. Lacking support and adequate funding from the government, the basketball community receded into the shadows. The historic YMCA ground was mercilessly flattened and converted into a parking lot-cum-wedding lawn.

Like the YMCA basketball court, those of United Club and Islamia Club also ceased to exist.

The interest in any sport begins at the school level but due to today’s cutthroat academic competitiveness, sports play a secondary role in most students’ lives.

This, coupled with the fact that sports is not considered a viable career in Pakistan, has left many sports like basketball without nurturing grounds. There is no shortage of talent in Pakistan, but most aspiring players don’t have adequate facilities or support from family or school to hone their talents.

But the amazing thing is that despite all this, there is still a small community of basketball enthusiasts who aim to pursue the game. To these guys cricket and football are on one side and basketball on the other. They can be seen playing ball in neighborhood parks. Schools too are now giving some importance to the sport as according to Karachi American School’s former coach Scott Johnson, "KAS has arguably some of the best basketball courts in the city."

In a third world country like Pakistan, where even mainstream sports like cricket and hockey suffer for lack of facilities and funding, to imagine a future for basketball would be tough. However, one should not give up hope. It is up to institutions like the KAS, Karachi Grammar School, St Patrick’s High School -- schools that emphasise physical training -- to incorporate basketball into their curriculum.

According to St Patrick’s High School coach Michael Turner, "There’s winning and there’s losing, in life both will happen. What is never acceptable to me is quitting."

This seems to capture basketball in Pakistan.

Lacking support and adequate funding from the government, the basketball community receded into the shadows. The historic YMCA ground was mercilessly flattened and converted into a parking lot and wedding lawn. Like the YMCA basketball court, those of United Club and Islamia Club have now also ceased to exist.

However, equipped with a well built and well maintained basketball court, Karachi’s Neighbourhood Park proves to be a sanctuary for basketball fans sparsely scattered all over the city. Competitive basketball can be observed in the park after iftar as teams are formulated from the individual players. Lacking a referee does little to dampen the players’ spirits as after the call for jump ball, an invigorating game is sure to follow. The atmosphere around the court is electric, each basket cheered on. The occasional three point shot or dunk is a sight to cherish as after intricate dribbling and careful positioning the ball sails over the heads of all players into the net.

Basketball does not seem to discriminate with regards to age as the older veterans of the game actively take part in these in house matches.

I witnessed one of these invigorating games myself. Not even taking part in the game sweat trickled down from my head as I moved it back and forth to keep up with the fast pace of the game. I witnessed the stellar run of one of Karachi Grammar School’s rising stars, Hamza Javed as he ripped through the other team’s defense until met with a jab, a desperate attempt by one of the defenders to stop the run. The unfair tackle led to a heated argument between the two teams that got the crowd further attached to the game.

The teams reached consensus as a free throw was awarded. The audience were having a blast as Hamza placed himself on the free throw line, tied the laces of his Jordan’s and was all set to take the shot. Unable to do anything the opposing team, the audience and I watched the Spalding basketball get fired straight into the hoop.

Battling against all odds