All-Indian team assembles to win world's highest-stakes basketball event
Team 'India Rising', comprising the best brown basketball players from India and of Indian origin, will compete at 'The Basketball Tournament', a global event with a purse of $1 million.
"If only we could put out this team as an Indian national team, we can have a lot more success," joked Inderber Singh Gill, one of many basketball players from India who has made a name in foreign leagues but has never been able to play for his country of birth. Till 2022, when an 'all-Indian' team comprising other such Indian-origin ballers and also Indian national team players is ready to set the courts ablaze across the world.
Teeming with as many as 10.5 million basketball players already and another bunch steadily being added, India's love for basketball has a niche corner all of its own. Attracting the urban youth of the nation, basketball draws in people with the pace, excitement, culture and lifestyle that comes with it. Yet this motley 10.5 million playing the sport in India are largely unaware of the worldwide prowess of the Indian players on the global stage.
In a bid to change this narrative, the arrival of India Rising (IR) - an Avengers Assemble (or shall we say Cagers Assemble) phenomenon of some of the best Indian and Indian-origin players of the sport, is a refreshing thing to look forward to, as they seek to unite the best brown ballers on a single platform.
Together, they will represent the Indian basketball community and compete for a whopping $1 million prize money in the highest stakes basketball tournament in the world - ESPN's The Basketball Tournament (TBT) that begins in July, aside from other tournaments as well.
TBT is a single-elimination basketball tournament where 64 teams will compete for a winner-takes-it-all $1 million purse. It is watched by 15 million people every year in the United States, as well.
India Rising aims to be the platform to showcase the best of Indian basketball talent on a single team. Led by Gautam Kapoor, basketball strategy manager at the NBA, India Rising is his brainchild, as he sought a platform that could bring together all the Indian talents on one stage.
Brown Basketball universe
With Coach Roy Rana, former Assistant Coach at Sacramento Kings and current Egyptian team coach, Gautam scouted players from around the globe to assemble the best from the best. They also have Navin Ramharak, who has experience building one of Canada's top basketball training programmes and has expertise in building brands such as InTheLab.
"There's something that's important in this for us, this is much bigger than basketball, it's a cultural movement," said Navin.
"So as we were growing up, there was never really a platform or a place for us to go to find people that look like us and were good at basketball. Even to this day, we still don't know where all the brown hoopers are. So for us, we wanted to develop a platform to showcase that, assembled all brown hoopers in a place."
Gautam believes the "brown basketball universe" is much bigger than we could ever think. More than 60 brown players are playing professional ball worldwide, and we still don't know about most of them. Players are playing in Finland, Uruguay, and Switzerland. Some have played in the G-League and NCAA D1 levels alongside the current stars of the NBA like James Harden.
What is fascinating about these players is that they have not only played but have dominated leagues, globally. Take Sukhmail Mathon, the first official player announced by India Rising. He was part of the Boston University's 2020 championship-winning team and 2022 Patriot Lague Player of the Year or Josh Sharma, who has played NBA Summer League.
"I was still out, playing in Poland this past season. And I was excited. This was the first opportunity for sort of representing the Indian side of my family. So I was excited to be a part of this team and thought with this, I'll be doing something for that half of my family," Josh Sharma shared. Sharma is an Indo-American baller whose father was from Bihar.
Inderber Singh Gill and Bikramjit Singh Gill are two players who have spent their early lives in India and then moved to the West for a better life. Inderbir came back to India but couldn't play in the team with the national team due to the citizenship rules. Both of them now have the opportunity to do so.
"I'm very excited to play with this talented group. And, you know, I think we all bring something different to the team." he said. "I think when we combine all of our talents, it's going to be really fun to watch," Inderbir feels that the team at TBT is going to be the best Indian basketball players' team.
Varun Ram, a medical school student from the University of Maryland, known for his physical game and termed as "one of the smartest players on the team", shared that this almost feels like the next best thing. Ram also thought that many guys on the team probably didn't have a ton of players they could look up to. He's hoping that India Rising can maybe do that for the younger generation, further driving their interest in letting them know that it's possible to play at a certain level of basketball.
India's basketball poster boy and the only player to be on an NBA Championship-winning team at any level, Princepal Singh, also has signed up for the team at TBT.
"It will be a cool experience playing with top-level guys from India and just, to see what other Indian ballers out there have to offer", Sharma remarked on playing with Princepal.
"I think it'll be a fun experience. I don't know too much about the other guys. But, I'm hoping we can compete, and you know, hopefully, make a run in this tournament, and you know, so, everyone will know what India has to bring in terms of basketball."
The team is yet to play a game together, but their enthusiasm to play with each other and create history can be a major driving factor in the tournament.
10 of the 12 players have been announced:
Guard - Inderbir Singh Gill, Aryan Sharma, Gokul Natesan, Varun Ram
Centre - Josh Sharma, Sukhman Sandhu
Forwards - Princepal Singh, Kiran Shastri, Sukhmail Mathon, Bikramjit Singh Gill
Centre Sai Tummala, Indo-English guard Jaz Bains and Humber College Women's team's most successful Head Coach Ajay Sharma are yet to be announced by the team but are on the roster on The Tournament's official website.
Boosting the desi baller community
This doesn't stop at just playing at TBT. To give better insight, India Rising has started working on a docu-series like Netflix's "Drive to Survive" or "The Last Dance", which will show the whole journey of India Rising. They want the desi baller community to be as close as possible to the team and want them to experience every step of the journey.
The roster will keep changing to give other upcoming brown basketball players opportunities. In addition to creating a team, the founders intend to create a media platform dedicated to celebrating the achievements of people of Indian origin in any league of the world. "Whenever a new India Rising is playing any brown basketball fan in the world, they're gonna know," said Gautam.
India Rising also has plans to visit India later this year and have a big block party in India. It is described as a "basketball carnival".
"It's bringing the culture of basketball together," Navin said.
They plan to organise a "block party", a concept party invented by InTheLab and the Indian branch being the official block party partner.
"So imagine we come to court, and there are DJs, there are artists, there's food, there's music, there are performances, and on top of all that, there are vendors selling clothes and sneakers and then you have big basketball games as the centrepiece. You have a dunk contest. You have so much happening, almost like a basketball carnival."
They have global ambassadors like basketball player turned wrestler Satnam Singh and NBA 2k Influencer Ronnie Singh, aka Ronnie2k.
Bringing Satnam, who has now moved on to wrestling, was always on the list for Gautam in some capacity on the other and he clarified, "The reality is he's wrestling right now. And he has contractual obligations to the rest of the company," he continued. "So we said, look, we can't do this without you. So if not a player, he should be the global ambassador, and we'll create some incredible content together through this unique partnership."
Navin, whose room is filled with anime artwork and tattoos, more so signifying that India Rising aims at the country's youth, a lot can be gauged about the vibe of the team readying to assemble.
The founders have travelled to a lot of places in the world, and with the expertise in growing a sport in the US, it aims at helping the next generation of ballers to level up, which is what Inderbir wants, "We want our future generations to be much better than us, right? Better, more athletic, stronger and should work harder, and learn from us, know what we have gone through and then they can scale more success easily."
India Rising aims to give back to the game of basketball in India. They plan to have their first developmental camp in India by late 2022, put Indian basketball at cultural places like Siri Fort, and Nagpada on the map and help build courts around India. This will help spread the word about the game to a greater level and develop the growing culture of the incredibly adrenaline-driven sport.