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Sozhasingarayer Robinson — The forgotten GOAT of Indian basketball

Sozhasingarayer Robinson — The forgotten GOAT of Indian basketball

Sarah Waris

Published: 27 Jan 2020 2:06 PM GMT

When it comes to Indian basketball, it's arguably difficult to decide upon who has been the greatest player of the generation. With significantly fewer data available, it is tough to come to a conclusion through analysis who among our hoopsters have been the best.

However, a few historical moments remain etched, the tales of which are passed down from generation to generation. One such event from the basketball court was when Sozhasingarayer Robinson was invited to play professionally in Iran for Negar Sang Sharekord and Farsh Mashhad, to become the very first player from India to take part in the highly acclaimed league in Iran. No other Indian has signed a contract in the Iranian Basketball Super League thus far.

sozhasingarayer robinson
Sozhasingarayer Robinson (Image: NBA.com)

Born in Pondicherry, Robinson dominated the state and the national level and made waves when he blocked Yao Ming, a Chinese star who played for NBA team Houston Rockets, twice in a game. The 6 feet 8-inch tall athlete could be termed a 'stretch four' player, a player at the power forward position who could generate offence farther from the basket than a conventional power forward, ten years before the term became commonplace in the NBA circuits.

The legend of Robinson is still whispered with great respect among the old-timers in the Indian basketball fold. Back in 2006, the athlete had been offered a chance to play professionally in the New Zealand circuit for Auckland Stars, after impressing in his showings against the Tall Blacks. Dribbling, dunking and pirouetting, Robinson had excelled with his swift reflexes as a member of the Asian All-Star team, and the chance to play in New Zealand would have been a greater stamp on his legacy.

“I will start negotiating with the Auckland league authorities soon", he had mentioned to LiveMint back in the day. Ranked 12th among 74 basketball-playing countries then, New Zealand's interest in Robinson was evidence of his skills and his swashbuckling flair, that hardly found any appreciation within the Indian circuit. Even after leading the national team to a surprise win over South Korea in the FIBA Asia Stankovic Cup in 20114, where he poured in a stupendous 36 points, Robinson's off-field run-ins with the officials made bigger news. His career changed for the worse when he faced a suspension for missing a state selection training camp for Tamil Nadu in 2006, after which he announced his retirement as a protest.

Livid that Indian basketball players hardly received any support from its federation, Robinson quit the sport in a moment of anger. “I quit the sport. I was really hurt. I didn’t want to play the game again. Soon, there was a feeling of unhappiness. I knew I was missing something. You know, when you have something valuable, you don’t know its worth,” he had said. Though he returned in 2008, achieving the zenith seemed next to impossible for the then 28-year old, as he saw his once-promising career end with a whimper. The New Zealand deal did not come through either, and if anything, Robinson's career, now, can be seen as one with a number of missed opportunities and what-ifs.

Lack of guidance limiting the potential of Indian basketball

Robinson is not the only basketball player in recent times to have fallen well short of his potential for India. Amrit Pal Singh, who rose the ranks to play for India in the FIBA Asia Championship at 20 just a year after being discovered had a fairy tale start, and was made the captain of the Indian team by 23. However, the late discovery put him at a disadvantage as bigger challenges came by.

Over the last decade, players like TJ Sahi, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, Amjyot Singh and Palpreet Singh Brar all had the potential to make waves in the Asian and at the global level, but mismanagement led to them fizzling away. Better coaching, opportunities, exposure, talent scouting programs and a strict professionalism in the sport will go a long way in helping the youngsters imbibe the early fundamentals, which is what will lead to an all-round development in Indian basketball.

Also read: No longer the ‘underdogs’ | By Arshpreet Bhullar

The lack of promotion and a proper system in the sport has ensured that basketball in India remains stagnant, with the players facing the wrath. Back in 2007, in the interview to LiveMint, Robinson had admitted that for the sport to grow, there needed to be a proper system in place. "There has to be a system, as in cricket," were his words.

It, thus, is ironical that the very system that he spoke of improving led to his untimely departure from the game. If not for the muddled mess he found himself in, the flamboyant forward, who was capable of shooting streaks, attacking from the perimeter and finishing on the inside, could well have ended his career as the true GOAT of basketball in India; someone who inspired a gazillion youngsters to take up the game.

The topic of the Indian GOAT of Basketball was first published on NBA.com

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