Originally published on in.nba.com in Nov, 2016
Approximately 7.5 million passengers jostle for space in Mumbai’s local trains every day. Between domestics cutting vegetables, ladies curling their hair, businesspeople creating PowerPoint presentations and hawkers hawking wares, no sight is too strange to see here.
The Don Bosco, Matunga basketball court is less than a kilometre away from the Matunga railway station. Stepping inside feels like entering a holy cathedral dedicated to basketball, knowing the rich legacy of the hallowed court lying within. Inside, the rhythmic pounding of basketballs resonates like percussion instruments punctuated by swishes amidst chants of fervent crowds. You can usually find kids receiving coaching or a pickup game in progress here.
With the dedicated efforts of coaches, players and organizers, this court has served as a fountainhead for basketball in Mumbai. "Don Bosco is the nursery of basketball in Matunga. We coach over 80 kids daily,” said FIBA referee Manoj Kotian with bubbling enthusiasm. He’s coached at Don Bosco for a decade till 2013. “We’ve over 400 kids attending the summer recreational coaching camps. Non-students of Don Bosco come from Chennai, Andhra Pradesh, etc for vacations in Mumbai to attend the camp,” he added.
The first time I visited this court, it was being prepared with the care of a Durga Puja pandal for the Savio Cup, one of India’s premiere invitational tournaments. "While the court has a cemented floor, we install a terraflex surface for national competitions." Father Crispino D'Souza remarked. He was one of the founding members of the Savio Cup back when he was the principal at Don Bosco, Matunga. "We also put up stands for the crowd at the time of the competition. The court is surrounded by buildings and stands, creating a unique arena-style ambiance," he added.
In the NBA 2K series of video games, you can choose a ‘Broadcast Camera’ angle and customize the height of the camera to enjoy the action. Fans at Don Bosco have the same luxury of choosing different levels on the stands to sit on.
"Father D'Souza deserves a lot of credit for providing the managerial support to put everything together and helping the tournament to thrive," said Mr. M. Venkatesh, Basketball Federation of India's Director of Operations and Development, and Executive Director at PSL Group. He himself has been a member of the Savio Club for over 35 years and was equally responsible for the inception of the Savio Cup.
Those two, along with a group of enthusiasts, started the cup with a clear vision. "We wanted to raise the level of basketball in India by presenting a landmark competition," Mr. Venkatesh remarked. "We have a group of veterans who’ve been playing here for over 40 years every Sunday for no reason besides a passion for the sport. We wanted to continue that legacy. We also wanted to encourage youngsters to get more invested in basketball by showing stars from all over India competing in front of their eyes,” he added.
The stars at the Savio Cup are constantly surrounded by children clamoring for an interaction. You can bet that the young kid who sits on a chair while Indian national team’s highflyer Talwinderjit Singh Sahi dunks over him is going to remember that gravity-defying act and dream of replicating it.
Father D’Souza recalled how the NBA’s involvement here began, "The NBA's activities took off here thanks to Akash Jain, (the then Sr. Director, Business Development & Partnerships, NBA India) he was one of the first from the NBA to come here. And Troy Justice (Senior Director of Basketball Operations, NBA) was a regular here as well. They were instrumental in conducting a number of activities here."
"When Troy was in Mumbai, he'd be here every Sunday. It wasn't just about playing basketball, we'd discuss plans for the growth of the game in these gatherings."
Those Sunday morning sessions bore fruit as a number of NBA legends, past and present, graced this court for a variety of programs. Robert Parish, Pau Gasol, George Gervin, Brandon Jennings, Chris Bosh, Isaiah Thomas and Vlade Divac are some of the NBA luminaries who have visited Don Bosco, Matunga to help grow the game and inspire the next generation through programs such as the NBA Cares, Jr. NBA/WNBA Skills Challenge, NBA/WNBA Hoop School program, Train the Trainers clinics, Mahindra NBA Challenge, etc.
Three retired NBA players also participated in the 7th Savio Cup in 2013, as Jerome Williams (Junkyard Dog!), Paul Grant and Anthony Bonner arrived to represent the Sportspower team.
Manoj Kotian drove home the mission behind basketball at Don Bosco, "Our focus is to impart life lessons through the medium of basketball, to teach the youth how to solve life's problems with dedication, teamwork, and a fighting spirit." A fine goal being pursued and attained here indeed.