One of Indian basketball's brightest, Raspreet Sidhu has been blazing a unique trail in Indian basketball over two decades, both on and off the court. Adding two more feathers in her cap, she's recently led team Delhi to two national medals over the last two months, the first silver coming in the 1st 3x3 National Basketball Championship, and the second in 3x3 in the 37th National Games Goa.
"This is my 23rd year of representing Delhi in basketball, and my 19th year representing India. It’s been a long ride, God has been kind. I’ve been able to play thanks to all the blessings," says Raspreet.
When I first started covering basketball in 2010, Photo Shop was the local corner shop where I would get passport photos printed, internet was a dwindling dial up modem, and MS Paint reigned in this card I made of Raspreet along with the Indian team's profile.
One of my regrets in taking up basketball photojournalism over the last year has been knowing that I'll miss out on shooting most of the players whom I initially got to talk to and write about a decade ago. Some of them are still playing, and playing well, but all of them may not be in their primes.
Not so with Raspreet. She's been the top performer in most of the competition where she takes to the court. Last year, she painted a mighty 43-point masterpiece in the 72nd National Basketball Championship vs Tamil Nadu in the quarterfinals, leading Delhi to a bronze medal as she got injured.
After dominating in 5-on-5, Raspreet put in the work to excel again in 3x3. In the 1st 3x3 National Basketball Championship 2023 in Chennai last month, Raspreet was again the leading scorer with 78 points scored in total, followed by Gulabsha Ali (76) from Railways, and the duo from Kerala, Aneesha Cleetus (74) and Grima Merlin (72) who won gold.
Her run of leading her teams with consistent excellence is inspired in part by her NBA idol. "I draw a lot of inspiration from Lebron James. How he conducts himself on and off the court. He’s always been my GOAT, the truest student of the sport. The way he’s carried his teams to the Finals again and again. He’s a very dependable player, a great leader, and such an offensive threat. One of the things that inspire me the most about LeBron is that even though he’s the NBA’s All-Time leading scorer, he’s still a pass first player. I work on getting more of that in my game."
The 2023-24 NBA season has just tipped off. Only 6 players in NBA’s history have played 21 seasons in the league. LeBron James is one of them. James will turn 39 years old this December, and we are all guilty of taking his greatness for granted.
As Raspreet will tell you, there’s no comparison between playing in India vs playing an entire NBA season, going deep into the playoffs (10 straight finals appearances for James), flying across the NBA cities, playing in the Olympics, and logging 54,000+ minutes of playing time on court. LeBron also spends a reported $1.5 million on taking care of his body and keeping himself at full strength to perform.
While there's no direct comparison, it takes a similar determination and love for basketball to persevere and be the best player on the court after two decades of playing like Raspreet continues to. That too without the cryogenic chambers, or the LeBron James of feet doctors, or having a dedicated team for your nutrition and workouts like NBA players do.
LeBron spoke about wanting to make the NBA's all-defence team, and taking pride on that end of the court. That's an area where Raspreet takes pride in as well, "More so than scoring, I personally take more pride in playing good defense. I’ve played under many coaches. Coach Fransico Garcia, Tamika Williams, Pete Gaudet, and more. One common direction has been that I’ll guard the best player on the other team. My focus is to make a 40-point scorer finish with 15 points."
"When we would have tape sessions after games, I would go back to the room to see the tape twice. I wanted to read the opponents and understand their game."
"I was the captain of the team in 2011 when we won the first-ever 3x3 gold medal in Indian basketball in the South Asian Games in Sri Lanka. That memory still gives me goosebumps."
"I’m a fan of both formats. I think 3x3 is way more challenging. You hardly get time to breathe in 3x3. I remember we had gone to represent India in 3x3 in the FIBA Asia Cup 2017. It was me, Shireen Limaye, Jeena Skaria and Grima Merlin. We finished 4th at that time. I remember we were so exhausted in our first game. We were talking to each other, wondering about our fitness. But then we saw the Australian women’s team play right after us. They were dead in 3 minutes! Then we realized, it’s not us, it’s this format."
"One of the things I love about 3x3 is that it’s such a level playing field. It’s all about who wants it more, who has worked harder. In the 1st 3x3 National Basketball Championship, we had a very competitive pool with teams like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, before facing Kerala in the finals. They all played really well. The 3x3 Nationals are a marathon, it takes a lot for a team to get to the finals."
"Right now the trend in 3x3 is to have an all round game. Go for layups, shoot from behind the arc, take jump shots. I think the 3 pointers are the biggest advantage and disadvantage in this format. You can’t have a game plan where you stress on just one aspect of basketball in 3x3. This format demands the utmost level of skill, to be calm in the most stressful situations. Momentum can shift so quickly in this format."
"No matter how much work you put in alone, basketball is a team sport. You are as good as your team. LeBron makes the players around him better. We see him pumping his players up all the time, and having them take accountability. That’s how it should be, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your team."
"LeBron does so much off the court too. He comes from an extremely humble background. He came from almost nothing and became who he is today. But he hasn’t forgotten his roots and is still giving back. It inspires me to strive to give basketball more visibility and use my platform to inspire. Be it by teaching underprivileged kids, being on the NBA show, with my work in my organisation, just building bridges in whatever way I can."
"I direct sports for Shiv Nadar group of schools. I wanted to give back to society, and started working with kids in urban cities. I have a team of 60 coaches whom I lead. We offer coaching in 15 different sports disciplines in our schools. One of the coaching experiences I love and am proud of is coaching underprivileged kids in a village in west Delhi."
One of the things you’ll observe from watching Raspreet in action is the joy she takes in the game and the positivity. “I think it comes from my upbringing, my parents and my coaches. And of course my trainer, coach and husband, the one-man army behind me, Brahmaditya. We’ve been together for 15 years now, eight years of courtship and then as a married couple. He keeps me grounded, he’s my biggest cheerleader and biggest critic." - Raspreet.
"My team energizes me. These girls understand the importance of every game. Ishika is a true warrior. I consider her a mini-me. Looking at her I think, this is how I grew up. The way she runs from pillar to post to guard every player. No matter who’s on the other side. Taking rebounds, making jumpers. She’s a true warrior with a killer instinct. I’ve seen her take up basketball from scratch. It’s a journey I’ve loved watching, and I believe that the sky is the limit for her. I’ve been teammates with Garima for quite some time in 5x5. We rarely see centers killing it from behind the 3-point arc, she’s one of those killers. She has such a good handle. She’s also a great learner," adds Raspreet.
While we spoke about Lebron James, there's another NBA legend, Stephen Curry, who was also born in the same hospital as LeBron in the Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio. Curry is the only player to have won an unanimous MVP award in the NBA in the 2016-17 season. Last season, at the age of 34, Curry incredibly put up better numbers in 2022-23 NBA season. In today's day and age, stars are redefining how they can play stronger in their 30s.
“I always strive to lead by example. I hate myself being 80% on the court. I want to be 100%, no matter where I am. I try to make sure my energy level doesn’t drop. Ball knows no one. We are putting in the work, it’s all about how much work you put in."- Raspreet.
One of Indian basketball's best and brightest is blazing a unique trail on and off the court. As she has shown with her recent performances on court, her best may be yet to come.