Siddarth Sharma - sidbreakball

Netaji Indoor Stadium: Kolkata's Basketball Colosseum

Published on
January 1, 2017

Originally published on on Nov 21, 2016

Over three decades ago, a lanky, 6ft 2in-movie star calmly walked out of a tunnel, with purposeful strides onto the floor, of the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata. He raised his arms to tumultuous applause from the audience and began a legendary performance, echoes of which still resonate across India.

It was at the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata that Amitabh Bachchan immortalized the aforementioned song in the film Yaarana in 1981, the same year that this stadium hosted the Asian Basketball Confederation Championship. It was here that, almost two decades later, another tall (actually way taller) gentleman named Yao Ming announced his arrival on the big stage as he won the MVP honors in the 1998 Asian Junior Basketball Confederation Championship, leading China to a 59-45 win over Qatar. It was here that the Harlem Globetrotters put on a show in the 1980s, delighting the crowd with their basketball tricks and on-court antics.

Among the wide-eyed spectators mesmerized by the Globetrotters was a young boy with his father. The local boy, Atanu Banerjee, grew up to be the very first FIBA-certified referee from India to have conducted an international level final when he officiated the 2007 U-19 Women's Asian Basketball Championship. "I remember watching the Harlem Globetrotters putting on a show here," Atanu recalls. "They had a gift of highlighting the joy of basketball. This stadium has seen a number of memorable competitions. I've officiated two finals here, 33rd National Sub-Junior Basketball Championship in 2006 and the 30th U-16 National Basketball Championship in 2013. There is a great atmosphere here during the matches."

This is what kids dream of when they put in the work to develop their game, to immortalize performances against top-notch competition in a local world class stadium as the populace cheers them on to glory. For this truly is a world class stadium, spread over 20553 square meters in total. The wooden area of the floor stretches 76 x 28 meters, and come competition time, four stanchions are rolled in with the grace of siege towers as an answer to call to arms. The arena is divided into two courts, leaving ample room along the sidelines.

Constructed in 1975 at a cost of Rs 2.91 crore, this stadium has played host to numerous competitions and high-profile events including the WTA Tour Sunfeast Open and the World Table Tennis Championship, along with the Junior Asian Basketball Championship. This stadium also has a satellite arena without a gallery, the Kshudiram Anusilan Kendra hall, which doubles up as a practice venue in for international competitions.

There are three key irreplaceable sounds in basketball which can instantly set a fan's spirits soaring sky high: the delicate sound of a net swishing, the thumping heartbeat of a ball bouncing, and the squeaking of sneakers on the polished hardwood. An indoor stadium accentuates these sounds with echoes the way it was intended. The sleek hardwood floor here lends a palpable bounce to the ball as if the floor and ball handler are both bouncing the ball between each other in perfect symbiotic harmony.

Indoor stadiums for basketball in India are a rarefied commodity. Even outdoor stadiums are often commandeered by the majority who morph the court into a football/cricket field. And indoor stadiums of any kind are usually multipurpose by design, able to serve multiple needs of gatherings and competitions. This results in the stadium facilities being utilized for more than just basketball, as other high profile events take precedence. One cannot just walk in to play basketball here unless the venue has been rented for a competition.

The floor of this stadium often requires repairs prior to hosting competitions. An indoor basketball hardwood floor needs to be tended with the care of a garden. Hosting a number of events with high footfall and temporary constructs on the floor has resulted in the surface being less than ideal for basketball.

Prior to hosting the 1998 Asian Junior Basketball Championship, the Department of Sports spent over Rs 65 lakhs to renovate the stadium and replace the entire floor. Repairs were conducted before the 2006 National Sub Junior Championship as well. However, the floor needed to be tended to during the U-16 National Basketball Championship while the competition was in progress.

"One has to do what is viable to keep a facility running," Atanu said. "It would be nice to see more sports events being hosted if possible. With the Pro Kabaddi League matches being held here now, hopefully, this will help in continuing the proud tradition of this stadium," he added. For this is also the arena the Warriors call their home. The Pro Kabaddi Team Bengal Warriors that is.

In the convention of Indian 'jugaad', Amitabh had the idea to add light bulbs to his jacket during the song. He controlled the bulbs with a switch in his hand with the mechanism of the wires hidden in his clothing. He pressed it off and on in sync with the beats while he grooved, and an instant classic was born out of 'jugaad'. It doesn't take much to light up an old staple with a new trend. With the trends of competitions happening here, with a little ‘jugaad’ one can be sure that Netaji Indoor Stadium, Kolkata will witness a great many more basketball competitions in the days to come.

Siddarth Sharma - sidbreakball

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