Slam dunk in Northeast
While the Northeast is wracked by tumultuous protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 heartening news emanated from one corner of the sporting powerhouse that contributes international-level athletes in sundry disciplines.
Traversing through picturesque West Sikkim, feasting our senses on the majestic Kanchenjunga, we stumbled upon a star among one of the region’s less popular sports, basketball.
Sikkim girl, Nima Doma Bhutia, had been selected for the Indian basketball team last month. At 5’7”, Nima effectively challenges the stereotype that youth from the Northeast are stunted and ill-equipped for games that require height.
A former student of Eklavya Model Residential School, Gangyap, in West Sikkim’s Tashiding village, Nima was a straggly 12 year old in 2007 when the newly opened school’s principal, Sidharth Yonzone, a huge National Basketball Association fan, introduced basketball as an extra-curricular activity and offered to coach the players himself. Nima and her friends apparently carved out a court from scratch and she was one of the first to pick up a basketball.
When I caught up with Nima (popularly called NimDo) last week (December 10), the 24-year-old was busy playing the state championships at Indore, Madhya Pradesh. But she was happy to talk and candid about the “tough journey” of a basketball player from the Northeast. “Because of our (limited) height, basketball is not encouraged at all. We are told to play football instead. The crowd, our families, even the elders are very discouraging. I would like to tell the girls in the Northeast to believe in their dreams and never give up,” she said.
On the poor infrastructure in the region for basketball players, Nima added, “The facilities are almost non-existent. I am now improving my skills because I want to do something for the players in the northeastern states. I know that if I follow my heart and passion for the game, my dreams will come true.”
There have been trailblazers from the region prior to her, of course. Mizo player, H. Laldinsanga, a towering 5’8”, represented India in the Middle Asia zonal qualifiers in 2005. Following in his footsteps from Mizoram is 28-year-old Lalrina Renthlei, but neither can match the stature of Nima, whose posters apparently don the rooms of boarders in Sikkim’s leading schools.
As if on cue, the NBA got in touch to say it had launched a first-of-its-kind four-part lyrical documentary series — Hoop Nation — celebrating NimDo and the Girls of Gangyap. “Each artiste tells a story through the track inter-cut with interviews of people and communities featured in it, the sound of which is mixed with the music of the track. The first episode premiered on November 18, where the story of wheelchair basketball players of Chennai was narrated. Episode 2 followed the journey of the Girls of Gangyap striving to become 11-time national champions through the inspiring words of talented rap musicians, Symphonic Movement. The episode is an ode to those Girls of Gangyap who have paved their own way to the National Games with the help and never-ending support of their coach and community. It taps into their struggles and highlights their journey through the road of achievement,” an NBA communication said. “The third episode on December 2 had Spitfire taking viewers through the world of exiled Tibetan children, to whom playing the game is a means of both meditation and brotherhood. The finale played out on December 9 featuring the Ludhiana Basketball Academy, performed by Kaam Bhaari.”
The culture-driven narrative of Hoop Nation is quite riveting and profiles those for whom basketball is more than just a game.
Can the inclusion of players like Nima (and perhaps Renthlei) in our national team alley-oop a place for the Northeast on India’s basketball map?