Basketball Days | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 08, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:20 AM, August 08, 2020

tangents

Basketball Days

When I stepped into the court on that first day, the elite team of basketball players was already there. I scanned the faces. Most were unfamiliar but my eyes stopped at one. I had seen this face before. It was Sheikh Kamal, and I was one of two schoolboys selected into the same team as him!

At first I was awestruck and nervous. But over the next few weeks I found that Kamal Bhai was completely approachable. He played with the grace and ability of a natural athlete: jumping high, running fast and scoring. He was popular among his contemporaries in the team, liked because of his quick wit. At the same time, he had a soft spot for the youngsters in the team and treated us with great affection. I admired his friendly smile, the twinkle in his eye, and his well-groomed moustache - mine had just started to appear – which gave him a distinguished look. After the demanding early morning practice, when we were ravenously hungry, he often treated us to a special breakfast or snacks.

How did I get there?

I had set my sights on basketball, a new game for me, when I was in Class Eight at St. Joseph's High School. I was often the first one on the court every afternoon for practice. Brother Ralph, who joined our games, often coached me. I worked on my game at a feverish pitch, practicing at all hours.

The following year I made the school team, scoring well during the season. Our great rival was St. Gregory's High School, who beat us in several games. But in the Finals of the School League, we defeated them – a win that many of our team still savour.

One day in 1974, when I was in Class Ten, our school had a group of visitors including two Russians: a basketball coach and his interpreter. They auditioned the basketball players on court. The following week I was invited to a training camp for the first ever Bangladesh Basketball Team. I was one of two schoolboys chosen for the camp; the rest were older, more established national players. The Russians, winners of Olympic gold medal in basketball, would coach our team.

The next few months were like a dream. I had the opportunity to play basketball with the nation's best players including Kamal Bhai. The team's youngsters, Dastagir and I, had to work extra hard to keep up with them. But it was the experience of a lifetime.

A few months after our training ended, on the darkest day of this nation, August 15, the world changed as Bangabandhu and most of his family including Kamal Bhai were assassinated. Had he lived, he would have been 71 this year.

The following month, big changes came into my life. I moved abroad for further studies. My interests also changed. I quit playing basketball.

Three decades later I returned to the game. When my son had turned ten I started playing basketball with him to keep him engaged in a sport. He eventually went on to captain his school basketball team. Nowadays I have quit playing basketball for good (really!) but the game will always have a special place in my heart.

 

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