Confession time. I am lazy. I’d rather sit court-side than be on a basketball court. And what a time it has been for basketball fans not just in Toronto but across Canada and dare I say, even the US. Five Raptors players on the court, their roster teammates and a dedicated fan base have energized us as never before.
Growing up in India, cricket and field hockey were the “first love” sporting choices for me. Later, badminton was added to this list. But, it was the internationally glamorous aura of cricket that made it a hot favorite in India and across the Commonwealth countries that made up the British Empire at one time. Rather than abandon their social habits and customs, colonisers or even immigrants when moving to new lands in large numbers tend to bring these with them; the British went a step further as they introduced “their” sports in “native” lands to encourage “civilization” and inculcate discipline to mould the thinking of their subjects.
As Britain remained the governing authority of the rules for the sporting activities they introduced, all the colonized countries had to look up to them to seek interpretation or clarity in case of any doubts or conflicts; this served to reinforce their leadership and the “Master Class” image. Cricket and Polo were sporting activities that were considered a “Gentlemen’s game” to be indulged in by the elite; it drove home the concept of class and became a matter of prestige and pride for the ruled to play these sports and by association, be seen as a part of the ruling class. But, as the British found out later cricket served to rally the masses around iconic local sporting talent who had started to excel and were surpassing the performance of their English counterparts, thus denting the image of the mighty Empire. Perhaps even today it is this sentiment that continues to drive the high emotions witnessed around cricketing activities in India.
Cricket never caught on in Canada, despite efforts by an imperial-minded elite to promote the game as a way of identifying with the British Empire. Linked to upper class British-Canadian elites, the game never became popular with the general public. In the summer season, it had to compete with baseball. And then there was this Canadian James Naismith, who invented Basketball.
As I write this, the Raptors have just won their fourth game of the NBA Finals, now leading the Golden State Warriors 3 games to 1 and remain one game from their first-ever championship. The sport was created by a Canadian in the US and now it is time to bring home the basketball honors. In the same way that India would be looking to win the Cricket World Cup currently underway in England, to the beat of the Bhangra and Bollywood dancing that they have successfully used to reverse-colonise Great Britain.