Standing at a busy intersection a little away from Corporation Circle, the Kanteerava dome holds its own in the Bengaluru skyline.
For non-Karnataka basketball folk, the first introduction to the name Kanteerava is usually by way of a Wikipedia article during a random Google search on “India National Basketball Team.”
Similar to the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports facility in Delhi at least from its exterior, the Kanteerava indoor stadium has, in recent months, been hosting an assortment of international basketball matches and training camps. The return of quality hoops action marks a re-emergence onto the national stage for the city of Bengaluru.
A multi-lingual urban centre, the Garden City boasts of its own version of English street slang heavily interspersed with Kannada/Hindi/Tamil/Telugu and Malayalam rejoinders. A cosmopolis where traditional bisi bele bath shares space with braised lamb cheeks, Bengaluru exemplifies the complexity of what basketball has come to mean in India— a global sport embedding itself into the psyche of average Indians; a sport on the cusp of modernization that still holds onto the quintessential rootedness of its major stars who come from smaller villages and towns.
Four gates, two of them on the Ibis Hotel side remain perennially bolted. A lone sports apparel seller is a constant presence. His collection of low cost sleeveless ganjis and polyester shorts atop a rickety makeshift platform forms a pile three feet high. On getting past him through a narrow gap in the chain linked fence, the Kanteerava Stadium complex begins revealing itself.
Immediately to the left, a 25 by 25 m outfield is being used for informal seven-a-side cricket games. On the right, an archery range, and 10 meters beyond, the entrance to the athletic complex that has seen every national and international event imaginable, from able bodied to the paralympics. The ground is home to the Bengaluru FC football team from the I-League and regularly features the national football team in its international encounters. Behind the athletic stadium, is the Department of Youth Affairs And Sports Hostels that houses budding state level athletes from diverse disciplines.
Every evening, the outdoor courts at Kanteerava see practice scrimmages of the Vijaya Bank team, the state’s only consistent recruiter of basketball talent. The courts also play host to a numerous State level age group tournaments, inter-club championships and camps in the run up to various national championships.
The Indoor Stadium too is witnessing focused basketball activity, from the earlier ignominy of having fallen prey to trade fairs. Most recently, training camps were conducted for FIBA coaching certifications. Prior to those, selection tryouts were held for the National U16 Boys and senior women’s teams. The South Asian Basketball Qualifiers for Men saw India qualify yet again for the FIBA Asia Championships, much to the delight of a couple hundred spectators.
“Kanteerava is popular because it is the only place in Bengaluru where people can come together to play multiple sports. It is conveniently located at the heart of the city,” says Sandhya Manjunath, a 24-year-old point guard on the Senior Karnataka women’s team, who has been playing at Kanteerava for more than 11 years.
The heightened basketball activity at Kanteerava is a clarion call for improving its infrastructure. The sprawling indoor stadium is poorly maintained, with dust, cobwebs and pigeon poop on most of its 4000 yellow plastic seats. Sports as diverse as kabaddi, volleyball and basketball fight for space. “There are other indoor facilities coming up in the city now. If Kanteerava is to stay ahead it must do away with being multi-purpose or else allot a separate section for basketball,” says Manjunath.
The situation outdoors is even worse.
In mid-2014, the courts were relaid with a shiny bright red surface that had players skidding all over the place. It’s a weird experience to see your own reflection looking back up at you as you work on your two hand front V dribble.
“It’s a ‘money-making’ court. This is a ‘Level-3’ surface that is not even fit for school level tournaments!” laments Coach Manoj Kumar, who has been training kids from the Sampangi Rama Nagar neighbourhood at Kanteerava for over 15 years. “Due to the dangerous surface, there were major injuries to four players last year, and they have quit the sport as a result.”
The peculiar nature of Bengaluru’s ‘office-goers showers’ that hits the city on most evenings is another inconvenience. Competitive state level games getting postponed or cancelled is a laughably routine occurrence. Gunny bags and jhaadus can only go so far. “There was a proposal to have overhead asbestos roofing for the outdoor courts, but those plans got cancelled,” says Coach Kumar.
On the end opposite the aging Corporation Circle rises the glittering UB City, the most upmarket residential and commercial locality in Bengaluru— home to international fashion brands, live music shows, stand-up comedy festivals and more.
Smack in between Corporation Circle and UB City, sitting on what was once lake land, Kanteerava Stadium Complex seems to bridge status quo and development, past and present.
Maybe even the future.
The last few months has seen the elevation of three players from Karnataka into the senior Indian teams. 17-year-old phenom Bhandavya HM got called up for the senior women’s squad for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship. Vijaya Bank’s Arvind Arumugam and Rajesh Uppar are fresh off FIBA Asia Men’s Championship debuts. In recognition of Uppar & Arumugam’s achievement, banners were raised at Kanteerava during a national inter-club tournament held last month.
Rooftop banners? Trust Bengaluru to lead the way.
* This is the second feature in the special ‘Supreme Courts’ series powered by Sporting Easy, where we will document some of India’s most iconic basketball courts. We call them #SupremeCourts as these courts are either supremely interesting, historic, famous or simply beautiful to look at. ‘Supreme Courts’ first started off as a Facebook album (in fact the phrase was used in the basketball context many years ago in this article). Read the first Supreme Court feature here.