[Originally published on NBA.COM, as part of its ‘Local Heroes’ series, around February 2017.]
“He was unorthodox … the type of player we had never seen before.”
– MA Parthasarathy, former India player
“He was someone who lived for the team.”
– MC Selvakumar, former India player
It was in 1978 when IT happened. An incident that lives on purely by word of mouth, snaking its way as a Chinese whisper from one awestruck basketball fan in Bengaluru to another: “Do you know there was an Indian guy who scored more than 100 points in a single game?”
A fellow journalist colleague got word of this apparent bombshell of a ‘trivia’ over two years ago. Not sure what to make of it, he had filed this lead way back in his head. Earlier this year, the same story started doing the rounds again during a local tournament in Malleswaram, the locality of Bengaluru where the ‘100-point-man’ lived.
Basketball was his escape
RT Viswanath from his younger days. Image courtesy RT Viswanath.
RT Viswanath aka ‘RTV’ was born on 25th December, 1946 in the fascinating basketball hub of Malleswaram, a residential suburb in the north-western part of Karnataka’s capital city, that has incredibly produced over a dozen international basketball players.
RTV belonged to a middle class family. His father passed away when he was just seven. The responsibility of running the household fell squarely on his mother. Amidst all these trials and tribulations, RTV found an escape – the world of sports. RTV and his twin brother Jagannath were coaxed into switching from cricket to basketball by their elder brother the late RT Subbarao, who was a talented player himself.
The proximity of the basketball court to his house meant RTV could dedicate hours and hours to his new-found love affair. But sensitive to the financial situation at home, he struck a balance between academics and hoops.
In 1967, RTV graduated and joined the Indian Telecommunications Industry (ITI), a company that encouraged its employees to play sports. At ITI, RTV was surrounded by top basketball talent from Karnataka. Back in the sixties, the jump shot had just been introduced, and at a mere 5ft 5 inches, RTV knew he had to master this art to have a lasting impact. A very early adopter of the now ubiquitous ‘run and gun’ philosophy, the high scoring ITI teams won tournament after tournament at the regional and national level.
The 100 point game!
RT Viswanath being felicitated by Indian badminton superstar Saina Nehwal. Image credit- Malleswaram Cup, Bengaluru.
In the 1978 season, ITI was taking on rival club Devanga Anekal in a State level tournament.
The match began in familiar fashion for ITI. Comfortably ahead early, a quick time out was called where it was decided that ITI would keep its foot on the gas.
“We were aware that we were pretty strong and absolutely anyone could score, but we noticed that Viswanath scored all his baskets. We then made a conscious effort to get him the highest possible points he could. He did a fantastic job of converting all our passes,” said MA Parthasarthy.
Anekal was a weak side, but never would have imagined the fate it was going to suffer that day. The score line at the end of the game read as ITI – 130 points – of which 108 were scored by RTV; a feat all the more remarkable considering that it was achieved in an era without the 3-point line!
“I don’t know what it was about that day, but his conversion rate was very high. We would pass the ball to him the near the half court line and he would still go into the opposition half by himself and score,” recalled Parthasarthy.
The news of this feat spread far and wide. Players, coaches, fans, selectors and everyone associated with the sport were stunned! Many refused to believe it. It was rumoured that leading national daily The Indian Express carried the news on its frontpage, but no record of that edition has been traced.
Soon after this epochal performance, RTV, who often missed out on representing Karnataka at the junior level due to academic compulsions, was called up to play for the state senior team. However, he never got to don national colours. RTV makes light of this omission. “India, at that point of time, had better players than me. I was just not good enough. I often missed out because of my lack of height. However, I have no regrets because I knew that those players were better than me and deserved to be there,” he said over a phone chat.
Into the sunset
RT Viswanath shakes hands with a local Bengaluru college team during a recent state level tournament. Image credit- Malleswaram Cup, Bengaluru.
One of the pet peeves of Indian journalists covering the local basketball scene is the appalling lack of documentation. Scoresheets are destroyed immediately after games, carelessly handed over to raddi wallahs in exchange for a few rupees of loose change. Important matches aren’t videotaped, forget being televised, and advanced stats of the kind seen in the NBA remain a distant dream. In this scenario, anecdotal sources remain the only windows into India’s landmark basketball moments. The same was the case with RTV and his 100-point-game.
RTV stopped playing in 1990, but stayed associated with the sport as a selector for Karnataka’s senior and junior basketball teams. He is now living a peaceful retired life in Bengaluru. It is both funny and scary to think that we nearly missed out on this key milestone in Indian basketball history, had it not been for a fortuitous Chinese whisper that for once just happened to be true!
WATCH ON YOUTUBE:
- Featured image of a present day R T Viswanath recreating the iconic Wilt Chamberlain image holding up a hand written copy of his high score has been clicked by Pranay Naidu.