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Hoop Dreams at Thyagaraj
A dozen 15-year-old boys all skinny and tall, along with their coach, were bumping around in a bus, navigating the perennial Delhi traffic through south ex, a market notorious for long jams. The kids were guessing amongst themselves what the destination was, since the only information the coach had given them was that they were going to see “a match in a new stadium”. I was one of those 12 kids, but none of us dared to ask any more. The coach wasn’t a talker. The famous INA market passed by, opposite which is the renowned Dilli Haat but we kept on going. The bus finally stopped outside a long boundary wall which still had remnants of stickers promoting the Commonwealth Games, from a year earlier. We had heard about the Games and the controversies surrounding it; some had even watched from the stands. Yet, none of us had been to this particular venue. The unassuming walls gave way to a wide gate. The guards rose in salutation for the coach. It seemed like they knew him. The coach led us through the gates and that was when we saw it. Enormous in every sense of the word, its sheer magnitude was incredible. We had finally arrived at Thyagaraj Stadium.
* Thyagaraj Sports Complex is a multi-purpose sports facility which was built as a venue for the Commonwealth Games, hosted by Delhi in 2010. It is the only stadium which was built from scratch exclusively for the CWG, while other stadiums in Delhi like Talkatora Stadium and Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium received renovations. The stadium was initially built as a venue for netball, a sport which is quite similar to basketball, but has since been used for many different sports. At present, Thyagaraj Sports Complex has 2 indoor basketball courts and 3 indoor badminton courts. Outside, the complex houses 3 clay tennis courts, 2 grass courts and a practice track for athletics, the center of which is also used as a football ground. Peculiarly, Thyagaraj Sports Complex is named after a famous 19th century South India poet and composer, Kakarla Tyagabrahmam (or Thyagaraj in Tamil). Situated in the heart of south Delhi, the stadium is a mere 800 metres from the INA Market Metro Station. * “Come on, keep up!”, shouted the coach. Gaping in awe at the mammoth building, we had stopped dead in our tracks while the coach had walked a good distance ahead. We rushed ahead and finally caught up with our coach who led us through a set of double doors leading into the stadium. A gust of air hit us as soon as we entered the long and dark hallway. Some of us hesitated, having still not gotten over our childhood fear of the dark. The coach however, kept walking ahead, apparently unaware. Then, something magical happened. The corridors lit up automatically as our coach passed underneath it. Now we ran after him, our fears forgotten. I was the last in line and watched spellbound as the lights behind me blacked out soon after we passed, as if coaxing me ahead into the belly of this whale. * Thyagaraj Stadium is a state of the art facility which was constructed over a span of three years by the Public Works Department (PWD). Building the stadium cost a whopping 300 crore, but the money was put to good use and Thyagaraj Stadium is India’s first green stadium. It has water management systems such as rainwater harvesting, sewage treatment with a capacity of 200,000 litres per day, dual flush systems and sensor-based lighting systems & faucets. The stadium also houses a solar power plant which is one of the largest single rooftop power plants in the country, and has been designed to feed any surplus electricity directly to the grid. Spread over a vast area of 10,521 square metres, it has thousands of panels which capture the sun rays to convert it into energy. The stadium has an R.C.C. structure with steel roofing while the flooring has been done using granite, recycled PVC, carpets, epoxy and Kota stone. Thyagaraj Stadium set benchmarks when it was constructed and is one of the most environment-friendly sports facilities in the world. * The seemingly endless hallway finally ended with another set of double doors opening into blinding light. As our pupils narrowed, we began to realize that the stadium was as vast on the inside, as it looked on the outside. The roof was at least 80 feet high, covered with flood lights, pipes, wires and ventilation tubes. Rising all around us were huge sections of green seats, capable of seating thousands.
* The stands in Thyagaraj stadium have an interesting feature – they are retractable. When not in use, the stands remain stacked to allow more room on the courts. Should the need arise however, the stands can be expanded in mesmerizing fashion, almost doubling the seating capacity of the stadium. With a total indoor capacity of around 4,000-5,000 spectators and an outdoor capacity of more than 14,000 people, Thyagaraj Stadium hosts varied events ranging from sports, conferences, concerts and conventions. Unfortunately, holding so many non-sports events has taken its toll on the arena. Many parts have fallen into decay due to irresponsible behaviour of the spectators and poor maintenance by concerned authorities. * All these stands pointed to one thing and one thing only—the court. Shining strips of beautiful maple wood, reflecting the flood lights from the roof to create the blinding effect. Everything around the court and the court itself was spotless- from the fiber glass backboards, to the LED shot clock at the top. The court itself seemed a lot like what NBA courts look like on TV and that got all of us very excited. We dreamed about playing on this court, one fine day. * Thyagaraj Stadium has hosted international as well as national games, along with numerous smaller school, college and corporate tournaments. It has also been the venue for camps of the Indian national basketball teams and the Delhi State team. It also happened to be the place where the tryouts were held for the IMG Academy, the product of which was Satnam Singh, the first Indian to be drafted by the NBA. Last year, Singh returned to this very same venue to tip off ACG-NBA Jump, India’s first nation-wide basketball talent search programme. *
Kerala vs. Delhi, the exciting north vs south battle was about to tip off, and we quickly filled into the stands. The teams were warming up. As we nestled into the comfort of our seats I heard a rattling sound and immediately looked up. To my disbelief, it was the rim that was making that noise. The Kerala players were dunking all over it! It was the first time we had actually seen a dunk and it left us staring at each other, with blank expressions on our faces. I broke into random applause but all it did was invite incredulous looks from the slowly growing crowd, all of whom were rooting for their home team. The match finally started and was every bit as thrilling as we had hoped it would be. Both teams were neck and neck, with Kerala utilizing solid ball movement, while Delhi relied on a fast pace attack. The keener student-athletes amongst us noticed the backdoor cuts, the pick and rolls and the double teams. The ball bouncing on the hardwood, swishing through the net, all this was music to our ears. It dawned on us how beautiful the game could be. We simply had never seen basketball of that level before. Looking at the players, I made a promise to myself, that one day I would play in the nationals. One day I would be in their shoes… I was so lost in my thoughts and day dreams that it took the final buzzer to bring me back to the real world. Delhi had won by a close margin. The crowd was cheering at the home team’s victory. The coach had to force us out of our seats because it was time to go back. Not a single one of us wanted to go. But we had no choice. As we exited through the same set of double doors, I stole a last glance at the court and said to myself “Someday…” The bus ride back home was a lot quieter. * I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I think about the impact that visiting the arena had on me and my teammates. Turns out a trip to a new stadium was all that was needed to light a fire in our hearts. And I can say with some degree of pride that the promise I made to myself was fulfilled. ***
* This is the third and final feature in the special ‘Supreme Courts’ series powered by Sporting Easy, where we 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 previous Supreme Court features here.