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'Ek on Ek' with Streetball League team owner Gursimran Khamba
Comedian Gursimran Khamba, who shot to equal parts fame and notoriety thanks to co-founding All India Bakchod, is in fact a huge basketball fan. In the past, Khamba has tried his voice at humorous NBA commentary in Hindi and, along with AIB co-founder Tanmay Bhat, also traveled to the US to cover the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend, which they did in their own inimitable style.
Now, Khamba has decided to take a plunge into Indian basketball, with his ownership of a team in the newly launched Streetball League. The 3x3 League, launched by reality TV brother duo Rannvijay and Harman Singha, is set to tip off tomorrow, and will add to India's growing 3x3 competition calendar.
I faced off with Khamba for a fun-filled 'Ek on Ek' interview to talk about his interest in basketball, and the prospects of his Buzzer Beaters team in the inaugural season of the Streetball League.
We know you are an NBA fan, but what’s your connection with basketball? How did you get into the sport? Did you play growing up?
I used to play growing up, for my school team in Ludhiana. But I use the term “play” loosely. Because I was tall I used to get thrown in as a center. The problem I quickly realized was that I used to get my glasses flung off grabbing rebounds or when the game got physical in the post.
How tall are you? Was your height one of the reasons that initially got you to play/watch the sport?
I'm 6’3. Height wasn’t the reason that I got into the sport to be honest. As a kid I was exposed to hockey and cricket way more than basketball and even on a daily basis those were the sports I used to play more. But my cousins who lived in the States and Canada used to get back a lot of Bulls merch – especially around the time Jordan accomplished his first 3-peat. So it almost got reverse engineered, when watching the Bulls suddenly opened me up to the Barkleys and David Robinsons of the world.
How would you rate your own basketball skills on a scale of 1-10?
On my best days I’m a solid 2.
Punjab has been a hotbed of basketball talent in India. Outside of the NBA, how familiar are you with the Indian basketball scene, particularly Punjab’s contribution to the growth of the sport?
So because I grew up in Ludhiana and my grandpa was connected with the hockey scene there I used to get to meet people from (sports), and also watch a lot of other sports. But honestly outside of following the few players that blew up in the media like Sim Bhullar and later Satnam etc. I wasn’t clued in to what was happening locally at all. When I started working with the NBA as a commentator I got connected to a lot more people that exposed me to what was going on locally and that’s one of the reasons the Streetball League had me so excited because its also an education for me. In the last 2 months itself I’ve learnt so much about not just Punjab basketball but also Mumbai and Maharashtra basketball. I feel with more time I’ll also be able to see how best I can contribute to the growth of the sport in the country.
Did you ever imagine you would own an Indian basketball team?
Nah. Don’t think anyone has those kind of dreams. Rannvijay might have :)
How did you first get the idea of owning one of the teams? Did Rannvijay contact you with such a proposal? Did you immediately jump at the opportunity, or was there any hesitancy initially?
Rannvijay had been talking about setting up a league. He called to talk about it and if I’d be interested in getting a team. Was a no brainer.
Why did you pick the players that you ended up picking? What was your auction strategy, and are you happy with the players you eventually selected?
I’m super happy with how my team turned out. The idea was to have a team with a lot of young talent which I can help push. Our team’s All Star Sameer Qureshi was someone who I was introduced to the Khelo India Games and his is the kind of spirit and work ethic that forms the core of the team. The team also has Mohsin Shaikh, Kumar Jagani and Khaled Chauhan who currently play with Sameer at Mastan so they have great chemistry and know each others strengths. We also have Vinay Kothari from Hyderabad who plays the 3BL and Vishal Rathee from Delhi who plays for Haryana and St Stephens. They’re all kickass young ballers. I think compared to the other teams we’re slightly undersized but we make up for it with skill, speed and heart.
Any particular player on your team you are impressed with, and other teams should be wary of?
Everyone in every team has played with or against each other already so I think everyone is pretty familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Overall, what has the entire process been like so far (right from the selection tryouts, to the auctions, and now leading up the official tip off of the inaugural season)? Have you enjoyed getting to know your players?
Absolutely. Its been an incredible learning process getting to know the team and just how basketball functions here locally. Now its about being able to support them in whatever little way I can so that India and large gets to know them and their stories.
It may be too soon to ask, but what is your long term strategy in terms of developing your franchise?
Too soon yes. I think everyone is really excited about the season and we’re also going to see objectively what works what doesn’t and how we can push the game forward. What I do know for sure is that I’m in it for the long haul so I’ll see how to grow the franchise after season 1 is over.
And now onto some 'Bakchod' questions....
Is it true that your failed attempt at becoming an NBA player pushed you into a career in comedy?
I wish. However I’ll hopefully have a career in NBA2K soon.
You have officially joined in the ranks of Steve Ballmer, Justin Timberlake, Will & Jada Smith and Jay-Z, by owning your own basketball team. Is this part of your insurance policy in case people stop finding you funny?
Yes that’s the plan! For Jay Z and Justin Timberlake to buy stake in Buzzerbeaters India someday.
You are probably the first comedian in the world to own a basketball team. (Bill Maher, David Letterman, Will Farrell and Drew Carey stuck to sports like baseball, car racing and football.) Was this a factor that influenced you to make this purchase?
Shit I never even thought about that. Are we sure about this though? I wont be surprised if Dave Chappelle has a stake in a team somewhere. I need to put this on my CV if it's for real.
Is it true you had no clue as to the players you were signing?
I had limited knowledge about some of the players because during the auctions I hadn’t locked down on a coach for the team yet. At the league trials ofcourse you get to interact with the players but that’s still a limited glimpse into their skills and abilities. I had a team advisor – Ash Anjara – who’s India’s only FIBA licensed agent. So I went through a lot of players with him as part of prep and auction strategy. He’s been very supportive.
Is it true that whenever you try to motivate your team, the players are unsure if you are serious or kidding?
I haven’t tried to motivate my team as of now and hopefully I won’t need to because I’ll be terrible at giving 70 minute type speeches.
Your team name is ‘Buzzer Beaters India’. Does that mean you are not confident of your team getting any blow out wins?
I never bother about blow out wins. A win is a win is a win. I just felt like the other teams were restricting their names to specific locations or making them sound like a brewery in Bangalore (Flying Panthers and what not) So I just chose a vanilla name which can attach itself to any sponsor.
Is it true that beyond basketball skills you are laying special emphasis on teaching your players trash talking, insult comedy and roasting skills, as a way for them to get into the heads of opposing teams?
I thought I’d do that but so far the experience has been the exact opposite. The guys are absolute pros at all of those things. By the time the season is over I’ll learn way more from them than they will from me!
Now that you have had a week to process it, do you still think the ‘Gursimran Kemba’ joke is “terrible”?
It's still terrible but maybe I’ll wear a Kemba jersey at the games to humor you since you’re so invested in that joke.