It was a normal morning at the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) headquarters. Servants cleaned floors and served tea. Well-suited gentlemen walked around the building. A cleaner turned on the TV. A news headline flashed on the screen
INDIAN BASKETBALL TEAM SUFFERS CRUSHING DEFEAT AGAINST BAHRAIN
Suddenly, a young man entered the building. He walked straight up to the office. He had an appointment with the chairman of the BFI.
He knocked on the door of the chairman’s room. “Sir, my name is Lokesh Kumar. I had an appointment with you.”
“Enter,” came the reply.
Lokesh pushed open the door. The chairman of the BFI, Nathan Roy, was a short and morbidly obese man with what looked like a triple-chin. “Sit,” he said.
Lokesh took a seat. “Sir, you may know me from the recent national tournament where I led my team to a title.”
“Sir I believe I have what it takes to go to the next level!”
“I have been granted an opportunity to ascend to the next level, sir.”
Lokesh was now starting to get irritated. “So, sir. In order to register for the NBA draft, I need a certification from the basketball authority of my particular country. In other words, you.”
“Sir, can you please grant me a certificate and a letter saying that I’ve been playing basketball in India? It makes me eligible to play in the NBA, the greatest and most prestigious league in the world!”
“What makes you think I’d do that?”
“Umm, sir, wouldn’t you want to see an Indian shine in the NBA?”
Nathan Roy sat down on his enormous chair. “Look here, Mr. Kumar, I don’t see any reason to help out a non-established player like you! You don’t appear to have the talent, or the experience for this game!”
Lokesh felt a twinge of pain.
“I’ll admit, sir. I started playing very recently. I’ll also admit I have no natural talent for the game. But sir, I work harder than almost any player you’ll ever see! I led my team to a national championship! Surely, these are enough reasons to help me out!”
“I have a bad feeling about you, Mr. Kumar. Many Indians have tried their hand at basketball, but have failed miserably! I have a feeling you’ll end up just like them! Mediocre, and playing in some godforsaken league in another country!”
“This isn’t a basketball country,” said Roy. “This country’s players are but mediocre stock, destined to get crushed by much better foreign athletes!”
“Sir, how can you…”
Roy raised his hand for silence, then turned on the TV.
The headline read:
INDIAN BASKETBALL TEAM SUFFERS CRUSHING DEFEAT AGAINST BAHRAIN
“You see?” said Roy. “Bahrain isn’t big on basketball either, and they destroyed us! We went down 106-78! Isn’t that pathetic?”
Lokesh didn’t respond. He couldn’t respond.
“You’re a strapping young lad,” said Roy. “Since you’re Indian, take advantage of it and play some sport like cricket! Play a sport like badminton! In this country, where basketball isn’t a thing, don’t go down that wayward path! Indians are known across the world as excellent I.T guys! Trust me, learn how to code, and become a software engineer! You can live a happy life!”
Roy raised his hand for quiet. “Your allotted ten minutes are over. Please leave!”
As Lokesh walked out of the room dejectedly, Roy tapped his table to attract Lokesh’s attention.
“If you really want to play that badly,” he said with a strange smile on his face. “Deposit a lump sum of five lakh rupees on my table by tomorrow, and I’ll process your application!”
Lokesh sat on a bench, aghast. “Five lakh rupees?” he thought. “I’m Rakesh Kumar’s son, for god’s sake. Not Rakesh Roshan’s! (1)”
“Hey! Karnataka 64!” came a voice.
Lokesh looked up to see who spoke to him. He was mildly surprised to see Team Punjab’s center, Jyot Singh, and Team Delhi’s center, Parth Prasad. “Hi,” he said.
“What’s with that pathetic hi? What happened?” asked Parth.
“Well, I got an offer to play in the NBA…”
“And you’re sad about it?” asked Parth angrily.
“No!” laughed Lokesh. “I need the BFI’s certification to apply for the draft. But, the chairman asked me for five lakh rupees! Where should I magically get that much money from?”
“Wait, he asked you for a bribe?” asked Jyot.
“Yeah,” said Lokesh.
“And you let him get away with it?” asked Jyot again.
“You let a cockroach run around amok in your house, idiot,” said Jyot. “Come with us, we’ll show you how we deal with cockroaches here!”
Jyot, Parth, and Lokesh pushed the door of Roy’s room open and leisurely walked in.
“What’s this blasphemy? What’s going on here?” said a startled Roy.
“Five lakh, seriously?” asked Parth.
“Forget five lakh,” said Jyot. “I’m giving five hundred rupees to the guy in the CCTV video room. He’ll probably assist us with a little…ah…scandalous movie of your epic exploits asking for bribe!”
Roy sat there, trembling.
“Might as well post it on twitter and expose this wonderful scam-lord,” said Parth. “I daresay your superiors will want to have a small chitchat with you after!”
“This is blackmail!” hissed Roy. “You kids could get arrested!”
“Blackmail for bribe, sir. At least we won’t get removed from our jobs by the sports minister of this country!”
Five intense minutes later, Lokesh walked out of the room with a certificate and neatly-typed letter in his hands, accompanied by Parth and Jyot.
“That was very Bollywood-like! (2)” exclaimed Parth happily.
“Agreed,” said Jyot.
“Thanks guys, for the assist,” said Lokesh. “But why are you helping me? I was the one who defeated you guys and ruined your chances at the title!”
Parth and Jyot stared at him.
“None of that matters,” said Parth. “You were the better player, so you won!”
“You’re really skilled, man,” said Jyot. “You deserve that NBA opportunity! Can’t wait to see an Indian blowtorch the league!”
“Get out there and make us proud, man,” said Parth.
“We’re happy we got to help you, man. Thank us in your finals MVP (3) speech!” said Jyot.
“Now go to the NBA, and dunk on some other people, stop picking on us!” laughed Parth.
Lokesh couldn’t help it. He grinned.
After the certification conundrum, Lokesh now had another issue. The US Visa would cost him about eleven thousand rupees, and flight tickets to Chicago would cost another fifty thousand rupees.
He didn’t have that kind of money.
But the biggest issue was with his college. When they heard he wanted to drop out, they demanded he pay them the entire remaining fees of four years in order to be allowed to leave.
The total amounted to a staggering four lakh rupees.
He didn’t want to ask his father for money. The poor man had invested enough in Lokesh’s education. Also, he’d probably be driven out anyway.
But, unknown to Lokesh, a news reporter had been following him around since the state tournament and had been writing article after article on him. These were the articles that Lokesh’s parents would read and get depressed about.
But, the articles had another reader.
He was Lokesh’s biggest admirer.
And his best friend.
Lokesh swiped his phone to receive the call. “Hello?”
“Hello, Lokesh! It’s me, Karan!”
A warm feeling of happiness enveloped Lokesh’s chest. Karan Singh was his best friend from school. This was a guy who often got picked on along with Lokesh in school. He ended up as the second-best student in the state and had joined St Mary Ann’s PU College, following which he had cracked the JEE and entered an IIT.
“Hey, Karan! What’s up, buddy!”
“You got an NBA offer?” asked Karan.
“How’d you know?”
“News? Why’d they bother covering me?”
“You kidding? That national tournament was historic!”
“So when are you leaving for the USA?” asked Karan.
“I don’t know if I can, man,” said Lokesh. “Got to pay my way out. And I’m flat broke.”
“What do you mean how much?”
“How much do you have to pay?”
“About five lakhs, man.”
“Oh, okay,” said Karan.
“Send your bank account details!”
“Wait, what?” asked Lokesh.
“I said, send your bank account details!”
“That’s cute, but where are you getting the money? Planning a bank heist?”
“No!” said Karan. “I have my own start-up company! We make security solutions for large companies! We also make mad profits! Now stop asking questions and send your bank account details!”
Lokesh vaguely remembered Anuj Varma telling him that Karan had his own start-up company. A welt swelled in his throat out of emotion.
He didn’t know how to thank Karan.
But what he also didn’t know was how much he’d inspired Karan to chase his dreams. Karan was the happier one of the two, as he was finally getting to help the man he idolized out of a tricky spot.
Kempegowda International Airport
“Now be careful, son. Don’t walk in any dark alleys, or you’ll get mugged!”
The US Visa process had been extremely smooth for Lokesh. His NBA draft combine invitation from Mr. Marcello Rodriguez has been enough to convince the authorities to grant him a visa.
He’d also paid his college in full, and successfully dropped out of engineering.
He swore to one day, repay Karan in full. And probably buy him tickets to a game.
“Okay, it’s time, son. All the best, God bless you, be careful, and keep calling me every day!” said Sujata Kumar, Lokesh’s mom.
“Okay, ma,” said Lokesh.
Lokesh wheeled his trolley towards the airport entrance. He finally turned back to look at his father, who had a stoic expression on his face.
“Win, and come back,” said his father.
Lokesh smiled. “You got it, dad!”
He then turned around and walked into the gleaming airport terminal with its huge structures, glittering lights, and enormous aircraft. His destiny was finally starting to take shape.
At that time, the two million people in Houston, Texas, went about their daily work without knowing that the fate of their basketball team was going to change, forever.
1. Rakesh Roshan: An Indian film producer. Pretty wealthy guy.
2. Bollywood: India’s Hindi movie industry.
3. Finals MVP: The NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award is an annual National Basketball Association award given since the 1969 NBA Finals. The award is decided by a panel of eleven media members, who cast votes after the conclusion of the Finals. It is awarded to the guy who has made the greatest impact in the NBA Finals.