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Sree Kanteerava Stadium: A Lake-Turned-Basketball Landmark

Sree Kanteerava Stadium: A Lake-Turned-Basketball Landmark Court Chronicles

The Sree Kanteerava stadium in Bengaluru has blessed me with a few memorable moments in my lifetime, on and off the court. But none of them comes close to that one evening on 3 December 2016.

We were under the shimmering lights on Kanteerava’s bright red and notoriously slippery court 1, playing for the Karnataka State Association Cup. My Indiranagar Basketball Club (IBBC) team was down by two points against a raging Rovers Dharwad. Rovers had possession with less than 12 seconds left on the game clock. Guarding Basavaraj Murgod, their senior-most player and one of the greats to come out of legendary Karnataka club Vijaya Bank’s stables, I managed to draw a crucial charge.

The score still read 60-62 in favour of Rovers, when I missed a go ahead three. Luckily, my teammate collected the offensive rebound and parcelled it neatly to another, who swished it from beyond the arc right at the buzzer.

We won!

Chaotic screams of a disbelieving crowd followed.

This was IBBC’s moment, not necessarily mine, but one look around and you’d have known who the real winner was. It was basketball. Those lights, that canopy roof, and that crowd only made you love it more.

Limited Access

The 2016 South Asian Basketball Association Championship underway at the Kanteerava Indoor Stadium. Image courtesy: Basketball Federation of India.

Bengaluru has a decent number of courts to keep a sizeable baller community happy, but at least once a year, the club jerseys come out and everyone flocks to the Kanteerava. School kids, college students, office-goers and professional ball players turn up by the dozens and seat themselves on granite bleachers surrounding the two outdoors courts. The seating is uncomfortable, and the playing surface, despite being re-done in 2014, is as bad as it can get. But for those who can ignore those discomforts, it’s the next best thing to Valhalla. The roof, which came up in 2016, has only added to the charm.

But the real hope for any baller from the state is to walk across the parking lot and ply his trade at the indoor stadium. The indoor stadium, with its striking outside dome, coloured chairs, sepia-toned lights and rising sea of spectators is the closest you can get to ‘proper’ basketball in Bengaluru.

Before its recent renovation, the indoor surface wasn’t particularly flattering, nor is the stadium ventilated well enough (despite the introduction of air conditioners in 2014). But there’s still something hopelessly romantic about the place. Despite the resident pigeon horde, there’s still the feeling of being inside a sacred cathedral.

It’s unfortunate that most people, even those who have played at a professional level for Karnataka, have only played on the wooden surface a handful of times. That largely has to do with the fact that the venue acts more as an exhibition space or else is reserved for premier national and international tournaments.

While there’s that constant complaint regarding the availability of the indoor venue, even the harshest of critics have the option of kicking back and buying some peanuts on the sidelines of the outdoor courts.

“It’s not like we would not like to conduct more tournaments and events at these [outdoor] courts,” says Mohan Kumar, the media in-charge at the Karnataka State Basketball Association. “Also, getting permissions to conduct matches at the indoor stadium is tough. We would love to make it public and have people play there everyday. But it’s not something we can do right now because we have to maintain the stadium.”

Lake Turned Landmark

A state level inter-club match underway on Kanteerava’s outdoor courts. The famous dome of the indoor stadium is visible in the background.

The entire Kanteerava complex, built on a dry lake bed in 1946, became a full fledged multi-sport facility in 1997 as part of the National Games.

Since then, the basketball courts at Kanteerava have hosted a handful of national and international events. It’s also the home for Vijaya Bank, one of the State’s leading club sides, and also the training ground for Karnataka’s Department of Youth Empowerment and Sports [DYES]’s camp programme.

Shorter duration camps are also run by an array of coaches from different clubs. But the most regular camp is the one conducted by local coach Manoj Kumar. “I have run the camp for over a decade now. I get about 30 kids to come in every weekend,” says Kumar.

“Most people don’t say it because these courts have been here for a long time but it’s one of the most loved courts in Karnataka. It’s almost like they take it for granted. There is always someone or the other playing basketball and there’ll always be someone to watch them play. The feeling you get from this court you won’t get in any other court. This is truly the heart of basketball in Karnataka,” Kumar adds.

Way Forward

News through the grapevine is that the authorities concerned will be re-laying the outdoor surfaces within the next few years. Also, with the 2017 FIBA Asia Women’s Cup to be hosted in Bengaluru later this year, work is underway to give the indoor stadium a much-needed facelift and use the venue less for exhibitions and more for sport.

If everything goes according to plan, then in a few months from now, the outdoor and indoor courts at Kanteerava will undergo a dramatic change.

But for old timers like me, however swanky and modernistic Kanteerava may become, its historic charm will still remain intact.

The feature image used in this piece is courtesy Vijaya Bank.

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