Khushi Ram: Giant from another era
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Much before NBA fever gripped the average basketball enthusiast in India, there was Khushi Ram, who topped the scoring charts in the late 60s at Asian Championships. Shivani Naik profiles the forgotten legend who passed away last week.
Nothing about the hoopster, in his early 20s, or the Jay-Z blaring out of the speakers in the background, could have prepared you for what was to follow.
His hair, an over-grown mohawk streaked red, fit right in with the neon bright basketball court in Mumbai's late-evening wintry outdoors tournament of 2009. His arms, bulked up in some Floridian gym where he played ball at college for a couple of seasons, rippled with multiple tattoos — also inked in America. A hoodie had been flung casually to the side. The India international stepped on the court for a spot of fancy dunking and showboating. The crowd came to watch his rakish stunts. He was good at those, and he knew it.
Summoned to the stage a while later though, this punk, in a flash, turned into a pious devout. Waiting for him on the dais, his back ramrod straight and eyes inscrutable was a lanky man in his 70s. Khushi Ram only sniffed slightly when the young player walked up to him and reverentially touched his feet, head bowed.
A dozen youngsters, growing up on a staple of NBA's mid-summer razzmatazz of All Star weekends on TV and slipping into Kobe Bryant and Shaq knock-offs, fell into a line and repeated the routine. Some flattened out their spike cuts, others tugged up and tucked in their recklessly low-slung baggy shorts, before standing before the big man. Khushi Ram evoked that sort of veneration in Indian basketball.
The sport's biggest Indian legend passed away in little-known Jhamri in Rohtak, Haryana, on December 29, 2013 at age 77 and India in turn, lost a man who could transform cocky 'dudes' into earnest 'disciples', with his mere gaze and straight talk.