Abbas Moontasir: NBA athletes probably the best in the world

Abbas Moontasir, one of the most famous basketball stars from Mumbai, said that hockey and football players must learn about fitness from NBA players.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) mix of athleticism and entertainment will go live for the first time ever in India on Friday as Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers will play a pre-season game at the NSCI indoor stadium. The game is part of a venture to popularise the sport in Asia by taking a sporting spectacle to the Mumbai audience.

Watching active NBA pros in a match situation can be thrilling. However, for one of the most famous basketball stars from the city, Abbas Moontasir, there is more to be learnt from the dynamic sport than just points and rebounds.

“NBA players are probably the best athletes in the world. Our hockey or football players will be much, much better on the fitness front by watching these top pros. I strongly feel they should watch, if not in the stadium then at least on television.”

A former India men's team captain (1969 & 1975 Asian Basketball Championships and selected on the Asian All-Star team in 1970), he built a reputation for aggressive play and was fiercely competitive on court.

“Our sportspersons must watch not only the ball handling and rebounding ability, but particularly their physical fitness. After seeing the Kings and Pacers train and play, I hope our players get ready to work harder. Once physical fitness is in place, you can do a lot of things,” said the 1970 Arjuna awardee.

He recalled: “As I was interested in the NBA and its top players, I went through the bio-data of really big names like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell to know about their practice schedule. It was unbelievable."

"Later on, I read about Kobe Bryant shooting 700 balls. I would be in hospital the next day had I shot that number of balls in training. I am sure Steven Curry (currently with Golden State Warriors) must be doing the same thing, perhaps more.”

Moontasir developed through the ranks in city basketball at Nagpada’s Bachoo Khan ground, playing at the university level before breaking into the Western Railway and Indian team.

Encouraged by brothers, he took up weight training to develop a physical playing style. Hoopsters were supposed to thin and wiry, but he went against convention to build a physique to match aggression on court in local and national competitions.

He lost a chance to play in Europe when a proposed tour by the Asian All-Star squad did not happen, but educated himself about training by reading about NBA stars of his time.

The Nagpada ace observed: “These NBA teams are coming with top-class players, spending money to travelling to India. Some of them may go on to play in the Olympics, where over 200 nations compete to get in for medals."

"The Olympic medal is bigger than the World Championships in basketball and volleyball. Football is different where the World Cup title is bigger than an Olympic gold. I hope our players get motivated, watching these NBA players in action and aim for the Olympic Games in future.”

He hopes that India's national players in different disciplines also develop the fitness to go with it. “Better level of fitness will help our players last in the closing stages of a match. It applies to basketball, football and even hockey, our national teams face pressure in the closing stages and find it tough to handle."

"We have lost big games in the closing moments across sports, our players sometimes walk on court when they should be running,” said the straight-talking 77-year-old, who as a fiery young player, was suspended for arguing with match officials.

Asked if he follows modern day NBA, he said: “I used to love watching NBA about 20 years back, [but] the sport has changed today. NBA has its own rules, basketball played under FIBA (the sport’s world governing body) has own rules. The game is more physical than pure skill. The skill quality is there, but the game has become more action-packed, in tune with the times we live in.”

The Kings versus Pacers in Mumbai will keep him hooked, watching - as he puts it - some of the world’s best athletes in action.