Arjun Khanna and Chinmay Menon, Undergraduate Batch of 2023 Battle of Los Angeles One of the
Chinmay Menon, Undergraduate Batch of 2023
2017. The finals of the FIBA Asian Division B Championship drew closer to its end as the Indian home crowd grew more and more tense. There were 23 seconds left for the game to end, when the Kazakhstan team managed to score a lay-up off a well-run inbound play to tie the score at 73 apiece. Having run out of timeouts, the ball was handed over to India’s Shireen Limaye for the final play. With the words “INDIA! INDIA!” reverberating across the entire stadium, she dribbled the ball to the front court and signalled for a screen. However, the Kazakhstan defence was quick to react and managed to counter the screens thereby preventing a clear path towards the basket. Time was running out. With less than 4 seconds left on the game clock, Shireen dribbled the ball to the left elbow before taking a step back and letting the ball go into the air.
On 29 July, 2017, India took a huge leap forward in the field of sports when the Women’s National Basketball Team beat Kazakhstan (75-73) to win the Division B Championship and hence, qualify for the FIBA Division A Championship. With all the close games and clutch shots, the six-day tournament proved to be a roller coaster ride, not only for the team members, but for the Indian home support as well. Having received regular significant contributions from members of the team such as Raspreet Sidhu, Kavita Akula and Anitha Paul Durai among others, India managed to find itself in the most awaited part of the tournament, the finals. The team faced tough opponents such as Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Fiji and Lebanon before reaching the summit. The final, as finals almost always are, was nail-biting until the very last second. After four long quarters of extreme back and forth action between the two teams, India managed to bag the gold medal behind the clutch efforts of Shireen Limaye, who scored 9 points in the final 3 minutes of the game including a game winning buzzer beater. To this day, that shot remains one of the greatest plays of Indian basketball history.
The Edict’s Sports Team received the opportunity to have a conversation with Shireen, where we discussed the game, that moment in time and her career at large. When asked about what ran through her head during the match against Kazakhstan, she responded by saying, “Oh my God, that game was incredible. We had been practicing to play against Kazakhstan for around 5 months just for that one game. The last 3 minutes of the game was just me trying to score against the tall girls from Kazakhstan because it was now or never for us playing in front of the home crowd.” It was a moment of relief for her when she shot the buzzer beater. “Everything just became peaceful after that.”
However, this wasn’t Shireen’s first experience on the big stage. Unlike most players presently in the circuit, her professional basketball career began at a very young age. To this day, she remains one of the youngest players ever selected to represent the Senior Indian Women’s National team by making her debut at the age of just 16.
“The first time I realised I could make basketball a career was when I was 14 – I got my first India camp”, she recalled.
It is also worth noting that basketball isn’t the only sport in which she has excelled in. An appearance in the Indian netball team for the 2010 Commonwealth Games makes her perhaps the only woman to represent the country on the global stage in two different sports. In addition to this, she was also ranked #2 in snooker within India. Nevertheless, when it came down to making a decision on which sport to pursue professionally, Shireen had no doubts in her mind.
“It was never a tough decision to make; I played netball just because I knew it would help me in the sport of basketball. Basketball has always been my first love.”
Perhaps it was this very mentality and these experiences in the young stages of her career that made her a future South Asian Games gold medalist (2019) and the captain of the Indian team as well. However, to achieve success, she also required a constant support system throughout the course of their journey. Luckily for Shireen, she found this at an early age itself. Being born into a family with a background in the sporting world, she was no stranger to it all.
Her mother, Suvarna Limaye is a former national level basketball player and a current coach while her father, Vijay Limaye is a former national level swimmer. “They are the ones who’ve supported me no matter what I did,“ she said about the role of her family in her career. This rich sporting background meant Shireen spent most of her life on the field, be it basketball courts or skating rinks.
In fact, when this interview was being conducted, Shireen, along with the Indian Women’s team, were in the middle of a national training camp in Bangalore. They were preparing for the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup 2021. Even amidst a pandemic, the national team was working hard to compete in tournaments when normalcy returned. As a pro athlete, Shireen had to continue working on her game every single day despite being stuck at home due to COVID-19.
“The first couple of days were bad because I haven’t been used to being at home all the time but eventually, I found my groove and I started practicing at home because my parents got me a hoop.”
Her relentless work ethic is what separates the good from the best. While the support system and experiences are integral to the process, they cannot be deemed useful unless they are complimented by an unrivalled sense of determination and grit. This has ultimately made Shireen the athlete, and more importantly the person, she is today.
However, not every athlete is granted the support to pursue sports, and this serves as one of the primary reasons behind the plight of female athletes in the country and in the world. Societal stereotypes have forever been opposed to the interests of women aiming to achieve professional expertise in sports. While central issues such as the wage gap and discrimination are still prominent, there is still optimism due to whatever little progress has been made in the last decade. Everyday, more and more women are proving their position in the field of sports by bagging achievements and breaking records. More importantly, some of these women are finally receiving the media attention they deserve. Whether it be Hima Das in athletics, Mary Kom in boxing or Aruna Reddy in gymnastics, the Indian sports community is no longer in the absence of female athletes. As long as this upward trajectory in the coverage of women like Shireen in sports continues, the future that lies ahead is bright for these athletes and for potential entrants into the field of sports. For those young girls, Shireen has a simple message.
“Come out for your shell. There is a better world waiting for you all. Women are stronger and I don’t think anybody can stop you from doing what you want to do!”