RT Viswanath: India’s 100-Point Man

My very first piece for NBA India also happens to be the first time any article I’ve written. Major props go to my editor Gopalkrishnan R for the opportunity and the guidance through this whole process. Feedback is welcome!

http://india.nba.com/news/local-heroes/rt-viswanath-indias-100-point-man/

55 years ago, almost to the day, the legendary Wilt ‘the Stilt’ Chamberlain memorably scored 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks at the Hershey Sports Arena in Pennsylvania. It is a landmark NBA record that lives on to this day. 16 years later and 13516 kms away, the feat was repeated in Bengaluru, India. This is the incredible, little-known story of RT Viswanath.

“He was unorthodox … the type of player we had never seen before.”

MA Parthasarathy, former India player

“He was someone who lived for the team.”

MC Selvakumar, former India player

It was in 1978 when IT happened. An incident that lives on purely by word of mouth, snaking its way as a whisper from one basketball fan in Bengaluru to another: “Do you know there was an Indian guy who scored more than 100 points in a single game?”

A fellow journalist colleague got word of this apocryphal piece of ‘trivia’ over two years ago. Not sure what to make of it, he filed this little gem of information in his head. Earlier this year, the same story resurfaced again during a local tournament in Malleshwaram, the Bengaluru locality where the ‘100-point man’ lived.

Basketball was his escape

RT Viswanath from his younger days. Image courtesy RT Viswanath.

RT Viswanath a.k.a. ‘RTV’ was born on 25 December 1946 in the fascinating basketball hub of Malleshwaram, a residential suburb in the north-western part of Karnataka’s capital city, Bengaluru, that has incredibly produced over a dozen international basketball players.

RTV belonged to a middle class family. His father passed away when he was just seven. The responsibility of running the household fell squarely on his mother. Amidst all these trials and tribulations, RTV and his two siblings found their escape — the world of sports. RTV and his twin brother Jagannath were coaxed into switching from cricket to basketball by their elder brother the late RT Subbarao, who was a talented player himself.

The proximity of the basketball court to their house meant RTV could dedicate hours and hours to his new-found love affair. But sensitive to the financial situation at home, he struck a balance between academics and hoops.

In 1967, RTV graduated and joined the Indian Telephone Industries (ITI), a company that encouraged its employees to play sports. At ITI, RTV was surrounded by top basketball talent from Karnataka. Back in the 1960s, the jump shot had just been introduced, and at a mere 5 feet 5 inches, RTV knew he had to master this art to have a lasting impact. An early practitioner of the now ubiquitous ‘run-and-gun’ philosophy, the high-scoring ITI teams won tournament after tournament at the regional and national level.

The 100-point game!

RT Viswanath being felicitated by Indian badminton superstar Saina Nehwal. Image credit- Malleshwaram Cup, Bengaluru.

In the 1978 season, ITI was taking on rival club Devanga Anekal in a state level tournament.

The match began in familiar fashion for ITI. Comfortably ahead early, a quick time out was called where it was decided that ITI would keep its foot on the gas pedal.

We knew we were pretty strong and absolutely anyone could score, but we noticed that Viswanath scored all his baskets. We then made a conscious effort to get him the highest possible points he could. He did a fantastic job of converting all our passes,said MA Parthasarthy.

Anekal was a weak side, but never would have imagined its fate that day. The score line at the end of the game read: ITI — 130 points — of which 108 were scored by RTV; a feat all the more remarkable considering that it was achieved in an era without the 3-point line!

RT Viswanath recreates the iconic Chamberlain picture at a court near his home, in Bengaluru.

Comparisons between Chamberlain and RTV become inevitable. Besides the obvious physical dissimilarities — Chamberlain was a seven footer, and Viswanath is a mere 5–5 — it is pertinent to note that the Big Dipper’s 100 came out of a total team score of 167, while RTV’s teammates tallied just another 22 points combined.

“I don’t know what it was about that day, but his conversion rate was very high. We would pass the ball to him the near the half-court line and he would still go into the opposition half by himself and score,” recalled Parthasarthy.

Word of this virtuoso performance spread far and wide. Players, coaches, selectors and fans were stunned. Many refused to believe it. It was rumoured that leading national daily The Indian Express carried the news on its front page, but no record of that edition has been traced.

Soon after, RTV, who often missed out on representing Karnataka at the junior level due to academic compulsions, was called up to play for the senior state team. However, he never got to don national colours. RTV makes light of this omission. “India, at that point of time, had better players than me. I often missed out because of my lack of height. However, I have no regrets because I knew that those players were better than me and deserved to be there,he said over a phone chat.

Into the sunset

RT Viswanath shakes hands with a local Bengaluru college team during a recent state level tournament. Image credit- Malleshwaram Cup, Bengaluru.

One of the pet peeves of Indian journalists covering the local basketball scene is the appalling lack of documentation. Score sheets are destroyed immediately after games, carelessly handed over to raddi wallahs in exchange for a few rupees of loose change. Important matches aren’t videotaped, forget being televised, and advanced stats, of the kind seen in the NBA, remain a distant dream. In this scenario, anecdotal sources are the only windows into India’s landmark basketball moments. The same was the case with RTV and his 100-point game.

RTV stopped playing in 1990, but stayed associated with the sport as a selector for Karnataka’s senior and junior teams. He is now living a peaceful retired life in Bengaluru. It is both funny and scary to think that we nearly missed out on this unique milestone, had it not been for a fortuitous discovery!