CHENNAI: About 300 boys and girls of the Corporation higher secondary boys school in Saidapet huddled into a spacious hall, excitement writ large on their faces along with beads of sweat — courtesy the unscheduled power cut. A loud cheer rang out when power resumed bringing a smile to senior government officials including deputy commissioner (education) R Lalitha IAS, of the Chennai Corporation.
However, the day’s loudest cheer was reserved when Isaiah Thomas, a basketball star with NBA team Sacramento Kings, walked onto the dias. He was in the city as a part of a series of promotional events to popularise basketball. Thomas was later overwhelmed by the reception which he thought befitted only players like Lebron James, the best in the world today and Thomas’s favourite.
Besides Lalitha, Saidapet MLA G Sentamizhan, the local councillor and the district education officers were a part of the function.
Through the course of the half hour event, the 26-year-old Thomas, dressed in a loose jersey and shorts, interacted with the students and inaugurated the recently built basketball court in the centre of the school ground, by symbolically shooting a basket into the hoop. He regaled the crowd by twirling a basketball on his fingers and gifted freebies to a select few. Later, Thomas gave them a short pep talk about the importance of sports, “People dissuaded me from playing basketball because of my height, but I did not let it affect me and worked really hard,” he said.
Though few children could make head or tail of Thomas’s heavily accented English, the awe was evident and they were desperate to click pictures and take autographs from the international star.
Explaining the tie-up between the NBA and Chennai Corporation, Lalitha said that on a visit to San Antonio, the Mayor of Chennai was introduced to Troy Justice, a Senior Director of the NBA. As part of the this tie-up, Physical Education Teachers of Corporation schools would be given special training by NBA coaches for a period of three months from November this year, she added.