(The third article in a series exploring the journey of a Sri Lankan immigrant teen to NZ. Published on the SriLankaNZ Newspaper-3rd Issue)
A significant portion of NZ sports culture revolves around the All Blacks. They represent the heart and soul of a proud nation. I have only played a few social rugby games in my time. However, every lunchtime at school involved a game of touch rugby on the courts behind the gymnasium. Taking part in touch rugby games allowed me a space to grasp a little bit of the Kiwi sport culture. I was glad to finally learn rugby terms such as wing, short side, and dummy. With a grasp of rugby principles, came a sense of belonging to Aotearoa. Over the years in high school, the boys that played rugby at these courts began to identify themselves as the Back Courts (BC) crew. I was fortunate to be a part of this group. We cracked a few jokes, we laughed at the expense of each other, and we shared the odd slap of the bottom in true sports style. I will explore the impact of the BC crew comradery in a later article. However, it is worth a note that their presence in my life was an enormous pillar that held me up through the tumultuous teenage years.
From all the sports I had played, I found that my true love was basketball. It was the early 2000s, and the dynamic duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille Oneil were dominating the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States of America (USA). I had not played much basketball in Sri Lanka. However, I knew that putting the ball in the hoop was the aim of the game. Every day, I got out of bed in need of my basketball fix. I started off a rookie and worked through the hard slog to be drafted to the Los Angeles Lakers. From an early stage, I wanted to be the best. Despite my love for Kobe and Shaq’s dominance, I was not about to let them overshadow me. With relentless effort, I surpassed Kobe to become the best player in the world. In time, I stood atop the podium as the Finals MVP, hoisting the Larry O’Brien, NBA championship trophy. I was on the road to become the greatest of all time. The sky was the limit, and there was nothing to stop me from reaching the Mount Rushmore of basketball. Alas, all these plans came crashing down as the year 2004 concluded. To my great dismay and delight, NBA Live 2005 was released, and I had to get behind the controller of this new PC game.
I will discuss the impact of gaming in my life in a later article. But it was the PC game, NBA Live 2004 that made me fall in love with the beautiful game of basketball. The clothes, the music, and the lifestyle of a baller captivated my imagination. The basketball lifestyle also complemented my love for the music of 50 Cent. I may have been brown on the outside, but I felt African-American on the inside. As I learned the moves from the game, I practised at home and played socially at school. I attempted to replicate the streetball moves from And1 mixtapes (street basketball videos). During my high school years, I could play basketball for hours and never get tired. I knew that I would never be a professional basketball player. But playing ball granted me another medium of expression.
In contrast to Kiwis, Sri Lankans are cricket fanatics. The cricket world cup triumphs of 1996 and 2014 were momentous occasions in Sri Lanka. As for me, I am not a gifted cricketer. However, if you were Sri Lankan, you were expected to be a cricketer. As I stare down memory lane, I recall many fond cricket memories such as getting wickets, taking catches, dropping catches, cameos with the bat, getting beaten by the bowl, celebrating victories and sulking about loses. No matter the result of the game, I was glad to be part of it. Cricket also extended beyond the school to Sri Lankan community games. I enjoyed representing Lower Hutt in the Lankan community tournament despite the eventual loss to a talented Tawa team. It was a fun experience that allowed me to bond with the Lankan community in New Zeland. I feel that cricket still remains a social lubricant for Sri Lankans. In retrospect, fitting in with the local Lankan community thousands of miles away from home was instrumental in me finding my niche in this new habitat.
On the sports field, triumphs fuel the joy of many. But I find excitement in seeking the countless glorious moments as I play alongside my friends. In the next article, I will explore important teen friendships that helped me find my place in the land of the long white cloud.
Dr. Nehan Ruwantha Munasinghe (University of Sydney).