How Jairam Jat rose from poverty to captain India and win a UBA Championship with Chennai Slam

For Jairam Jat, life dealt him a losing hand at a young age and dared him to amount to anything of substance. What he has made of his life today is the stuff that pipe dreams are made of. He was the young boy who put food on his family’s table through arduous physical labor and still saved enough to buy books for his education. He was one of the invisible child laborers we see all around us and tend to ignore. His story is of a boy who grew to smash through the odds stacked sky-high against him with a crossover dribble and came out as a champion on and off the court on the other side.

Jairam Jat’s inspirational rise (click here to view his story)

“Pressure? This isn’t pressure. This is basketball. This is what I love to do. Pressure is coming from where I come from. And growing up the way I had to grow up. That’s pressure. That’s life.”- said Allen Iverson, NBA Hall of Famer.

The difference between a good and a great player comes to light when they are put in a pressure-filled situation. Great players find ways to consistently overcome obstacles in face of adversity in clutch time. Speaking of clutch time, there were few contests with higher stakes in UBA Season 4 than the final regular season game between Chennai Slam and Bengaluru Beast as it would decide who plays in the play-in qualifier for a shot at the post-season. If you saw that tantalizing encounter which Bengaluru won, chances are that #40 on Chennai would have made a deep impression on you. That’s the number Jairam Jat had on his back, along with the mantle of captaincy.

He led his team in scoring with 19 points down the stretch in that hard-fought loss, looking like a man a decade younger as he took the ball to the rim time and time again and connected on clutch shots. It wasn't a surprise that he was named to the UBA South Division All-Star Team. The veteran wasn’t new to facing pressure, on or off the court. Dealing with pressure was something the former Indian basketball team captain had learned early in life.

Jairam lost his father at an early age, and the pressure of supporting his younger brother and sister fell on his shoulder. He’s used to shouldering burden literally and figuratively, as he had to undertake backbreaking physical labour as a daily wage labourer and later as a porter to make ends meet. The tides of his fortune turned when he joined the Army and was introduced to basketball. While he has risen above poverty thanks to basketball, he still retains the hunger of that teenage boy who worked from dawn to dusk and beyond just to make ends meet.

A true leader

Jairam and Agu celebrating a win over Pune Peshwas in UBA Season 4

His teammates love playing with him as well. "He's (Jairam) a leader. He's the captain of the ship. He's such an experienced player and he's always humble and helpful. We're like pilot and co-pilot, depending on what the situation calls for we switch reins on the fly. I love playing with him," said Chennai Slam's dynamic point guard Agu.

Jairam's story stands out as a success story, but there are countless Jairams out there who are struggling to find a way out of poverty or are looking for a better life for themselves. For them, Jairam’s life presents a shining beacon throwing light on what’s possible with hard work and perseverance coupled with an insatiable hunger to get better. To them, Jairam’s success story can have the same effect which the first sub 4-minute mile had on runners worldwide.

Legend had it that running a mile under 4 minutes was physically impossible, and the record for a mile hovered just above the 4-minute mark. It wasn’t until Roger Bannister broke it in 1954 that people stopped deeming the feat impossible. What is astounding is that after one man showed that it can be done and shattered the mental barrier of naysayers, the feat was accomplished many more times in the following months and eventually runners all over the world began to do what was previously thought of as impossible. All thanks to the ripple effect created by one man who defied circumstances and redefined what was possible.

Jairam running onto the floor in UBA Season 4 in Chennai

In Kolputli village in Rajasthan, there may be youngsters who are looking for direction in their lives. They may be facing economic constraints and other barriers which prevent them from pursuing an education. What they have though, is the example of a role model who was in their shoes in the past, before he outgrew them: Jairam Jat. Hailing from the small village of Kolputli, Jairam forged his own destiny and is now one of the most respected veterans in Indian basketball. To children throughout the country who are looking for a way out, Jairam’s path shows how basketball can help someone make a name and a life for themselves if they put in the work.

A champion through and through

Jairam and Chennai Slam lifting the UBA Championship Trophy in Season 3

Jairam averaged 18.2 points per game in Season 3 playoffs over 5 games, helping Chennai Slam lift the UBA Season 3 Championship trophy as they defeated Punjab Steelers 2-1 in the best-of-three finals series. He also led Chennai Slam in free throws made and attempted (20-25) in the playoffs. 

While all those who seek to follow in his footsteps may not end up representing the tricolor, the life lessons which a diligent pursuit of basketball teaches one can guide one for a lifetime in every walk of life. And there are many other prestigious stations one can attain through basketball which make it an appealing pursuit. A number of government organizations hire promising basketball players through the sports quota and educational institutes also offer seats through sports trials.

Jairam can hold his head up high for what he has accomplished personally. What makes his chest swell further with pride is knowing that he has inspired thousands more to keep their heads up, work hard, and pursue their dreams. His life is proof positive that basketball can help one attain dreams which were previously inconceivable.