In Bhutan, Basketball Is the Sport of Kings

Shooting hoops is a royal activity in the tiny Kingdom
By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 14, 2013 6:38 PM CDT
In Bhutan, Basketball Is the Sport of Kings
King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, left and Queen Jetsun Pema pose after they were married at the Punakha Dzong in Punakha, Bhutan.   (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

In the Kingdom of Bhutan, basketball isn't a street sport—it's a royal sport. The New York Times goes balling with the country's 23-year-old queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck, who plays every day and boasts an average of 34 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists. Bhutan's fourth king, now retired at age 57, also plays daily, and legend has it that he once scored 65 3-pointers in one game. It probably helps their stats that touching royals is forbidden, though one college student who plays regularly with the queen says she encourages her opponents to check her. "She gets mad if we don’t. She thinks we’re scared of her,” she says, but adds: "We are scared of her."

Now Bhutan is trying to turn basketball into a popular pastime for commoners, too. A coach has been hired from South Korea with the hope of forming a successful national team, though he has his work cut out for him. For a start, the Bhutanese are not known for their height. "In order to cover the height problem, I’m trying to get them into a faster style of play," the new coach tells the Times. "We need stronger defense and better fast breaks." The team believes its best hope is against the Maldives—a country with an even smaller population that is under threat from global warming. If the sea levels rise, the players speculate, its team may run out of places to practice. (Read more Bhutan stories.)

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