Satnam Singh Bhamar – The First India-Born Basketball Player at the NBA
The scenario of Indian sports has been taken by a storm, and surprisingly enough, it’s not by a cricketer. It’s not even a soccer or hockey player. It’s a basketball player. 19 year old Satnam Singh Bhamara from a tiny village in Punjab has made it to the world’s biggest name in basketball – NBA, as the Dallas Mavericks chose him as the 52nd overall pick in the 2nd draft of 2015.
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What is it that helped Satnam Singh get through? He has one of the key qualities of a hoopster – height. Young Satnam has a massive height of 7 ft 2 in. But, that’s not all, because basketball requires coordination, agility, speed, and a lot more. He has created his very own story of aiming for the stars and reaching it, and his story beats any Hollywood movie. It is a story of struggle and love.
In the village of Ballo Ke, on the border of Pakistan, Satnam was born in a family of farmers and millers, living in a house that’s four miles away from a paved road. He inherited his height from his father, Balbir, who is also 7-2. As a child, Balbir became the tallest person in the village, and got suggested by everyone to partake in basketball, as they all knew the height requirement in the sport. However, since it was not a popular or lucrative as cricket, soccer or even field hockey, Balbir’s father forbade him to pursue it.
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Balbir became a wheat farmer and miller like his own father. He became the head of the village, and soon got married to Sukhwinder, and had three children with her. Satnam was the middle child. As Satnam Singh started growing up, he started becoming like his father – at nine, he grew taller than most adult villagers. Balbir, who understood almost nothing of basketball, knew one thing – that his son was tall enough to play basketball. So, he took Satnam Singh to a local basketball court.
A confused Satnam thought he was going to play volleyball. Understandably, he struggled. To help him practice, Balbir mounted a hoop in the courtyard. The enormous basketball seemed to reduce in size in the hands of Satnam, and everyone started calling him Chhotu, meaning the “little one”.
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As Satnam’s interest in the sport started growing, Balbir looked for players and coaches in Punjab to help hone his skills, and soon, Satnam was part of youth leagues in Punjab. Coaxed by his father, Satnam also enrolled in the Ludhiana Basketball Academy, designed to nurture youngsters between the age of 14 and 18 from Punjab and its neighbouring states. Satnam joined, at the age of ten. Thus, he received his first formal lessons in basketball.
Former basketball coach and director of from former basketball coach of Punjab and director of Sports Authority of India, Dr. Sankaran Subramanian, was his first teacher. He once dreamt that one of his students would someday reach the NBA. He always encouraged Satnam Singh. Who knew then that the man’s dreams would be realized, thanks to the overgrown boy from Punjab?
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Satnam grew to a height of 6-11 when he was around 13, and he wore size 18 shoes. As he watched more NBA, he started following players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and began to model his playing style off of Dwight Howard, Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming. Ludhiana Alum Jagdeep Singh Bains was also an idol for him.
In 2010, New York-based sports and media company, IMG, joined hands with Reliance Industries, India, to form IMG Reliance, a sports and entertainment marketing company. They entered a contract with the Basketball Federation of India, and decided to allow Indian athletes to enter Brendon-based IMG Academy on full scholarships. That year, Satnam drove the junior state team to a national championship, and got chosen to play at the NBA Basketball Without Borders camp in Singapore. BFI head Harish Sharma recognized the latent in him and insisted that he played against the national team members. He managed to compete with them.
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In the mean while Troy Justice, director of basketball operations for the NBA in India, spotted him at the NBA Mahindra Challenge. Justice went ahead to help Satnam get a new pair of shoes, because his old pair was practically falling apart. Finally, Satnam Singh got the much sought after scholarship and joined IMGR. Near the end of the year, he moved to Bradenton, Florida, tp join 28 other students, male and female included, to train at IMG Academy.
Once in the United States, Satnam faced a new challenge. He was not able to do well in his lessons, because of his lack of proper education in the village, and his poor English. In fact, when he arrived at the US, he did not know English at all. Because of his lack of formal primary education, he could not receive a scholarship to play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. There was only one thing he could do, and he honed that well, under academy coaches Kenny Natt and Daniel J. Barto. He concentrated on his craft for five long years, as his trainers encouraged him, and transformed his raw talent into a fine gem.
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He is one of the Greatest NBA players of all time. In 2015, Sim Bhullar, born and brought up in Canada, became the first player of Indian origin to set foot into the world of NBA. Less than three months later, Satnam got selected by the Dallas Mavericks. Satnam Singh created history as the first India-born player to be drafted at the NBA, and was also the first since 2005 to enter the draft without studying in college.
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Satnam Singh is thankful to all those who have made their contributions to his life – family members, coaches and even players. He is hopeful that since he has shown the Indians that it is possible to make it to an international level, more and more Indians will now be interested in venturing into the unconventional field. While he still struggles with English, he has come a long way since he first came to America. Today, he is confident that no barrier is strong enough to stop him from reaching his goals.
— IMG Academy (@IMGAcademy) June 26, 2015