Meet India’s best basketball player

“The fifty-second pick in the 2015 draft, the Dallas Mavericks select Satnam Singh, from Chowkhi, India. He last played for the IMG academy.”

A wave of applause roused the crowd. Late second-round picks in the draft aren’t usually greeted with an enthusiastic response, but this was something different- something special. It wasn’t just one seven-foot two-inches basketball player being selected by an NBA team; it was a billion souls collectively celebrating the success of one of its sons.

Satnam Singh Bhamara was born in small village in Barnala, Punjab. His father was the tallest person in the village of about 800, standing at 7 feet. At 13, his son, Satnam, crossed him- no wonder, considering his maternal grandmother stands at 6 feet and 9 inches herself.

Realising his natural talent, Singh’s father took him to the nearest city of Ludhiana to pursue the sport. Neither son nor father knew what basketball really constituted, but they knew that Singh had the potential to become a world-class athlete in his own right.

Singh is only 21, but has been covered by the global media for a while now. A Netflix documentary, One in a Billion, traces his basketball odyssey to his draft selection.

Satnam Singh rose up with his coaches from IMG, and his cousin. He walked slowly to the stage, imbibing each second of his journey from the stands to the stage. The deputy commissioner, Mark Tatum, looks like a dwarf next to him. The camera zooms in on the tears on his face.

This was it. He had made it.

The past season, however, has been disappointing for the 7-footer. Singh has appeared in just eight of the 42 games. Based on statistics alone, the present doesn’t looking too enticing- he is averaging just 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. However, his coaches tell a completely different story altogether. They believe that he is a long-term project, and is working his way to the top.

However, for Singh, the pressure isn’t only on him to perform well at the biggest stage of basketball. It is also to make basketball a more popular sport back home. We have all seen what a Yao Ming can do for a country-- China and its relation with basketball has never been the same. He has often gone on record stating how proud he is to represent the tricolor at the grandest stage; the only downfall is that he is scared at the prospect of disappointing a billion hopes and dreams.

Singh stated in his post-draft interview that it was a giant step for his country, and that he was proud to be the first Indian national selected in the NBA draft. He thanked the Mavericks for selecting him, along with God.

The first thing that comes to Singh’s mind is being proud for the country, and later his team and the almighty. One can already see the pride in his eyes, but also the pressure that comes with being the first Indian to be drafted. Underneath his deep voice, the pressure can be noticed. He doesn’t want to disappoint his team nor his coaches, but India is on top of his mind.

Singh’s coaches state that although he is a bright prospect, he does have a long way to go. His humongous palm and tall stature are pivotal talents to be a great basketball player, but he has to be more nimble on his feet in order to gain traction over other players. However, the most important thing, as coach Bob Mackinnon points out, is that he is only 21 right now, and has tremendous upside.

Singh has already stepped up his regime, and has lost a fraction above 20 kilograms since being drafted, and currently weighs in at 132 kilograms. Coaches have a catch-22 in this situation, because although they want him to lose some weight (and thus, become faster on the court), they do not want him to lose his strength, which is an integral part of being an elite big man in the NBA.

The sheer strength that Singh possesses is an admirable quality in itself. Coaches note that Singh cannot be bullied inside the paint- he will just plumb the ball ten rows into the stands. And as a professional basketball player, there is nothing more embarrassing than that.

Singh states that his goal is to make basketball more popular in India, and that he has opened the gates for them. However, they have to work for it. He adds that he needs to focus on his game for his career, for his life, for his family, and for his country.

One can clearly see the tension behind his wide smile. His broad and muscular shoulder carry the weight of the hopes of a billion dreams, and more than anyone, he knows it. He runs back to the photo session, where he poses with a basketball, along with a Mavericks cap. The cameraperson teaches him a couple of poses, and instructs him to follow him. He smiles, and gets on with it.

Singh has a long evening ahead of him, filled with plenty of interviews and meetings. He doesn’t mind- this is what he dreamt of doing since he stepped on to the court in Ludhiana.

Singh is a practicing Sikh, and lives on the outer suburbs of Dallas. He visits the local gurudwara every Sunday, and says he has only one complaint from life- that it is really troublesome for him to find shoes for his size. And why shouldn’t it be- I doubt there are many stores that keep size 22 in stock readily.

Singh caps off his day by visiting the party held to commemorate the selection of sixty of the world’s most talented players. Singh doesn’t drink, refuses the umpteen number of champagne glasses offered to him. When asked why, he simply retorts, “The hard work has just begun”.

Quotes and information courtesy of ESPN and the Netflix documentary, One in a Billion.