Sports teaches you about life. It teaches you character and how to play by the rules. It makes you understand the feeling of winning and losing. It teaches you the importance of working together as a team, to work with everybody and not just a friend. Sports not just builds character, it reveals it.
Till recent years, cricket was probably the only game encouraged in India. Sports like hockey and football have gained immense recognition in current times and now have their own well-known leagues that have an emerging fan base. Basketball, on the other hand, is a sport known to all but not acclaimed at the higher levels in the nation.
Satnam Singh Bhamara is a name that has taken country’s sports scenario by storm. This 22-year-old lad from Punjab has set the bar when it comes to basketball. In 2015, Satnam wrote history, becoming the first Indian to feature in the United States’ National Basketball Association (NBA) draft where he got selected by the Dallas Mavericks. He played basketball for Texas Legends, which is an affiliate of the Mavericks, in the NBA G-league, NBA’s official minor league basketball organization.
Satnam was born in Ballo Ke, a village that has a population of only 800 people, located close to the border of Pakistan in the Barnala district of Punjab. His father, a farmer, would work to make ends meet. His elder brother Balbir left his education to help their old father in the fields. Due to Satnam’s height, his father encouraged him to play basketball even though he had very little information about the sport.
Looking at Satnam’s interest in the sport, Balbir started looking out for players and coaches in Punjab who could train him. He enrolled his 10-year-old brother in the Ludhiana Basketball Academy. Satnam made the cut and started his training. Soon enough, with a little training, Satnam started winning from everyone he played against.
By the time he turned 13, Satnam was already a tall boy, with a height of 6’11”. He would watch NBA and get inspired by players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. He wished to see himself there and worked hard for it.
Satnam started received his first lessons at the LBA from former basketball coach of Punjab and Sports Authority of India director, Dr. Sankaran Subramanian. Sankaran always dreamt that some day one of his students will make it to the NBA. He believed that Satnam has the potential and encouraged him.
In 2010, Satnam, the leader of junior state team, performed at a national championship where the Basketball Federation of India chose him to play at the NBA Basketball Without Borders camp in Singapore. Troy Justice, the director of basketball operations for the NBA in India saw Satnam playing.
His shoes were falling apart but he was not ready to give up. At that moment, Troy knew that if anyone could be chosen from India, it was Satnam.
Making it to the NBA
Finally, Satnam got a scholarship from IMG basketball academy and he moved to Bradenton, Florida, as one of the 29 student-athletes to be selected to train at IMG Academy. However, he faced many challenges as he did not know English. He also lacked primary education. Satnam did not receive scholarships to play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. But he did not give up. For five years, he kept on polishing his skills in the only thing he knew and loved, basketball.
Very soon, Satnam scripted history. He became the first Indian-born player to be drafted at the NBA. Also, he is the first player since 2005 to enter the draft without playing in college.
After getting selected for the NBA, things didn’t quite turn out the way he thought they would. There was a mountain fold of expectations on his shoulders, from his family and the entire nation. The 7’2” hunk made his professional debut on November 13, 2015. He spent nine minutes and 34 seconds on the court making six rebounds and scoring a total of four points. That was the most playing time he got on court in a single game for around 10 more weeks.
“I was ready to play, but they thought I was not,” says Satnam.
Over the two years that Satnam spent there, he played only 7.1 minutes per game in 27 appearances, averaging only 1.4 rebounds and 1.6 points. He was frustrated with the lack of opportunities. “I had a big problem with no playing time at NBA, I would lose my mind,” Satnam said. Hence, he decided to return to his home grounds, back to India, to develop his game and enhance his skills and performance.
“Now I have come back to India. I will play for the Indian team, I will work on my game as much as I can. I will play for Punjab, any small tournament. I want playing time. The more I play, my game will improve,” Satnam said. He plans on training himself well enough and getting back into the big leagues across the globe.
Satnam has sacrificed the exposure and the facilities that the US had to offer. But he know his abilities and works hard to take the country on the global map.
From farming back in the village to rubbing shoulders with the best basketball players in the world, Satnam has already taken Indian basketball further than anyone could have ever imagined. Indeed he has unlocked the door wide for the upcoming generations into the NBA. Hopefully he will kick it wide open soon enough.
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