Even before Satnam Singh Bhamara, who created history by becoming the first Indian to be picked in the NBA draft, was born, his destiny had been written.
After missing out, Balbir Singh had decided that if his child grew up to be as tall as him, he would play basketball. On Friday, Satnam, at 7’2”, made the country proud. He was the 52nd pick in the NBA Draft for the Dallas Mavericks.
“In 1989-90, a report appeared in a Punjabi paper that the tallest man of the district at 7’1” was unemployed and that he should be recruited to the state police.
"After reading the article, Central Reserve Police Force personnel from the nearby village took me to their recruitment centre in Delhi and introduced me to the basketball coach.
“After fitness trials, he asked me to shoot from near the ring. As I was in my late 20s, I was told that age was not on my side and they could not recruit me under the sports quota.
"I decided then that if my son grew up to be as tall as me, he would play basketball,” recalled Balbir, who owns a small piece of land and operates a flour mill at home."Satnam was 5’9" at nine and that was when I introduced him to the sport and mounted a basketball ring in the frontyard," said Balbir, pointing to the spot where Satnam took his initial lessons.
(Clockwise from top left) The Bhamaras were a picture of joy at their residence in Ballo Ke village in Barnala, Punjab, after hearing the news of Satnam making the NBA draft; Satnam, already 7 feet tall when he was 14; the hoopster’s massive pair of shoes which are sized 20 as per American standards — Indian 18 approx (Keshav Singh/HT Photos)
Height a boon
Balbir’s height used to be the butt of jokes and people hesitated to walk next to him.
“People used to laugh and I was asked at family and public functions on what I had achieved because of my height. Now nobody will make fun of Satnam’s height. It’s his height that has helped him achieve this landmark,” said Balbir.
Satnam’s shoe size was also a source of trouble for the youngster. Initially, it had to be made on order but now he buys foreign brands.
Though Satnam was introduced to the sport in his village, finding the right path was a challenge. As there was no facility in the village, Balbir requested his friend Rajinder to find a coaching centre where Satnam could hone his skills.
“Rajinder requested his friend (Professor Darbara Singh) and he arranged a meeting with Mohinder Singh, who was the reader of senior Punjab Police officer RS Gill, who was then the president of the Basketball Federation of India.
It was on his recommendation that Satnam got into the basketball academy,” said Balbir.
Before joining the academy, Satnam had trouble running till Rajinder spent time with him.
“He had a problem of knee locking, so I put him into cycling and got him to walk on railway tracks. Initially, he used to get irritated, but later it worked in his favour,” said Rajinder.
It was the stint at the Punjab Basketball Association’s academy in Ludhiana that changed Satnam’s fortunes. Now he hopes the NBA stint will change his family’s fortunes.
“I don’t have much idea about the NBA and don’t know which company (franchise) has picked him.
“For the last couple of years, he used to joke ‘wait for the day when I will play in the NBA, and even a truckload of money won’t be a problem’,” said Balbir, who and wife Sukhwinder Kaur had planned to be in America for the drafts, but couldn’t because of visa issues.
Though Satnam is a superstar and has a fan following, the mother is confident that her son will marry a girl of her choice."The day he went to America I told him he had to keep the family’s values intact. I am sure he will obey me," said Sukhwinder.