by Binoj Jacob
This post was originally published on our partner website India.com:
In a few years from now, when I tell you about “Air India” you won’t think of the airline. And your change in perception of those words would solely be because of Satnam Singh Bhamara, a giant who made basketball history last week during the NBA Draft, when he became the first Indian-born basketball player to be drafted by an NBA team.
The Dallas Mavericks selected the lengthy 7-foot-2, 19-year-old as the 52nd pick during the draft.
“There’s a billion new Mavs fans out there right now,” Mark Cuban, Mavericks owner, said following the draft.
Now as someone who covers the NBA as a writer, I’ll be honest by saying Singh isn’t ready to contribute and produce at an NBA level. Instead, for a few years he will be stashed in the NBA Development League. There, he will hone his skill among other up and coming talent, and one day, when he’s good enough, he will then take the NBA floor.
Though he may currently not have the skillset to make an impact, his story has left an imprint for Indians all across the country and half-way around the world.
Singh was born in Billoke, a tiny village of 3,000 people in the state of Punjab. Coming from a family line of tall genes, his father is 7-foot-3 and his grandmother was 6-foot-9. At the age of nine, he was already 5-foot-9. And at the age of 13, Singh was a soaring 6-foot-11, 230 pounds with size 18 feet. No, none of what you just read was a typo.
For the past five years, Singh has been developing his raw skills at IMG Basketball Academy based out of Florida. He never received scholarship offers due to colleges being concerned about his eligibility, and there isn’t much film on him either. But, neither of these issues stopped the Dallas Mavericks from drafting him because Singh was picked for what he could be and not for where his basketball performance is now.
With a growing South Asian population in Texas, Singh has the ability to make an impact similar to professional Chinese basketball player Yao Ming. The game of basketball has become a global sport, allowing Singh to hopefully become an icon for Indians living in the Diaspora and India.
“I wish to become the greatest player in the world,” Singh said to CNN. “I want to uphold the honor of India, the U.S.A. and of my coach and make basketball a prominent sport in India.”
There are plenty of basketball programs he can work on. He is not as athletic as you want a big man to be, nor is he quick with his reactions on the court. But, from observation you can tell he is a project with potential, and that’s all.
For me, that potential is enough to root for, and enough to cross our fingers and say: “One day… Air India will take off.”