Satnam Singh Bhamara, The Basketball Prodigy from Punjab
For many years, Punjab has been famous for it’s rich history, it’s agricultural lands and its steel industry, but now there’s a new reason for people to have heard of it, it’s the birthplace of Satnam Singh Bhamara, the young Indian man who’s taking the NBA by storm.
Had Satnam’s family history taken a different turn, he might have been following in the footsteps of his father Balbir, whose great height made people suggest that he should take up playing basketball. Sadly there was nowhere nearby for him to do so and in any case his parents were against the idea so Balbir settled down into the life of a farmer, husband and father. When Balbir’s middle child, Satnam came along on 10th December 1995, it soon became clear that he too was going to be an extremely tall man, which made Balbir think that perhaps basketball would be the right game for him, even though Balbir’s own knowledge of it was very limited.
At first Satnam struggled to understand what this new game was all about, but little by little he learned and grew more enthusiastic about it. Balbir took him to a basketball court in a nearby town and set up a hoop for him to practice at home. As Satnam’s interest in the game grew into a real passion, Balbir started to look around for people who could give his son the help he needed to become the best player he could possibly be.
At the age of 10, Satnam was enrolled at the prestigious Ludhiana Basketball Academy, even though the standard age of entry was 14. Under the tutelage of Dr Sankaran Subramanian, Satnam flourished as a player and he began to become aware of the international game and in particular the NBA, trying his best to emulate his heroes from the U.S. As he tried his best to be Kobe Bryant, others compared him to Yao Ming. Satnam, at that point, had no idea how accurate that comparison was going to be.
In 2010, when Satnam was still 14, the global sports marketing company IMG announced that it was forming a new sports and entertainment company in partnership with Reliance Industries, which was already the largest corporation in India. The company was to be called IMG Reliance and they were eager to tap into India’s vibrant youth market and to build interest in sports outside of cricket. Although field hockey is India’s official national game, it is very much a niche sport internationally. Soccer, by contrast, is hugely popular internationally, but is still very much a developing sport in the U.S. market, which constrains its interest to sponsors. Basketball, therefore, became their target and they launched their initiative by signing a 30 year sponsorship deal with the Basketball Federation of India. This allowed talented young players to attend the IMG academy in Bradenton, Florida on full scholarships. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for Satnam, but there was one problem, at 14 he was already too old.
Fortunately for Satnam, Harish Sharma, head coach at the BFI insisted that IMG Reliance actually look at Satnam in action and when they did they were impressed enough to offer him a scholarship in spite of his age and his absolute lack of English skills. Satnam joined another 28 young athletes in Florida, where he impressed his sports coaches but struggled academically due to the fact that he really did not speak English at all other than what he had learned for sports practice. As a result of this, Satnam failed to make the academic grades necessary to progress to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Undeterred Satnam headed straight for the NBA draft, where he was picked 52nd overall by the Dallas Mavericks.
This move basically marks the end of the beginning of Satnam’s career and marks several firsts. Not only is he the first Indian-born player to play for the NBA, he also became the first player to be drafted into the NBA directly from high school since the league introduced age restrictions and the first player to be drafted straight into the NBA without any other form of experience other than high-school level sport, i.e. without playing in either the NCAA or the NBA Development League or playing overseas professionally. While many agree that Satnam’s game is still a little rough around the edges, his huge and growing army of fans and professional admirers are unanimous in their praise of his work ethic and great personal attitude, which has seen him develop from a gangly young boy into a genuine rising star of the NBA and all are confident that his combination of physical height and strength, skills and determination will see him make it to the very top of basketball, one we’ll bet on with Netbet in the coming future.