Earlier this morning Satnam Singh became the first ever Indian to be drafted in the NBA. He was selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the 52nd pick in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft. Satnam hails from the tiny village of Ballo Ke in Punjab. In 2010, he was one of the eight recipients of a full IMG Reliance Scholarship to train at the world class IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. If on-air analysts are correct, the mammoth 7ft 2 inch 20 year old centre will now, in all likelihood, join the Dallas Mavericks’ D League Affiliate the ‘Texas Legends.’ It is generally agreed that Satnam will need another 2-3 years of steady development to become a dependable force in the NBA. However, with age on his side, India basketball can now realistically pin their hopes on this genial giant!
Just last year, Indian origin baller Gursimran ‘Sim’ Bhullar, another 7 footer, had made the cut with Sacramento Kings. Back in mid-2014, the Indian men’s basketball team registered its first ever victory over China. With this latest development, it is fair to say that desi hoops can expect to see its very first dawn. There were fairly accurate arguments made along the lines that Sim Bhullar “isn’t Indian and we shouldn’t take credit for him“. But with the son of a farmer from a remote Indian village making it to the highest level (admittedly thanks to the top class coaching at an elite North American training facility), that argument no longer holds valid. An Indian, born in India, can in fact make it to the NBA.
No doubt, there will continue to be naysayers who will cite Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s business acumen that has led him to pick Satnam Singh purely as a means to grow his team’s market in India. Dallas also has a sizeable Indian community living and working there. But whatever be the reason for selecting this Indian wunderkind, what cannot be ignored is the impact his signing will have on other NBA hopefuls back home. Unlike Bhullar, Satnam has already experienced the best and worst of the Indian basketball system. He is warm, down to earth, hardworking and an ideal role model to other young Indians- “that if I can do it, so can you!”
These traits come through clearly in the Q&A transcript below, where a visibly emotional and elated Satnam addressed the media with utmost humility, immediately thanking his late Punjab Coach Dr. Sankaran Subramanium, senior Punjab & India player Jagdeep Singh Bains, his IMG Academy coach Dan Barto, and late BFI CEO Harish Sharma, for making this moment possible.
Congratulations Satnam! This is a giant leap for you, and an equally big step forward for popularising basketball in India.
We are sharing below the transcript of a concall held between Satnam Singh and the Indian media shortly after the conclusion of this historic draft. Disclaimer: The audio transcript of the concall below has been made available to us by NBA India’s authorised PR representatives.
– Gopalakrishnan R [Following transcript prepared by Aditi Dwivedi]
(A reporter from Dainik Bhaskar Chandigarh begins the questions)
Q. Hello Satnam. How are you?
Q. I think you know Punjabi?
“Haan ji Punjabi vich gal kar lo (Yes, please speak in Punjabi).
Q. Today is a historical day. Did you sleep well at night? How did it feel to get drafted?
“Feels great. I haven’t eaten anything!”
Q. So you were very nervous?
“No, I wasn’t nervous. I just thought that I had to get drafted at any cost.”
Q. Did you think that you will get in?
“ Yes, I was hoping that I would because I have come so far, they called me to New York so I was hoping that at least one team will give me a chance”.
Q. Have you spoken to your parents or not?
“Not yet but I will speak with them on Skype after this.”
Q. Now that you have the tag of being the first Indian in the NBA and it’s such a big day for Indian basketball, how do you see this tag? Does it feel like you’re the brand ambassador?
“It’s a great feeling. At least it’s a big thing for Indian basketball that there is someone who is going to play in the NBA and if because of that even 20 people can make their lives, it would be good. That is the biggest achievement.”
(Another reporter takes over)
Q. Congratulations Satnam. You reached great heights!
“Thank you sir.”
Q. Tell us something about your journey from Florida to NBA.
“I worked really hard starting from Ludhiana till I came to Florida.”
Q. Firstly Satnam now that you have been drafted by Dallas Mavericks in the NBA becoming the first Indian ever to do so, do you think it will motivate other Indian players to start playing like you and see themselves in the NBA?
“Yes absolutely. I am sure every player back in India is very happy because this has opened a gate for them to the NBA. The main thing is that it was Dr. Subramanium’s dream to see his players move forward and do well. I am missing him even more today because he was the best coach and it is only because of him that I have reached this level. It was his dream that one of his players should play in the NBA and I am happy to have fulfilled that dream.”
(Times of India)
Q. Before the Draft night did Coach Kenny Natt say anything to you?
“Coach Kenny Natt just told me to stay focused whether or not I got drafted. He asked me not to be nervous, to keep smiling, be happy and have fun out there.
Q. Do you often visit the Golden Temple when you are in Ludhiana?
“Yes, I do, but there is no time now. I have no time to visit home.”
Q. Did you remember any Guru before the Draft night?
“I remembered all the Gurus whom I believe in.”
Q. As you mentioned about your first coach Dr. Subramanium that he did everything for you. Apart from him who would you like to give credit to for playing in NBA? The last time we spoke you also mentioned about Mr. Harish Sharma, so who according to you from India helped you reach where you are today?
“First and foremost it’s because of my coach Dr. Subramanium and then Harish Sharma sir who brought IMG Reliance to India and I got the opportunity to go to Florida. He has played a very big role in my life. He gave me the strength and support that I needed. He tried really hard and as a result I reached here. Apart from that the Indian player Jagdeep Singh Bains, he helped me a lot and he is the best player according to me.”
Q. Did you speak with him before the workout?
“Yes, I spoke to him before the Draft night. All my coaches, friends and team mates at the IMG Academy, many of whom were there today and many who are away at college have helped and pushed me a lot to work harder each day.”
Q. What would you like to say about your coach Dan Barto from IMG Academy?
“He helped me a lot. He was the one who picked me up for the scholarship and brought me to Florida. He trained me, told me what needed to be done and what not, paid attention on my strengths and weaknesses as a player. Coach Kenny Natt also helped me.
Q. You tried playing with the Dallas Mavericks before, so what did the Coach and General Manager tell you and what do you like about the team?
“Initially I trained with them, whatever they asked me to do. Later they held a meeting where they asked me about myself, my background, how I reached IMG Academy and why I want to play in the NBA. I told them that I want to improve the condition of basketball in India and become the first Indian player to play in NBA.”
Q. The German and a legend of NBA, Dirk Nowitzki plays for Mavericks, do you think you get a chance to learn a lot from him?
“Yes of course. Watching him play will be a learning experience for me and I’ll learn something new each time. Playing with him will improve my game.”
I have two questions for you.
Q. Which is tougher, playing basketball or speaking English?
Q. Are you comfortable with conversing in English now?
“Yes, I am comfortable with conversing in English unless someone speaks really fast.”
Q. Going through the Draft was a risk for you because you haven’t played College basketball and if you weren’t picked today, you wouldn’t have been picked for another 2-3 years, so how did you plan on taking this risk?
“No. It’s nothing like that. I could have come back to the NBA so it wasn’t a risk literally. What matters is that which team picks you.”
(NDTV reporter takes over)
Q. There are so many legends in the NBA like Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, who is your favourite?
Q. There are so many good players in NBA, who do you want to play against or who do you think will be a challenge? Any special player who you would like to challenge?
“I have just entered. I need to watch and learn a lot right now. But I do want to play with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.”
Q. You have put in a lot of effort for so many years, worked so hard at the IMG Academy. What does this news mean to you, your family and your village?
“It’s such a big thing for us, it’s beyond my imagination.”
Q. It is usually said that there are a lot of hopes for NBA from India and with your draft how big a thing can NBA be in India according to you?
“It is a very big thing for Indian basketball and I am sure that in the near future basketball will be as popular as cricket.”
Q. When you went to Dallas for the workout, did you think you would get selected?
“No. I didn’t think I would get selected. I just went there to workout with them, I did not think whether any team would pick me or not but I wanted to give my best if any team did pick me.”
Q. What was going on in your mind when you got picked?
“I was just hoping for my name to be there so that India had a reason to celebrate and be happy.”
Q. Since you are not the only Indian, Sim Bhullar who is of Indian descent is already there, so have you ever spoken to him about what should be expected in NBA, what kind of welcome is given to Indians? There are Indian owners as well, so have you spoken to any Indian about it?
“Yes, I spoke to Sim Bhullar and he wished me luck. He also said that once I get drafted there will be more and more Indians in NBA with time.”
Here’s an earlier interview from a few months earlier, where Satnam Singh shares his personal journey: