As the customary round of thank-you-for-being-here took place towards the end of a media conference call, Satnam Singh Bhamara decided that he wanted the final word. Instead of joining in the pleasantries, he took a dig at his opponent for tomorrow’s basketball match. “Good luck Sim Bhullar, I’ll see you tomorrow.” The pre-game banter had begun.
The pair was at the centre of Indian basketball’s gaze last year, when Canadian Bhullar became the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA, turning out briefly for the Sacramento Kings.
Shortly afterwards, Bhamara became the first Indian to be drafted by an NBA franchise – as the 52nd overall pick by Dallas Mavericks. Since then, the pair has been plying their trade in the NBA’s Development-League. And both are now poised to play against each other for the first time on Saturday when Bhullar’s Raptors 905 travel to the Dr Pepper Arena in Texas to play Bhamara’s Texas Legends.
Though historic from an Indian basketball viewpoint to have the country’s only two connections in the NBA come up against each other, the clash itself is an emotional, cultural ride for the players who have a lot in common. For starters, both have roots in the Punjab.
Toronto-based Bhullar’s parents immigrated to Canada in 1988 from the North Indian state, while Bhamara home is at the Ballo Ke village in the Barnala district. Then there is their towering frames. Both centres clear the seven-foot mark with Bhullar standing at 7-foot-5 and Bhamara at 7-foot-2.
Yet among the two, 23-year-old Bhullar has been seen as the big-brother type given that this is his second season in the D-League – he played for the Reno Bighorns last year. “I’ve watched Satnam for the last few years. He’s a big strong kid and is very skilled,” says Bhullar.
In turn, Bhamara explains how he drew inspiration from Bhullar’s achievement when, as a high school student back in 2014, the 20-year-old lost eight months due to injury. “My coach Kenny Natt told me about Sim Bhullar. He said, ‘hey Satnam, you want to play in the NBA? You need to work hard like him,’” he recalls. “He gave me a glance about how to get better at basketball,” he adds.
They maintain a jovial relationship off court, but the reality of tomorrow’s game still stands. If Bhamara laid out the challenge towards the end of the call, Bhullar had set the tone early.
When asked which of the two was likely to score points first, the Canadian quipped: “It doesn’t matter who scores first, as long as we win the game.”