Americans are used to seeing Indian brains dominate Silicon Valley, but to watch 7 ft 5 inches of Indian-descent brawn stomp on Californian basketball courts will be something new.
Sim Bhullar, a 22-year-old Canadian basketball player of Indian origin, Thursday signed a 10-day contract with the Sacramento Kings, and is set to become the first player of Indian descent to be on an NBA team’s regular season roster when the Kings play New Orleans Pelicans early Saturday morning (0730 IST).
Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro confirmed the development, and triggered a wave of Twitter enquiries — the hashtag #simsanity began to trend soon after news broke in the US of a likely debut at the Kings’ home Sleep Train Centre arena.
Bhullar, who wears size 22 shoes and has a wingspan of 8’2”, has had to bide his time after the Kings’ Indian-origin owner Vivek Ranadive brought the Toronto teenager to sunny California. Bhullar donned the jersey of the Reno, Nevada-based Reno Bighorns in the development league of the NBA, and has been working on his fitness and game skills ever since.
Off court, both peers and opponents have been curious. The first question is nearly always on his Indian heritage — Bhullar’s parents had moved to Toronto from their native Punjab before he was born. The second question is on his towering frame — and mostly more of a comment. “They’re always quite shocked to see how tall I am. And then they say — ‘Indian?’” he says.
While Gursimran — Sim’s full name — has faced the attention, his mother has had a different set of problems at their home. “She’s had to change the height of all the doorways at home a couple of times. Eventually she settled for eight feet once Tanveer and I stopped growing,” Sim told The Indian Express.
Tanveer, Bhullar’s younger brother, is only two inches shorter at 7’3”, and their elder sister is 6’1”. Their father is 6’5”, and their mother 5’10”.
Sim took up basketball in school, and earned two MVP awards playing for New Mexico State University at the Western Athletic Conference — which earned him the call to the Sacramento Kings NBA team. Though he went undrafted initially at the 2014 NBA draft, franchise owner Ranadive decided to offer the youngster a contract.
With the Kings currently fourth among the five teams in the Pacific Division — and the 13th among 15 in Western Conference — and out of contention for the playoffs, Bhullar’s chances of making the first team are bright.
Although he is a Canadian national, Sim is always being told about how he will be the first player with an Indian background to make it big in the NBA.
“I’ve always been the ‘first Indian,’ or the ‘only Indian’, so it’s something that hasn’t really given me any new feeling of pressure,” he says. Followers and well-wishers on social media boost his confidence: “I keep getting messages on Twitter and Facebook. It’s a great feeling to see so many people treat me like a role model,” he adds.
Bhullar says his parents have been waiting to see him in a Kings jersey ever since he was drafted by the franchise last year. He has spent more time away from home on basketball duty, but the way he leads his life hasn’t changed, Bhullar says.
“I still enjoy spending time with my parents at home. I still go to the gurdwara every week, and I speak in Punjabi often,” he says.
Bhullar will have little time at home for the next 10 days, but won’t mind that. “It is the target,” he says. And with brother Tanveer doing well too, he may have company in the big league in the coming years.
“He wants to improve,” Sim says of his 20-year-old younger brother. “He has been playing well, and has just won the regular season conference for his college.”
Should Tanveer too make the ranks, the pair will set another ‘first Indian origin’ record. But for now, Sim’s target is to make it to the marquee ranks. He has often been invited to Sacramento to meet fans. This time around, he will be in Sacramento for bigger, better reasons.