India Hails Country's First NBA Player Satnam Singh

Satnam Singh

The Dallas Mavericks player is seen as an inspiration and a driving force for basketball in cricket-crazy India.

Satnam Singh became a top trending Twitter hashtag Friday in India as news outlets widely covered his historic achievement of becoming the first India-born player to be drafted in the NBA.

Born and raised in the North Indian state of Punjab, the 19-year-old — full name Satnam Singh Bhamara — has been signed by the Dallas Mavericks. The only other NBA player of Indian (and Punjabi) origin is Canada-born Sim Bhullar who plays for the Sacramento Kings.

Perhaps surprisingly, given India's obsession for cricket, a homegrown basketball player making a mark internationally has attracted major news coverage here.

In an interview with the Indian Express newspaper, Bhamara shared his experience at the NBA pre-draft workouts for which he was invited by seven different franchises including the Boston Celtics, the Mavericks being the fourth on the list.

“They (Dallas Mavericks) asked me about my family, where I come from, how I got to the United States,” Bhamara said about the selection process. “Then they asked me why I wanted to be in the NBA, and I said that I wanted to be the first Indian to make it there so that others can follow.”

In another interview with leading news network NDTV (New Delhi Television), when asked who his favorite NBA players were Bhamara cited Kobe Bryant, “I am looking forward to playing with him.”

In a profile on Bhamara, leading news magazine India Today focused on his 7-foot-2 inch frame. It featured a photo of Bhamara with his almost 7-foot-tall father: “If you need to decipher the growth pattern of the father-son duo, you need to have a look at Satnam's grandmother. She was 6 foot 9 inches,” the piece said.

Bhamara has become an overnight social media star here, with some of India's leading celebrities congratulating him on his ground breaking achievement.

"India goes to NBA .. now time for NBA to come to India ..!!," Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan tweeted to his 15.5 million followers.

T 1910 -#satnamsingh first Indian player to be in the NBA .. congratulations !! India goes to NBA .. now time for NBA to come to India ..!!

His actor son Abhishek – who promoted the launch of the NBA's first online store in India last year – posted a tweet: “Being the 1st ever Indian player to be drafted in the NBA #satnamsingh has created history. And opened the doors of the NBA to India."

Basketball still has a long way to go in India, where cricket rules and sports like soccer are much more popular than the NBA. NBA games are telecast in India on smaller sports channel Sony Six (part of the Sony Entertainment Television network). But last year, a record 14 games per week were televised on the channel, up from six in the previous season.