A 7-foot-2 farm boy who became the first Indian-born player drafted in the
“I was just hoping for my name to be announced so it would do India proud,” Satnam Singh, who was selected by the
"Earlier, we did not have a player in NBA. Now that's not the case," the 19-year-old said. "It will popularize the NBA, and basketball will be like cricket in India."
While that seems terribly optimistic – cricket is a national obsession – NBA officials have had high hopes for Singh since 2010, when he was among a handful of Indian prospects chosen to train at a Bradenton, Fla., basketball academy run by sports management agency IMG.
The league sees India as its biggest untapped market, with a rising middle class willing to shell out for big-time sports. Indian fans have flocked to glamorous new professional cricket and soccer leagues featuring international stars, but the NBA has struggled to attract an audience in the country despite years of marketing efforts and a television deal with Sony Six, a major sports network.
While Singh is not projected to have the impact on the NBA of
“There’s a billion new Mavs fans out there right now,” the Mavericks’ voluble owner,
Singh, who grew up in a village of a few hundred people in the northern state of Punjab, has been praised by coaches and scouts for his work ethic and being an effective three-point shooter for his size. Nicknamed "Chhotu," or "little one," in his village, the 290-pounder wears size 20 shoes that he says were all but impossible to find in India.
His father, Balbir, who is 7-foot-3, had heard of basketball as a teenager but spent his life tending to the family's cattle farm and flour mill and never played the game.
Singh, whose favorite player is the Lakers’
Earlier this year, Canadian-born Sim Bhullar became the first player of Indian origin to play in an NBA game, making a brief stint with the
"He wished me luck. We talked in Punjabi," Singh said. Bhullar told him, "This is just a start. The journey lies ahead."