April 17, 2015

Sim Bhullar - NBA's first Indian-origin player - will visit India next month

Several years ago, the Bhullars of Canada took another trip home to their land of origin, Punjab. Like they usually did for every trip back to India, the Bhullars took along their children, too. Two of those teenage children - Sim and Tanveer Bhullar - had now grown into mammoth seven-footers, both with a promising future in basketball ahead for them. Even though few knew of the Bhullar family in India back then, Sim and Tanveer still managed to receive their fair share of attention when they visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Being a pair of seven-footers would do that.

"I was last back in India about five years ago and it was pretty crazy, it was different, and I really enjoyed it!" Sim told me in an interview last year, "I remember going to Golden Temple, which was huge and really crowded. I remember that we were swarmed by a huge crowd of people who took photos – and they didn’t even know who we were!

A half dozen years have passed since then. Sim Bhullar is set to return to India, and for the first time, will be recognized for being more than just a really big guy.

10 days ago, Bhullar, who had spent most of the last few months playing for the NBDL's Reno Bighorns, entered an NBA game for the Sacramento Kings, and thus became the first-ever player of Indian-descent in the NBA. It wasn't an earth-shattering performance, and his NBA contract lasted just 10 days, three game appearances, two points, and a rebound. But in his small way, the big man was able to break the barriers for the people of Indian community around the world, and also give birth to Mahatma Grande.

Bhullar's contract with the Kings has now expired and the team - owned by Indian-born tech mogul Vivek Ranadive - finished far from qualifying for the 2015 NBA playoffs. It is now being reported that Bhullar will be spending a part of his extended vacation back in his parent's birth-land: India.

Via Duane Fonseca for The Pune Mirror:

Sim Bhullar, the first and only Indian-origin player ever to debut in the National Basketball Association (NBA), will visit India early next month. Bhullar is expected to travel to the country with his sister and is due to touch down on May 2 or a day later.

The 22-year-old has a packed schedule during his week-long India sojourn. And apart from spending time at promotional events in Mumbai, his itinerary includes visits mainly to Delhi and Amritsar to see the Golden Temple.
In Mumbai, Bhullar will do promotional work for the Reliance Foundation, who have a multi-year tie-up with the NBA to promote the sport at the grassroots. He is expected to conduct a clinic for school kids in the city and is also expected to put in an appearance at an Indian Premier League (IPL) game either here or in Delhi. The dates of events he will attend are yet to be finalised.

The NBA has long been interested in capitalizing on Bhullar's racial heritage as the first desi to play basketball at a high level, and even though he's a true-blood Canadian in every sense (he represented Canada's U18 national team at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in 2010), the league as well as the Sacramento Kings have emphasized on his Indian roots a lot more. Like it or not, that is just part of the business, and in the long run, it may help to inspire a large potential audience in India to show more interest in Bhullar, the Kings, and the NBA.

From the report above, it seems that Bhullar will take part in both public and private events. The Reliance Foundation have a deal both with the NBA in India and with IMG in sponsorship of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), and it won't be surprising if they promote him as the first Indian face in the world's best basketball league. Despite being a 7-foot-5 giant, Bhullar was a sort of an underdog in his journey up to the professional level. Not all of us are blessed with his size, but hopefully during his trip, Bhullar is able to connect with young Indians and inspire them to turn their dreams into reality, too. I also hope that this trip is just the beginning of Bhullar's connection with both the NBA and with India: if he is able to continue improving and secure a longer NBA career, there may be many more promotional visits to come in the future.

It seems like Bhullar will be returning to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, too. You can be damn sure that he will be crowded by curious onlookers again; but this time, I'm hoping that a handful in that crowd show up in 'Bhullar 32' Kings jerseys!

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