Balling While Brown: The Indian Ballers Who Really Were

Growing up Indian often meant being scared to death of the schoolyard. The trepidation that most feel when taking tests, writing long essays, waiting for important grades to come back – the normal trials and tribulations of the classroom – weren’t always as worrisome. The schoolyard is where most kids got to escape the classroom over games of basketball, soccer, and football. They got to be kids. Unashamed, competitive kids. 

But the schoolyard is where my demons were. There was precious little more minimizing and humiliating than picking teams. I wasn’t picked last because I was Indian, but rather because I was small. But I was small because I was Indian. That’s what I told myself. I think most of us did. 

And where the schoolyard taught most kids to rest the mind and embrace the body, it instead taught me to focus only on the mind because the body was practically useless. 

This is what makes the NBA D-League’s Sim Bhullar and Satnam Singh so incredibly jarring for me to look at. The two represent virtually everything an Indian kid would never imagine they could be. Standing at 7 foot 5 and 7 foot 2 respectively, they’re tall, wide, and built like tanks. Bhullar in particular is a giant, the tallest player in the NBA immediately following his historic draft. 

That’s probably the most important thing here. Sim Bhullar and Satnam Singh were drafted. Even if it was just for show. Even if it picks’ critics call it diversity hire. Even if they aren’t currently playing with the teams that drafted them- it doesn’t matter. The Sacramento Kings and the Dallas Mavericks drafted two guys with skin like mine, and that strikes a particular feeling inside of me. 

It’s not necessarily a feeling of hope. It’s quite the spoken understanding that height plays a crucial role in the making of a professional basketball player, Americans over 7 foot having about  “a staggering 17 percent” chance of playing professional ball. Hope is not the right word to describe the feeling a member of our relatively height challenged race might feel looking at these two gifted ballers.

Pride sounds like a better word. It’s a feeling of sheer love for my culture knowing that Sim Bhullar and Satnam Singh are two Indians who embody everything I thought I could never be because of my heritage alone. It’s a sense of vicarious satisfaction knowing that my size is not tied to the color of my skin, as there are two men out there proving that notion woefully incorrect. 

I’m not small because I’m Indian. I’m not small at all. The sky is the limit in regards to what I can make of my brown life. Bhullar and Singh have basketball covered. My calling lies somewhere else entirely.

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