In this sleepy Punjabi village, no one was surprised to see a seven-foot-tall Sikh farmer striding the narrow lanes toward the local Sikh temple on June 25. The farmer, Balbir Singh Bamrah, is a familiar presence in Ballo Ke, and something of a local curiosity. But the other worshipers at the temple, known as a gurudwara, were a bit perplexed by the prayer the guru offered for Balbir Singh’s household. He stood over the farmer, his wife and his daughter, and prayed for peace, prosperity, health — and that Balbir Singh’s son would be drafted. “They didn’t understand what the N.B.A. draft was,” said Sarabjot Kaur, Balbir Singh’s 23-year-old daughter. “They only realized later.”
Balbir Singh, 56, said his son’s success was a fitting cap to a decade of work and training. “Basketball is God’s gift,” he said in a rumbling baritone, while greeting a stream of visitors and answering calls on a cellphone dwarfed by his huge hands. “Everything that’s happened to him, all the acclaim, is from basketball,” he said.
The men at the Ballo Ke shrine offer a different explanation, one reflective of a hard edge in an otherwise rejoicing village. They say the crucial factor was the family’s link to Amarinder Singh, the former chief minister of Punjab State, who visited the village as agriculture minister in the 1980s and struck up a friendship with Balbir Singh, even inviting him and his family to his daughter’s wedding. “It is all because of his favor,” said Mukhtiar Singh, one of the men. Another, Nirmal Singh, said that without that kind of advantage, such a success story is “not just difficult, it’s impossible.”
Tim MacMahon: Given his close ties to India, folks around NBA surprised Kings owner Vivek Ranadive didn’t trade into second round to draft Satnam Singh. Feeling on draft night was that Kings were most likely to take Singh, but they elected not to make minor deal when they had chance.
Conditioning has been a question mark in terms of Bhullar establishing a legitimate NBA future. But he has a major supporter in Kings owner Vivek Ranadive — one of India’s most celebrated businessmen — and Bhullar has shed more than 30 pounds over the course of his rookie campaign after weighing in at more than 400 pounds during summer league play with Sacramento last July. Bhullar is averaging 10.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.9 blocks in the D-League this season and, as evidence of his improving conditioning, logged 38 minutes Tuesday night in a Reno victory over Bakersfield, totaling 19 points, 15 boards and five blocks.