Balbir Singh, the father of NBA hopeful Satnam Singh, stands head and shoulders above the rest of his family
Sara Sidner/CNN
Balbir Singh, the father of NBA hopeful Satnam Singh, stands head and shoulders above the rest of his family

Story highlights

Satnam Singh could be the first Indian to make it to the NBA

The 16-year-old stands 7-feet-1 and wears size 19 shows

From an Indian village in the Punjab, he stood 5-foot-9 at just 9 years old

Basketball is practically unknown in cricket-crazy India

CNN —  

Satnam Singh stands 7-feet-1, wears a size 19 shoe, and is likely to grow taller because he is just 16-years old.

In the game of basketball, his height gives him an advantage. Like many young basketball players, he wants to make it to the National Basketball Association and is training in the United States.

What sets Satnam apart, however, is that if he makes it to the NBA, he will become the first ever from his country to do so.

Satnam is from India and more specifically from the proud state of Punjab – home of turbaned Sikh men and Banghra music.

Unlike many of the cocky ball players of today whose names are as much about show boating and play acting as they are about physical skill, Satnam couldn’t be more humble.

“I wish to become the greatest player in the world. I want to uphold the honor of India, the USA and of my coach and make basketball a prominent sport in India,” Singh said.

Singh is from Billoke village. Population 1,400. It’s a place where people drive bikes on dirt roads and make cow patty piles as high as a standard basketball hoop.

But basketball didn’t really exist in the minds of the villagers here until a sharp-eyed sports enthusiast, Rajender Singh, saw the potential in his friend’s son.

At just 9-years old, Singh was 5 feet 9 inches tall.

“I could make out from his height that he could become a good player. I took him to the ground to practice then. Day by day he excelled and touched greater heights,” family friend Rajender Singh said.

Where did he get his height? From his father Balbir Singh who is a gentle giant standing 7 feet 1 inches tall, just like his teenage son.

Considering the average height of an Indian man is 5 feet 3 1/2 inches, both father and son are nearly 2 feet taller than just about everyone they meet.

They stick out in the village to say the least, but were never teased or taunted for it. When Balibir saw his first born son he knew he had a big boy on his hands.

“When my child, Satnam, was born, I could tell he would be as tall I am. He started gaining height when he was just one. By age four he was of good height. Then I started thinking about his future. It occurred to me that it was my duty to get him into a career.”

He is hoping that career is as a player in the National Basketball Association, something his father had never even heard of as a child.

The reasons for that are many. In India cricket is the king of games and everything else pales in comparison – basketball is practically non-existent in many towns and villages.

What Singh’s father used to play was a game that requires no ball, no shoes or gear; just plain old lung power, strength and strategy.

“I was in primary school in 1971-72 (and) back then we would play kabaddi,” he said.

Kabaddi is a South Asian sport. It’s a game that is part tag, part breath control in which two teams take the field. The goal is to tag someone on the other team while chanting “kabbadi, kabbadi, kabbadi” without stopping.

The other team tries to grab hold of the person, called a raider, trying to tag them long enough so the raider loses their breath and is unable to keep up the ‘“abbadi” chant before making it back to their own side of the field.

No matter that he was more than seven feet tall, Balbir’s father wanted his son to take over the family farm, just as his father and his father¹s father had done.

“I didn’t play basketball because I went into family occupation. My parents did not consider basketball, ” he said.

So the elder Singh tends to his flour mill, raises his buffaloes to milk, and grows cotton and mustard and whatever his fields will yield. Satnam’s mother still cooks on the floor of the kitchen often using the wood-stoked fire to make meals.

She laughs when asked who is the bigger eater – her son Satnam or her husband?

“Both have the same quantity. They are good eaters,” mother of three Sukhvinder Kaur laughed.

She is proud of her boy who at just 9-years old left the village to start training in another part of the Punjab.

“Satnam is very soft-hearted. He’s well-spoken. He doesn’t get angry,” she said with a smile.

Satnam’s family lives a simple village life in humble surroundings, except for one thing. They have learned to use a computer fitted with Skype so they can chat with their son who is more than 8,000 miles from home in Bradenton, Florida.

They miss their eldest son, so does his brother and sister. Satnam misses them too, and his mother¹s cooking.

“What I remember the most from my village in India is the food. I miss my family and my coach in India,” he said.

But he has taken to a sport that statistically almost no one plays in his country. There was no hoop anywhere near his village, now there’s one attached to one of the walls of his house.

Satnam is hoping to be able to stay abroad working on a hoop dream his father could never have and one he hopes his countrymen will one-day value.

He hopes eventually to be as successful as his favorite player Kobe Bryant.

“I am confident I can become India’s first NBA player if I practice hard and put my heart into it. There are many people to help me out,” Singh said.