The NBA's Disingenuous Push To Promote Its First-Ever Indian Player

by
Zohaib Ahmed
Is Sim Bhullar in the NBA because of his ancestry and not talent?

sim bhullar

With 16 garbage seconds left in a meaningless game of yet another playoffs-less season, the Sacramento Kings coach gestured toward his newest recruit to take the court.

Sim Bhullar, 7'5 and weighing 355 lbs., stood up, removed his upper and took his place alongside a Minnesota Timberwolves defender as the foul shots were taken. That's it. History was made. Not that there was much time left, but the point is, Bhullar didn't have to do anything to make history.

Just by standing there and walking a bit on the final possession of the game, Bhullar became the first player of Indian descent in the NBA. He made no baskets, got no rebounds and swatted no shots. He didn't even get a touch, still he was the biggest news to come out of the NBA on the night.

Bhullar is being marketed as an Indian, but as SLCDunk's Amar correctly pointed out, Bhullar doesn't have much to do with India apart from the fact that both his parents were Indians. He was born in Toronto, Ontario, and grew up there before coming to the U.S. to further his basketball career.

India has no claims on his game, yet he is set to become the Asian country's first foray in the world's biggest basketball league. In fact, as per Amar:

"Sim's parents are immigrants from the Indian state of Punjab, and as someone born and raised out of India he has been branded with the title of 'Non-Resident Indian,' or NRI. That's not something he can change, and that stigma has been with him despite being such a big and obvious target for support from the Motherland. He himself recounts that issue when he, like most other young Sikhs, visited the metropolis of Amritsar as a young boy.

"Amritsar is the heart of the Sikh religion, and the seat of their faith. The Golden Temple there is as iconic as the Salt Lake Temple is for members of the Mormon faith. But when he went there his NRI status was one that set him and his family apart from the rest of the people that the NBA is now trying to sell their brand to."

While Bhullar may have had a problem with the way he was treated in India on his visits, it seems he is over it. Following his rather underwhelming debut, he embraced the idea of being an Indian role model, saying: "It was a great feeling and I'm happy to be kind of an ambassador. This is just the beginning. I really think today was the moment, the big moment for me. There is a lot more to go and hopefully I get another chance like that soon.

"Hopefully more kids growing up will see there's a player of Indian descent on the court and hopefully they can follow the game a bit more and grow passion for it to pursue it in future and we can get a couple more Indian NBA players."

His nationality and actual connection with India is a debate in itself, but some also feel that Bhullar is being promoted just so that the beleaguered Kings might benefit from India's 1.25 billion population. It is a reality, after all, that Bhullar is possibly the slowest big man ever to grace the NBA and went undrafted in the 2014 draft despite his gargantuan size.

His numbers in the D-League are impressive, but performances in that league aren't always a true reflection of a player's caliber. If he really is that good, why didn't any other team took a chance on him? Even the Kings hesitated when they waived him in October last year after signing him just two months earlier. But now that another one of their seasons has gone awry, they've chosen – probably on their Indian owner Vivek Ranadive's orders – to bring him back.

Everyone loves a story that raises spirits, creates a role model and inspires millions or billions. But the way the Kings have gone about their business with Bhullar is sketchy at best. Yes, an Indian in the NBA is a great idea that could interest billions around the world. But what if Bhullar isn't the right talent and just a marketing gimmick? If he fails due to a lack of talent, wouldn't it hurt the Amazing Game's long-term scope over in India?

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