When it comes to Sim Bhullar, the first Indian-origin professional player in the National Basketball Association, there's more than what meets the eye.
Bhullar towers over average people. He is 7'5" tall and weights close to 180 kilos. And he is just 22 years old. Toronto-based Bhullar is already creating a 'giant' impact in India, where cricket overshadows all other sports. He has managed to attract the interest of young sports aspirants after his recent NBA game against Minnesota Timberwolves.
Earlier this week, Bhullar visited India to conduct a coaching clinic for aspiring basketball players in Chandigarh, and explore the roots of his Punjabi descent, which included a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar: his mother Varinder Kaur is from Amritsar, while his father Avtar Singh hails from Bhullar village in Punjab. While he envisions a much brighter future for Indian basketball players, Bhullar continues to focus on improving his game, his body and reveals his persistent passion for the game to HuffPost India.
How has life changed since you played your first NBA game?
Life is a lot more jam-packed and a lot has been happening. It’s been a roller coaster ride till now.
What is the biggest hurdle you have had to face while trying to get into professional basketball?
Making sure that I do the right thing on and off court. I need to work on my body, I need to ensure that I am able to play for a longer time as I intend to stay in the NBA for as long as I can.
Ever thought you’d make it this big? Why not other sports like cricket or hockey - given India is such a fan of the sport?
Most kids aspire to become a basketball player, but grow out of the idea. However, when I was 13 years old, I knew I wanted to build a career around this passion. I was convinced that I could do it, and I pursued it. Growing up, I enjoyed every kind of sport: soccer, football, baseball, hockey and so on. But basketball has always been my first love. I am addicted to it, and have fun with it, which is what pushed me to go professional.
Professional b'ball must take away a big slice of your life. How hard is it to cope with studies and life in general?
Playing basketball is a job for a me now. And as any other job you are required to put in long hours — that’s how my days generally — at workouts and in gyms. I have to make sure that every day I give the best I can. It’s necessary to give enough time to your job. It’s pretty much on ground, and I can see that I am continuing to get better and better.
What do you do to de-stress?
I'm not really stressed to begin with — I am generally relaxed and calm, and I just go about my day that way. I believe in enjoying life as much as anyone else.
How long do you see yourself playing basketball professionally?
I'm going to play till my body gives up on me. I can play for a long, long time. Right now I am focusing on being the best basketball player and I want to play as long as my body cooperates.
Were you the tallest kid growing up in school. Was it tough? (Does it bother you that people continue to make references to your height?)
I was always taller than everyone else. There was a certain time when everyone had stopped growing, and I still kept growing and growing. I didn’t find it tough as people were really willing to support me and my dreams. After a point in time people started identifying me for my height, but not for the person I am. But I got used to it, and didn’t really care about what people thought about me.
So, are you seeing anyone?! What qualities do you look for in a woman?
I am not seeing anyone, just focusing on my career and basketball. I don’t know if I should answer the question on what I look for in a woman (laughs).
Basketball is a common sport in schools in India, but has never caught on as a national sport. Why do you think that is?
My teammates at NBA — we all grew up together, and at a certain age we all started playing together. This connection spurred us to go pro as well. Basketball is young in India BUT in the future, I surely see a big group of kids getting into basketball and NBA. I definitely see the jump.
Needless to say, you have made India proud. In fact you have brought basketball into the limelight here. What advice would you pass on to aspiring pro basketball players here in India?
I'd tell them that it’s a dream that’s possible. It doesn't matter if you're amongst hundreds of kids, and don't know what the future holds. You can get through anything, and if you really want it that bad, you'll make it happen. I'd like to think that kids here now have someone to look up to, and someone who's footsteps they can follow. I hope the kids here are inspired and remember the visit.