Six years ago today, Sim Bhullar and the Sacramento Kings made history.
Bhullar became the first player of Indian descent to appear in an NBA game when he got on the court for the last 16 seconds of a win over Minnesota. The game was already in hand, so Bhullar’s appearance was mostly ceremonial, but it was nonetheless a monumental feat for basketball in India.
Sacramento was the natural place for a moment like this to happen. Vivek Ranadive is the lone NBA chairman from India, giving him an instinctual understanding of what basketball means to that country. Signing Bhullar both at the start of the season to a training camp deal and then once again to a 10-day contract at the end of the year was as much of a marketing gambit as a basketball decision. Ranadive said as much in the team’s press release when Bhullar inked his first contract:
I’ve long believed that India is the next great frontier for the NBA, and adding a talented player like Sim only underscores the exponential growth basketball has experienced in that nation. While Sim is the first player of Indian descent to sign with an NBA franchise, he represents one of many that will emerge from that region as the game continues to garner more attention and generate ever-increasing passion among a new generation of Indian fans.
Bhullar had a stat-less debut, but saw action again the next night against the Utah. He came in for the last 1:22 for Jason Thompson, collected one rebound, missed a jumper, and then scored the first basket by any player of Indian descent in league history, a mark that still stands five years later.
Bhullar remains the only player of Indian descent to have appeared in an NBA game, though Indians have made some headway in the G League. Satnam Singh became the first player to be drafted when the Dallas Mavericks selected him at no. 52 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. He ended up playing for the Texas Legends for two seasons.
Amjyot Singh, another Indian-born player, spent time in the G League from 2017-19 with the Oklahoma City Blue and Wisconsin Herd. Palpreet Singh was drafted in the G League draft by the Long Island Nets, but didn’t appear in any league games.
The NBA has expanded into India over recent years, leading camps and academies for young players, and even playing preseason games there at the start of this season. Commissioner Adam Silver had made a promise to Ranadive when he bought the Kings in 2013 that games would be played in India, and that finally came to fruition this year.
It remains to be seen what the long-term impact of the NBA’s foray into India will be in terms of producing basketball talent. There is a large population base to draw from, but much like basketball-crazy China, that doesn’t necessarily translate into an NBA pipeline. Whatever happens, Bhullar and the Kings can always hold on to their piece of history.