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The NBA Looks to India, Basketball's New 'Wild West'

"If the NBA were able to get basketball off the ground in India, I would be willing to kiss Adam Silver’s feet," one international sports agent says. "It’s going to be really hard."

by Alex Wong
May 3 2017, 6:29pm

Growing up, the only sport Palpreet Singh Brar played was kabaddi, a mix of wrestling, rugby and tag popular in his home state of Punjab, India. He spent more hours working in his family's 20-acre wheat and rice fields. "I got in a lot of trouble," the 21-year-old Singh says with a laugh, recalling how he would mischievously pull good plants out of the field as a prank.

Singh certainly never thought that he would one day have a chance to play professional basketball in the United States. He only discovered the game at the age of 16; most future NBA players have already been scouted for years at that point. And yet, just five years later the six-foot-nine forward was selected in the fourth round of the 2016 D-League draft by the Long Island Nets. It made headlines in India and was a tremendous source of pride for Singh's parents. "I can't explain it in words," he said, standing inside the practice court at Barclays Center in Brooklyn last fall. "For my family. For my country."

Singh is part of the first small wave of Indian players to emerge on the basketball scene. Sim Bhullar, a 24-year-old center who was born in Canada, became the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA when he suited up for the Sacramento Kings in 2015. That same year, Satnam Singh, a 21-year-old center born in Punjab, became the first player from India to be taken in the NBA draft, going 52nd overall to the Dallas Mavericks. (In addition, in 2013, Vivek Ranadivé, a native of Mumbai, became the owner and chairman of the Sacramento Kings.) The list of basketball talent coming out of India can be counted on one hand, but that is something the NBA is hoping to change in the coming years.

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