My focus is entirely on basketball, not thinking about joining WWE: Satnam Singh
In a cricket-obsessed country like India, where cricketers are treated as semi-gods, it’s a tremendous achievement if someone makes name in a lesser-popular sport like basketball. But Satnam Singh is no ordinary athlete. Fighting against all odds, the athlete from Punjab not only managed to make an impact in the sport just in India, but also globally.
Satnam created history when he became the first Indian player to be drafted into the U.S.A's National Basketball Association (NBA) in 2015.
In an email interview with Suyash Srivastava of Zee News.com, Satnam spoke about his journey from Punjab to the United States and how he plans to popularize the sport in India. Following are excerpts from the interview.
Whenever we think about you, the first thing which comes to mind is your towering height. Tell us something about the challenges you faced as a kid?
I always stood out in front of kids of my age due to my extraordinary height. When I was young and used to go out to play, people used to say – “you are so big and still you play.” But they never realized that it is just my appearance due to my height that makes me look big. From inside and even mentally, I was like a normal kid like them who liked to play and have fun. When I started playing basketball, I didn’t really face any major difficulty except for finding proper shoe of my size. Otherwise, mostly I had to work and concentrate on my hand and body movement while practicing the game. I had an advantage being tall but I had to train my body well to make the right use of it.
How did basketball happen? Were you passionate about the sport or someone motivated you to take it up considering your height?
The thought of basketball had never crossed my mind. Once, one of my my father’s friend suggested that I should play basketball as my height was an added advantage for the sport. My father advised me to give it a shot and that is when basketball happened to me. I have always obeyed my father and respected his decisions. Initially I wasn’t too keen about it, now I am absolutely in love with the sport. I still have to excel and get better at it though.
You are a role model for several aspiring athletes in the country. Tell us something about your journey from Punjab to the United States.
I am so humbled because I might have done something right to inspire so many people. My journey has not been that smooth but it has been a good learning experience. The best part of my journey from Punjab to United States was that I just went with the flow and believed in my father and coaches. I never knew how to even hold a basketball when I started playing the game. I used to wear two shoes stitched into one as I never found the shoe of my size. That made it a bit uncomfortable while practicing the game. The biggest hurdle when I came to the USA was the language barrier. I didn’t know English and my coaches used to find it difficult to explain me. However, I was lucky enough to have been trained by the coaches, who were not just talented and knowledgeable, but humble and helpful too. They always motivated me and guided me at each step. They did their best to introduce me to NBA teams and their owners. It made me believe in myself even more. It motivated me further to deliver my best and live up-to the trust they had in me. I must say, the journey was a memorable one and a new experience altogether which I shall cherish forever.
You were also recently seen doing drills at a recent WWE performance Center tryout. Are you planning to follow into the footsteps of The Great Khali?
I am not thinking about any other sport yet except for basketball. I just went to watch the WWE drill and was suggested to give it a shot given my extraordinary height and athletic body that is required for WWE. That is all about my stint at WWE and there is nothing more to it.
Considering that basketball demands a lot of practice, what is your daily routine like?
Since I am mostly preparing for the matches, my entire day revolves around exercising at the gym and practicing the game. I get up between 7am-8am in the morning have breakfast and go for my practice sessions from 10am to 12 pm. After practice, I head over to have my lunch, relax for some time and come back for practice. I exercise 2-3 times in a day. Apart from this, whenever I have some free time, I love to watch movies.
Tell us something about your family and the kind of support they gave you?
I have an ideal and simple family that has always motivated me and pushed me to reach greater heights. There have been times when I felt low, but my family’s support has always been the biggest motivating factor. I am very close to my father and whatever I am today is because of him. It was he who made me believe that I could play a sport which is unique, at least in India. At the age of 10, I left the house for further training. I used to miss my family a lot because initially things were difficult for me and I felt like coming back. But my parents always stood by me and their words of wisdom gave me the strength to work hard and move forward.
How much did your family support you initially since it's a cricket-obsessed country. Did you ever think of switching to some other sport, or your focus was entirely to do well in basketball?
From the beginning, I focused on basketball only. My family, specially my father was a great pillar of support in my entire journey. Seeing my dedication towards the sport and to make things easier for me, my father built a basketball ring for me at our place. I used to practice basketball at home too after coming back from the sports academy.
When you were away from home training, tell us about the people who kept you motivated and played a major role in making you what you are today?
Being away from home was a difficult phase for me. That was the time that I found support from my coaches, team mates and teachers at the academy. They understood where I came from and helped me wherever they could. My classmates used to help me with studies, teachers helped me with the language and coaches; despite the language barrier initially, trained me with passion. My coach used to enact and show me the moves seeing which I would do the same and learn.
Tell us something about your documentary – One In A Billion.
The documentary has covered my journey exceptionally well. After watching it, I relived all the moments once again and it was a wonderful and emotional experience. From the entire filming process to watching the final documentary, I was excited and looked forward to the response it receives. I am thankful to director Roman Gackowski and film’s producer Michael D. Ratner to have considered making a documentary on my journey. It has received a positive response and inspired every single person who has watched it. It is not just about the sport and the aspiring players that it inspired , but in general too, the way my life’s struggle has been clearly depicted in the movie, motivates everyone to achieve something in their life by fighting all odds.
While the world has heard of Michael Jordan, Lebron James and Stephen Curry, you have put our country on the global map as well. How do you see basketball, as a sport in India and what are your plans to popularize it?
As a sport, basketball has a long way to go as it’s been only few years since the sport has started gaining prominence in India. If you see basketball in the US, people have incredible love for it. I think with time, people will relate to it and acknowledge the sport in the future. And I sincerely hope that my humble efforts boost those changes. The government should take necessary steps to promote the game and provide better infrastructure and facilities so that the aspiring talent in India gets the best training. Once I have made a mark in basketball, I would like to come back to India and start a sports academy that would have all the sports and education related facilities like my academy here in the US. I would like to replicate the generosity of my coaches and impart my knowledge and training to the aspiring sports players in India. I would also want to provide international sports scholarship to the students of my academy, which would further help India have its name established on the global map in the field of sports through this talent lot.