CHENNAI:The mid 70s: The entire farming village of Ballo Ke looked on with awe as Balbir Singh Bhamara grew taller with every year. One fine day, he even outgrew his mother, who stood at six-foot-nine. Balbir kept growing, till he was seven-foot-two, easily the tallest in vicinity. A giant of a man.
On his rare bus journeys to Ludhiana and Amritsar, people mistook him for a basketballer. Young Balbir didn’t know what that meant. But his friends, who went to cities for job, chorused he would have been a good basketballer. Balbir simply ignored it. There was no time for past time.
For him there was no life beyond the farm. “Apart from a bit of hockey in my early teens I haven’t played any sport in my life. It was all about working on the farm, and I didn’t get time for anything else. There was no TV and all we had was a radio. We celebrated whenever India won something as there used to be a lot of players from Punjab,” he recollected to Express.
The early 2000s: The entire village of Ballo Ke, still agrarian, looked on again with awe as Satnam, Balbir’s second child, kept adding inches to his height. Like his father, a giant. By nine, he was measuring six feet. Balbir proudly watched him grow. “He grew up at such a rate that his mother (who is five-foot-two) wondered whether he would fit in through the main door of the house, which was about seven and a half feet, barely enough for me to sneak in,” he said.
But as Satnam kept growing, Balbir began nursing the idea of making him a basketballer. “I remembered how my friends from the city used to make fun of my height. So I thought why not give Satnam the opportunity. I didn’t want to impose anything on him, but just wanted to give him the opportunities so that it might help him get a government job. That was the time a lot of young men from our village started getting jobs on sports quota,” he narrated.
He took Satnam to a local basketball court, but his son showed no inclination. “He showed no interest. He would cry on the court and I thought maybe, he is not cut out for it. Then I started noticing him throwing big stones at the sky like a basketballer. Then I bought a small hoop from Ludhiana (70 km from the village) and nailed it on a wall outside the house and bought him a basketball. That day on, he couldn’t be seen without the ball and the pounding on the wall never stopped. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to see him shooting,” he said.
Then came the first turning point of his life. “He informed me about a brief in the newspaper about Ludhiana Basketball Academy scouting for young players. A couple of days later, I took him there and the coaches were impressed by his height. He was taken immediately,” he said.
His career thereon is well-storied. And the village of Ballo Ke still looks on with awe.