Satnam Singh’s family simply saw Satnam’s 5’9” height at age nine and decided to push him on the rarely treaded path towards basketball stardom so he could best support the family. No cliché of baby Satnam seeing Michael Jordan on television and getting hooked. No cliché of Satnam shooting laundry into shoddy baskets on dried-out dirt plots. No, Satnam just happened to be abnormally tall and his family suggested he switch his life completely to play a sport he never seen before.
Not the typical sentimentality to launch your average rags-to-riches tale. But the sentimentality of Satnam’s story should come from Satnam’s unceasing determination to don the hopes of the 2nd most populous nation on Earth on his broad shoulders and fulfill each and every one of them.
The Netflix documentary depicting Satnam’s NBA journey, One in a Billion, details, intentionally or not, how strenuous the journey is to even grab the attention of the figures able to offer a path to the NBA. Not to say Satnam didn’t have more advantages than some of his peers across the globe. His giant height made him a long-term priority of one of the most prestigious basketball academies in India, Ludihana Basketball Academy. However, Ludihana also had to deal with patchwork roofs that let birds defecate on the basketball court at will. Also, the scarcity of a basketball culture in India meant Satnam had to wear makeshift canvas stitched together from different shoes to replicate size 19 basketball sneakers.
And these situations were present to the most prioritized of the Ludihana Academy. It becomes difficult to imagine the strife of Satnam’s academy peers who had similar determination and obstacles but couldn’t get presented the opportunity to expound into the United States.
Satnam’s 6’6” height by age 14 deemed him a priority for the NBA and the IMG marketing company via the eyes of NBA Senior Director of International Basketball Operations Troy Justice. Despite Justice’s apparent fondness of witnessing Satnam and other international prospects realize their NBA dreams, the documentary always makes it difficult to ignore how much the prospects are financial investments as much as labors of love the NBA wants to nurture. A fluke injury or even underachievement in terms of height progression could instantly cause the NBA to divest in a prospect and end his arduous journey on the spot. Adam Silver’s features of hyping the growing globalization of the NBA in One in a Billion serve just as much as business pitches as they do efforts to spread the game he loves.
Still, the investment in Satnam’s potential led to him earning a scholarship to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Satnam had to push homesickness aside to concentrate full-bore on adapting to American culture, picking up the English language from scratch, and improving his basketball skills enough to make the investment in his basketball future worthwhile for everyone.
It would take until Satnam’s fourth year to even begin to understand the English commands of his IMG basketball coach and even an extra fifth year at the academy didn’t allot enough time for Satnam to pass the academic proficiency tests required to be eligible for the NCAA. The scenes of Satnam’s adjustment period in IMG exemplify how even 14 year old prep school athletes, with salaries as bereft as NCAA athletes, have lives and schedules even more arduous than most in the post-college labor force.
The most fulfilling moment of the documentary occurs when Satnam’s Plan B of applying directly into the 2015 NBA Draft instead of junior college paid off in a 2nd round selection by the Dallas Mavericks. Satnam would be the first Indian-born player to get drafted into the NBA as well as the first player to get drafted straight from high school since the NBA imposed age restrictions in 2005. The heartwarming milestone serves as a fitting victory for Satnam yet it remains difficult to not lament on how difficult it has been for him and others with similar backgrounds to work for this one-in-a-billion chance.