Sim Bhullar made his NBA debut on the bench Friday night with the Sacramento Kings.
And though his feet never touched the court for game action, his impact is already being felt across the basketball world.
“I got a phone call yesterday and the first thing the person said was ‘How does it feel to be the most popular guy on Earth,'” Bhullar told assembled media following his first Kings team workout.
“That’s what it feels like right now.”
Bhullar became the first player of Indian descent to sign to an NBA regular-season roster when the Kings called him up from the D-League Reno Bighorns.
“It was good just coming in the gym, seeing all the guys, sharing some hugs and stuff,” Bhullar said.
“We just went through a bunch of plays and it’s tough to learn all those in a day and a half so I’m just going to try my best when I get out there.”
The 7’5″, 360lb. big man will take time to adjust to his new team, but owner Vivek Ranidivé who took over the Sacramento organization two years ago is eager to market his Kings in India – Ranadivé believes it’s the next frontier for the global popularity of basketball and the NBA.
Fans from Canada, India, and across the world congratulated Bhullar through social media, including a few celebrities. He estimates he had 20,000 notification on his Twitter alone.
With seven games left, and Sacramento officially eliminated from the playoff race, he’s sure to get some burn alongside fellow GTA-native rookie Nik Stauskas.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all,” Bhullar said before Friday’s game. “I know there’s a lot of people, probably something like a billion people trying to watch, especially over in India, and I’m just going to try to enjoy.”
His time spent in Reno’s uptempo system has improved his conditioning and has fast-tracked him to be able to play at an NBA pace. He won’t have to adjust much for the size and physicality of the pro game either – he instantly becomes both the tallest and heaviest player on the floor at all times.
In Reno, Sim says he worked on clogging up the lane and making sure to take advantage of touches around the rim. He played 39 games for the Bighorns averaging 10.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and nearly four blocks, while shooting 72.7 percent.
Whenever Bhullar laces them up for some NBA action he’ll be making big steps – both for his career and the evolving global popularity of the game.