Sim Bhullar’s mere presence – all 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds of him – at Sleep Train Arena on Friday night drew a crowd, and he towered above it.
That he is the heaviest man in NBA history was secondary to his role in history. In signing a 10-day contract, the rookie became the first player of Indian descent to land on an NBA regular-season roster. Kings chairman Vivek Ranadive, the first Indian-born NBA owner, is intrigued by Bhullar’s size and heritage.
Ever the visionary and competitor, Ranadive said India is the next “great frontier” for the NBA and that Bhullar can help lead that charge, but he’ll have to earn it. And Bhullar isn’t just a big man trying his hand in the NBA. He’s a big personality with a growing following in India.
“In India,” Ranadive said, “Sim is already a household name. He has a chance. It’s up to him. India is sports crazy. Basketball can tie all of this together.”
Bhullar did not play Friday in a 101-95 loss to New Orleans and hopes to debut Sunday against visiting Utah. He understands patience is key as he continues to learn the offense and tendencies of his teammates.
Bhullar played for the Kings in the NBA Summer League and worked on his conditioning, weight and game in the Kings’ NBA Development League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, where he showed promise, averaging 10.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.9 blocked shots and 25.8 minutes over 39 games. Bhullar said his cellphone and personal email have “blown up” from family and friends, and from scores of people he doesn’t know from India. He has been sent well-wishes from actors and celebrities in India.
Friday’s game was aired live in India, and his appearance generated interested from Indian media and NBATV. Ami Bera, the only Indian American serving in Congress, was on hand. Bhullar enjoyed every bit of the buildup.
“It’s exciting and fun,” he said. “I know it’s a big moment for the NBA and for my country. I know a lot of people in India are proud of me. I’m enjoying the ride. I just want to help this team. It’s not every day you get an opportunity like this.”
Worldly view – Akshay Manwani wrote of Bhullar’s NBA arrival for NBA India: “The Germans first had Detlef Schrempf and then Dirk Nowitzki. The Australians sent big man Luc Longley in the 1990s while the Croatians had Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc. Arvydas Sabonis came to play from Lithuania, but before him there was Sarunas Marciulionis. The French had Tony Parker. The Argentinians had Manu Ginobili.
“The Chinese had Yao Ming, whose selection in the 2002 NBA draft caused an overnight surge in the following of the game in China. ... ”
Evans elevates – New Orleans’ Tyreke Evans, the NBA Rookie of the Year for the Kings in 2010, has averaged 21.3 points in seven games against Sacramento. He went for 19 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists on Friday after going for 25 points and 10 assists in a 102-88 victory over the Kings on March 27. Evans is still popular at Sleep Train, signing autographs before the game.
Arena endorsement – Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson, an Oak Ridge High School graduate, said he is forever fond of Sleep Train Arena, never mind that it is otherwise viewed as the worst venue in the NBA.
“To me, it’s still the best arena in the NBA,” Anderson said, admitting that he grew up as a Kings fan. “But change is good. It’s amazing to see the demolition downtown for the new arena. Our team hotel was right by it. You can see the progress. It’s the start of a new era, and it’ll be great for this city.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.