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Injury is the biggest threat to Satnam's career, as it is with all young big men. Satnam's body is so cumbersome that a huge part of his development at IMG has been learning the proper way to run. He's progressed plenty, but the IMG coaches have limited his schedule to keep him sound.
As for his future international role, there's a consensus at IMG and back in India that he's grounded enough to handle it. "From doing the predraft stuff, you can kind of tell who chose the game and who got chosen by the game," says Barto. "He really, truly loves the game." While Satnam doesn't project to be more than an end-of-the-rotation NBA banger—think of a less athletic Omer Asik—his upside back home is enormous. He's already a fixture on the Indian national team. "Even after I retire," he says, "I want to make sure there's a young generation that continues the popularity of basketball in India."
And therein lies the tricky challenge for Satnam Singh Bhamara. Can he make it big in basketball in the U.S.? If not, can his star-obsessed country embrace the game without a Bollywood-level leading man? Basketball is still light years from threatening cricket, soccer and field hockey in popularity in India. Can the oversized teen on his father's little computer screen become Indian basketball's big ticket?
A trip through India assaults the senses. The traffic is crippling and deafening, from the cities to the villages. Lanes are mere suggestions, and kids without helmets frequently ride on the backs of motorcycles with a parent. Signs on the rear of trucks encourage the cacophony, urging passing cars to blow horn. Cars, motorcycles and motorized rickshaws jostle for position in tune with the beeps, India's insistent sound track.
The modern Indian economy works the same way: in bursts and stops. Much like driving, investing in India is not for the faint of heart. But the demographics are so tantalizing that international entrepreneurs can't resist trying to exploit them. Almost half of India's population is under the age of 24, compared with one third in the U.S. "When you have this many people coming of age at the same time in any one country," says IMG's Sharma, "it's an entire cultural shift that's unavoidable."
India projects to have 12% of the world's college graduates by 2020, and by '27 the country's middle class should be double the current population of the U.S. (313 million). By '15 more than 80% of Indians will have cellphones, and 20% will be on the Internet. "I just see it as unlimited in terms of its potential," says NBA commissioner David Stern, who predicted during a visit to the subcontinent in April that an Indian will play in the NBA within five years.
Stern says, only half in jest, that he's pressuring his successor, Adam Silver, and NBA International president Heidi Ueberroth to grow the game faster in India than in other emerging markets. Nike, Adidas and Coca-Cola, among others, have signed up as the league's marketing partners on the subcontinent. India is "a top priority," Ueberroth says.
The proliferation of digital platforms on which to follow the NBA—Facebook, smartphones, games streamed on the Internet—puts the league at everyone's fingertips. While three NBA games are televised every week in India on the channel Sony SIX, league executives believe that young Indians will use the latest technology to consume the sport, a hip alternative to cricket and soccer that should grow as access to it increases. It's already very popular in high schools, particularly in the cities. "Cricket was a colonial sport," Silver says, referring to the era of British rule. "It's progressive to become a basketball fan."
Stern stares out the window of the NBA's Manhattan offices and expounds on the fertile Indian market. In 1988 he traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia, to watch the Atlanta Hawks play the Soviet national team. The crowd went crazy for pint-sized Atlanta guard Spud Webb. "I'm scratching my head and saying, I don't get it: How do they even know who he is?" Stern says. "Do they like small people here?" It turns out that pirated copies of Turkish TV reruns of the 1986 NBA All-Star dunk contest, won by Webb, had made their way onto Tbilisi television, which taught Stern a lesson in international marketing. "The conditions in India are generations ahead of that," Stern says. "It doesn't depend ultimately on whether Satnam Singh is the next Yao Ming"—he pauses and smiles—"although that would be nice."
Within the last decade, meanwhile, two larger-than-life billionaires recognized that the new India values its sporting identity and joined together to exploit it. One of these magnates dated Princess Diana, Elizabeth Hurley and Padma Lakshmi. The other has a 27-story Mumbai house with nine elevators and garage space for 168 cars. The alliance between Teddy Forstmann, the late playboy and CEO of IMG, and Mukesh Ambani, CEO of Reliance Industries and the wealthiest man in India (net worth: more than $20 billion), was strengthened through the subcontinent's first successful pro sports circuit: cricket's Indian Premier League, in which they were both driving forces.