Being a basketball player in India has meant juggling two lives, one playing basketball and the other working towards a livelihood. A career as a basketball player came with scant options, and they all involved securing a government job through a sports quota. That would require the players to fulfill off-court obligations towards their employer and put their training alongside or after that. With UBA having signed players to professional basketball contracts, many can now finally dedicate themselves to the sport in ways they could never before.
Watch UBA players talk about what it means to them to be professional basketball players in India and to be role models to the youth.
"Today I'm here, the reason I'm playing hard, because I work every single day for my coach, not for me," said Satnam Singh, the only Indian to have been drafted by the NBA, and now one of the players signed with the UBA. "Just for every Indian kid, for my family, for my coaches for my country. And for who's paying me to play. I care for that. That's why I work very hard. It's not for me only. It’s for everyone in the whole world who watches me."
Speaking of professionals, there are few basketball players who have set the standard for professionalism as high as AC Green, UBA Director of Sport and 3-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers. Green is known as the NBA Ironman for holding the record for the most consecutive games played with 1,192 and he understands what it takes for a basketball player to dedicate themselves fully to the sport. "As important it is to be paid for what you are doing, and paid for something you love doing that's playing basketball, you also have to be a professional," said Green. "You have to be able to know when you're going to practice, when you're going to be on time for practice, how you go about doing your job, maybe your newfound job, and I love the fact that we are now stepping up the game of responsibility and accountability and bringing basketball into the mix."
While there has been no shortage of basketball players in India dedicated to becoming better professionals, the only opportunity to do so has been to go abroad. Until now. "Now UBA is coming and giving us money to play and facilities to train in," said Yadwinder Singh (Haryana Gold). "I'm very happy to be a professional basketball player. The advanced training which we get is top level and is unbeatable. It's coming into India and UBA is providing the opportunity to get that kind of basketball in India."
With basketball now being an attractive career option, the youth can look up to their idols and work hard to get to where they are. "Everybody wants to play in the UBA. The young players in Ludhiana Basketball Academy want to play in the UBA. Because UBA has given everything to a basketball player- facilities, money, everything," added Yadwinder. Fellow Ludhiana Basketball Academy talent Loveneet Singh Atwal (Bengaluru Beast) echoed Yadwinder’s thoughts. “With UBA coming in India, it is giving us the chance to play professional basketball and also giving us an opportunity to improve our game,” said Loveneet.
While the players have an unprecedented opportunity to compete at the highest level in India as professionals, in the process, they are also putting on a show for the entire country to see on live TV. The fans are having the time of their lives witnessing the high-flying action, and the players are experiencing a new level of energy around the game. Siddhant Shinde of Pune Peshwas recalled having an unforgettable experience in UBA Season 4 with the fans. "It was crazy. The crowd, the fans just pulled me out and they wanted autographs. They had signs with my name, I signed quite a few t-shirts as well. That makes me feel like a star. Five, six years back nobody thought that it would get such a huge fan base.”
And it is not just the fans in the stands who experience the joy of following the highest level of basketball in India. With live telecasts of the games and plenty of UBA action on social media, fans throughout the country are now following the stars of Indian basketball and they are hungry for more. "A little child told me about my crossover, behind-the-back move which he saw on TV, so I feel blessed, I feel motivated and I feel proud,” said Loveneet.
Prudhvi Reddy (Mumbai Challengers) spoke about how the children in his hometown now have a glimmer in their eye when they train as they have a dream to work for. "Back home I play for small YMCA club. There are kids who are 10-11-year olds there, and their whole dream is to play in UBA. And they always look up to me because I'm playing in the best league in India."
With basketball players getting an opportunity to be professionals in India, the competition is getting tougher than ever as the youth work even harder to attain a tangible dream of playing at the highest level. "While players are certainly happy to be professionals now, that also means staying in shape to keep your job. There are others now who want to be pros,” said Paul Crane, UBA VP Broadcasting.
"There's always somebody trying to get to where you are so you can never rest or ever feel comfortable when it comes to playing on a basketball team. Don't ever forget that, all you hoopers out there,” added Green
It is not just players in India who get this opportunity. Now, the best Indian basketball players from around the world are looking to come to India to put on a show. One such talent is UBA newcomer Baljyot Judge, who hails from Ontario, Canada and has Indian roots. Making his UBA debut in the upcoming UBA Season 5 will give him a chance to play professionally for the first time. "It's amazing that I can call myself a professional basketball player. Because growing up you see players playing in the NBA or going overseas and to be able to play basketball professionally and to make a living out of it is probably the best job in the world."
When UBA Season 5 tips off, it will see the best Indian basketball players from all over the world compete on the highest stage in India along with professionals from USA and Canada. And with the entire country watching every move the players make on the court, there will be millions of youth whose dreams will be ignited with every dunk, with every shot, with every play.
Being a professional basketball player in India meant living two lives on and off the court as the players worked at a job and balanced basketball along with their profession. It now means making being a truly professional basketball player, competing at the highest level on live television with top-level talent from all over the world with the entire country watching.