Satnam Singh became the NBA's first player born in India when he was selected by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2015 NBA draft, according to the team. His journey to the NBA from a small rural farming village in India is the subject of a new documentary, "One in a Billion," which was released on Netflix yesterday.
Producer Michael D. Ratner told NBC News that the documentary, which follows Singh for two years, captured his journey from his village, Ballo Ke, to the IMG Academy basketball training center in Florida, culminating in the night of the NBA draft in New York's Barclays Center. OBB Pictures, the company Ratner founded and is now serving as President/CEO, has produced several sports stories in the past, including one about Atlanta Hawks Center Dwight Howard.
"I was really interested in telling stories about sports that weren't so much about sports at their core heart, but good character stories," Ratner said. He was looking for his next project when he heard about a potential story that intrigued him.
"I had heard from an agent that the next couple of years were going to be exciting, that he was potentially paving the road to being the first person from India to play in the NBA," Ratner said. "What a loaded statement that was, that we might be able to see this sport that is so huge here in America be opened up to India, which has a population of 1.3 billion people."
India is widely considered an untapped market for basketball. The NBA has made a concerted effort to recruit international players, and both NBA commissioner Adam Silver and senior director of international basketball operations Troy Justice, appear in "One in a Billion" to talk about Singh.
Ratner noted that Singh, who is currently playing in the NBA Development League (also referred to as the D-League), has already had an impact.
"Right now even in the D-League, there are hundreds of kids of Indian descent and from India who go and watch his games," Ratner said. "Getting those people to see him in the D- League is pretty awesome."
At only 20 years old, Singh is developing his game in the NBA's lower league, having gone straight from high school basketball to the NBA draft. He was the first player in a decade to be drafted by the NBA with no professional or college-level experience under his belt, according to Ratner.
As the 52nd overall pick of 60 in the NBA draft, Singh's selection was "not at all" a sure thing. Ratner recalled the tension surrounding draft night, and Singh's composure, which Ratner described as his favorite part of the film.
"Satnam seems a bit down because he has the weight of all these people on his shoulders," Ratner said. "They tell him, 'Even if you fail here you've shown people that it's somewhat possible to get this far.' And [Singh] take a deep breath and says, 'At the very least, I opened the lock to the door.'"
Ratner described this moment as representative of the story he wanted to tell.
"For me, this was the story we were chasing," he said. "This isn't going to be one overnight success, because there's a lot of work to be done."
Ratner emphasized that the end of the movie is just the beginning of Singh's own story. "Satnam is at the gym every day working hard, and his true impact is yet to be seen," he said. "That's not to take away from the unbelievable feat that he's already accomplished at such a young age. [Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban said to me, 'This is a development process.'"
Both Singh — who is honing his skills in the D-League — and the Mavericks — who have invested in his potential — are looking towards the future and what it could bring.
"It's a work in progress, and people don't realize how young [Singh] is," Ratner said. "Mark's behind him, and hey, Satnam may just lead the Mavericks to a billion new fans."