Canadian Bhullar learned work ethic from parents

Katrina Clarke | April 2, 2015 | Toronto Star

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Pictured: Avtar Bhullar, Sim’s father. Photo credit: Andrew Francis Wallace.

Sim Bhullar was a typical shy kid in Grade 2 who occasionally sought out rebellion — except he was about a foot taller than everyone his age and his thrill ended with him crashing a car.

Now 7-foot-5, Bhullar snuck outside on that fateful winter day after his uncle left his car running to warm up and jumped into the front seat, his long legs reaching down to the pedals. And then he pressed down.

Boom — the car smashed into the garage.

“He wanted to go and see if he could drive it,” his sister, Avneet, told the Star. “He wasn’t a troublemaker. He was adventurous.”

On Thursday, Sim signed a 10-day contract with the Sacramento Kings, making history as the first NBA player of Indian descent.

Speaking to the Star from the family-owned gas station at Islington Avenue and Steeles Avenue, Sim’s big sister recalled what it was like growing up in a “strict but supportive” Sikh family with a brother who caught the eye of coaches in Grade 3.

“It was always to work hard, study hard. Whatever you’re doing, give it your 100 per cent,” said Avneet, 24.

Sim’s parents moved to Canada from India in 1988. His mom worked two factory jobs when the kids were young and their dad drove a taxi. They bought the gas station nine years ago.

“My parents have the strongest work ethic that I’ve ever known or ever seen. They never sit still,” Avneet said in between helping customers. “Just seeing two people that will put their all into their jobs or their dreams or their business, it kind of tells you that you can’t do a half job. You’ve got to do everything you can and then some more to accomplish your goals.”

But the three kids — including 20-year-old, seven-foot-three Tanveer, who now plays basketball at New Mexico State University — had fun too. They spent their free time running around outside with their cousins who lived down the block, taking swimming and karate lessons and playing basketball and ball hockey.

“What (my parents) thought was, keep ’em busy, keep us out of trouble,” Avneet said.

The family lived in quiet area but, nearby, syringes were found in parks and schools frequently went into lockdown. But the most trouble “mellow, laid-back” Sim got into was stunts like the Grade 2 car crash, she said.

As far as she knows, he wasn’t taunted for his height either — he reached six-foot-one at age 12.

His size made Sim stand out in a good way, generating comments from coaches that he should try basketball in Grade 3 and catching the eye of recruiters from American high schools in his teens.

He went on to play high school ball in the United States at age 16 and at New Mexico State in college.

One knock against him had been his weight — he was listed as 360 pounds when he left New Mexico — and conditioning. But he was averaging 10.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks in the D League this season. He can also dunk standing on his tippytoes.

Back at the gas station, Sim’s dad, Avtar, stood tall as customer after customer came in to congratulate him on his son’s accomplishment. He himself is six-foot-four.

“I hope he will be successful,” said Kuldip Singh, Avtar’s friend from his taxi days, adding that the Toronto’s South Asian community was all abuzz about Sim on Thursday.

Indeed, his accomplishment is a big one for India, and part of the reason why he was chosen for the Kings. Owner Vivek Ranadive is trying to expand basketball’s reach into India and hopes more Indian players join the NBA ranks.

“All of India is proud,” said Avtar, standing in front of a collage of 50 photos of his two sons in basketball action shots. He said he had been fielding calls from friends and family in India Thursday as well.

Despite the major accomplishments, life goes on as normal for the Bhullar family, who worked extra hard the day of their son and brother’s announcement. Mom Varinder, who is five-foot-10, was in India for a cousin’s wedding.

Sim is expected to help out too. Unlike other draft hopefuls who were in Brooklyn for the draft, Sim was in North York, manning the cash.

And the work’s not done yet.

Sim’s first chance to prove himself may come Friday when the Kings host the New Orleans Pelicans.

Avtar said he wants his son to become the “best player in the NBA.”

“You can never work hard enough,” said Avneet, herself six-feet tall. “There’s still so much more work. This is not the finish line yet.”

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About Katrina Clarke

Katrina Clarke is a Toronto- and Vancouver-based freelance reporter. Her work appears in the National Post, the Toronto Star, CBC Life and J-Source. Reach her at katrina.clarke24@gmail.com or on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.
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