Hield living his dream – from Bahamas to Mumbai via Sacramento

Shahid Judge
Sacramento Kings Buddy Hield during practice at the NCSI Dome in Mumbai. (Source: NBA)

The sound of the swoosh as a basketball floats neatly through the hoop and net comes often. The Sacramento Kings have spread out on the court and are shooting hoops during the cool-down drill. It s an exercise not uncommon in the basketball world, but the sight of a team one among the 30 giants that make up the NBA that plays at a level unseen in India before has a certain style to it. On one side of the court, De Aaron Fox executes a perfect back-flip for no apparent reason. But at the other end, as the rest of the players make their way off court, the swooshing still continues, courtesy one of the shorter players on the Kings roster. It stops when the player, Buddy Hield standing at 6-foot-4 is called for a press interaction. He decides to take one last shot, misses, and is immediately encouraged and forgiven by his teammates watching on. After all, the 26-year-old, just last season, set the record for most 3-pointers scored by a player in his first three season in the NBA. The previous record of 599 was owned by Damian Lillard, till Hield bettered it to register a tally of 602. I m alright, says the man from the Bahamas, with a shrug when praised about his shooting skill outside the 3-point circle. He s one of the bigger names in a team that has roped in a new set of players brimming with youthful energy. But he remains the one who needs to be, time and again, told to leave the court once practice ends. More often than not, he somehow gets back on court for one more shot. Just as he did at the NSCI Stadium in Mumbai on Thursday, on the eve of the Kings pre-season match against the Indiana Pacers. READ | NBA great Jason Williams says there s lot of potential for growth of basketball in India Hield s work-ethic stems from a childhood dream, and a goal to make it in the NBA to escape a life of poverty. Not unlike many NBA stars, Hield had a humble beginning. He grew up in a small home with six other siblings who would jostle for space on the only bed, while his mother was out working three jobs a day to make ends meet. But unlike the players who grew up in the US, a basketball court wasn t an accessible luxury to the future Kings shooting guard. Child kidnappings were rife when he was growing up at the Eight Mile Rock village, just outside Freeport in the Bahamas. Consequently, his mother was never keen on letting him wander too far to shoot some hoops. So Hield sawed off the bottom of a milk crate, attached it to a piece of plywood for a backboard, nailed it to a light pole, and then spent hours learning how to curve the ball in from close and long range. That s how he learnt to shoot, he says. The crate, you had to shoot the ball in (and not rebound). The goal was always to shoot the ball in, he says. You can t use the backboard, you have to shoot exactly in. That helped me concentrate and lock in focus. That was good for me. By then, basketball had become his goal, and a way out. (It was a) hard life. Growing up I didn t have nothing, Hield says in a typical Bahamas drawl. But my dream was to make it in the NBA. I had a vision, a dream and goal. I kept it with me. I wanted to be in the NBA and I kept working. No matter what it takes me, whether I had to go out on the street and sell something to get some money to sponsor me, I did what I did to get here. It was a path and a career choice mostly unknown to the Bahamas. Ever since the NBA was launched in 1946, six players have emerged from the Bahamas. But including Hield, only three have played more than a 100 matches. READ | Cavalry precedes big artillery for NBA pre-season India games It s been a long path from Eight Mile Rock, to getting scouted for a school in Kansas, then being the sixth pick at the 2016 NBA draft by the New Orleans Pelicans, and now a star figure in the Kings outfit. But it has been a journey that has earned him the riches that come with being a high-profile NBA player. His earnings from last season were reported to be around the $4 million mark, but he s remained true to his humble roots, collecting over $300,000 for relief material when Hurricane Dorian hit the island nation last month. At that point, the only way he could get in touch with his family was through Whatsapp. But now his mother is safely at his Sacramento home, as he s travelled with his team to India for the first global NBA games in the subcontinent. But he s enjoyed the trip so far. It was a good bonding trip, he says of the flight from Sacramento to London to Agra and finally Mumbai. We didn t have any wifi on the trip, which I think was good for team spirit. So you get to learn about your teammates and that s good for the trip. We played a lot of cards. There s almost 13,500 km separating the basketball nets at the Golden 1 Centre in Sacramento where he has been deadly from distance and the freshly fashioned poles in Mumbai. But the hoops never mattered to him. He remembers the crate and plywood board from his childhood, that still stand at his mother s backyard in Eight Mile Rock. No matter where you go, he says, it s just a basketball and a rim. I love it.