NBA India Games 2019: Behind Buddy Hield's success, improvised hoops made from milk crates and plywood backboards

Amit Kamath

Mumbai: Buddy Hield has barely caught his breath after a training session at the NSCI's Dome when he's ushered to the awaiting media scrum, who almost instantly want to know about the taxing journey he has undertaken from Sacramento to New Delhi to Agra to, finally, Mumbai.

It is, after all, a journey that's seen the franchise travel nearly 20 hours by flight to play the inaugural NBA India Games against the Indiana Pacers on two consecutive days.

Hield though dismisses the question. "This is basketball. It's a business," he says. "It's our business to come in, do our work and get out."

Soon, he's being asked whether such journeys disrupt his routine as a shooter. One line from his answer sticks out.

"No matter where you go, it's just a basketball and a rim. I love it."

Growing up in poverty in Bahamas, Hield had little besides a basketball, a rim and a dream to make it to the NBA. Often, the rims were fashioned by Hield himself, using milk crates or bicycle rims, while old plywood pieces formed an asymmetrical backboard. The hoop would be nailed to a lamppost outside his grandmother's house where Hield lived with his mother and six siblings.

"You know how many kids are trying to do that everyday, dreaming (of making it to the NBA). It's tough," Hield tells Firstpost. "(Growing up) I just really wanted it so bad that you would do anything it takes to get what you want. It's not easy, you have to really go after it and shoot through stars. You have to stay humble and out-work everybody else. You want it so bad!"

It was an attitude ingrained in him by his single mother, who would sometimes work two jobs to make ends meet. The siblings often shared clothes amongst themselves and slept in the same room.

Probe him on what he means by wanting to do anything it takes, and he says, "A lot of hard work! There are a lot of little things you do that separate you from a 10-point scorer to a 15-point scorer. You lock-in and focus. It's just mental. Make an extra shot when you're open, get onto the byline, run the floor, play the system, just be efficient. You got to be a pitbull, you want it so bad that you go and get it."

This attitude got him noticed when he was playing at a youth basketball event. Soon, he was leaving the island for a prep school, which got him recruited to the University of Oklahoma.

It wasn't long before the New Orleans Pelicans drafted him in 2016, to help the boy from Bahamas script a chapter in his improbable life story. Improbable, because just six players from the Bahamas have ever made it to the NBA.

Since breaking into the league though the 26-year-old has gone on to break Damian Lillard's record of scoring the most three-pointers in the first three seasons. The Trailblazers' sharpshooter had 599. Hield eclipsed him with 602 last season.

Hield believes that his shooting efficiency is borne out of all those early years spent shooting the ball into improvised hoops.

"Because I used a crate, I had to shoot the ball in. The goal was always to shoot the ball in. I couldn't use the backboard, I would have to shoot exactly in. That helped me concentrate. That was good for me," he says.

Restoring hope

Over the last few weeks, whether he's in Sacramento or in Mumbai, his thoughts are never far away from the Bahamas. It's been just over a month since Hurricane Dorian ravaged the two islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, which are part of the Bahamas. The hurricane affected 75,000 people in the Bahamas while nearly 600 are still missing and 56 have been declared dead, according to the World Health Organisation.

The Category 5 storm also hit infrastructure hard, leading to power outages, lack of running water in many households and phone lines not working.

Hield himself struggled to get in touch with his family who were on the Grand Bahama island at the time the hurricane hit. Hield says he used apps like Snapchat or WhatsApp to keep in touch with his family since phone lines were down.

"My mom is now in Sacramento. They're doing great, but it is tough. We need more resources to find more help people out," he says.

That's why Hield started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Bahamas besides donating $100,000 to Hurricane Dorian Relief from his own pocket.

As of Thursday, the page has seen $212,621 raised with contributions from over 2,000 donors.

"I make a lot of money. So you want to give back something. I can give some of the money, but I can't give it all. I'm trying to ask people for help and there's nothing wrong in that. The Bahamas is a beautiful place. Everyone comes and visits. So we want to help with anything, be it water or food. Anything that can help restore life. And hope!"

Also See: NBA India Games 2019: All you need to know about Sacramento Kings ahead of landmark Mumbai matches against Indiana Pacers

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