SHAHID AHMAD BHAT GREW UP playing basketball in the suburbs of Kansas City, Missouri. Born in the US to Kashmiri parents who had migrated there in 1970, Bhat represented his high school team as a point guard. College and professional basketball seemed within striking distance—but it wasn’t to be. “Being only six feet tall, I guess there were doubts about my size and athletic ability to play major college Division One basketball,” he said. With no professional offers coming his way, he took a job as basketball coach at Barstow School, a prestigious private school in Kansas City. His life attained a reliable stability.
In May 2009, Bhat attended a family wedding in Jammu and Kashmir with his parents. Their trip coincided with a visit by JD Walsh, an American basketball coach who holds camps across the world. Bhat saw an opportunity to spread his passion for his sport in his home state. “I emailed [Walsh] and he agreed to let me volunteer,” Bhat said. “I became a tutor and basketball coach for the kids at one of the local orphanages.”
This stint so moved Bhat that he returned two years later, in the summer of 2011, determined to popularise the game in Kashmir. “I visited all the Srinagar colleges and high schools, and conducted practice sessions with their boys’ and girls’ teams,” he said.