Kabir Grewal Bergin is a pretty good basketball player. He enters his senior year at Skyline High School as one of the top players in Ann Arbor if not Southeast Michigan and his game continues to improve despite having to overcome a serious injury he suffered last season.
He’s one of those players who makes a big impact on the game even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. And Kabir Grewal Bergin is also one of those young men who will make a big impact in life – even when he doesn’t have a basketball in his hands.
While basketball has become his passion, his pride and his motivation at this point in time in his young life, Kabir’s story should begin off the court. In part, because it helps show how and why he is so successful on the court.
“One of the stories from when I was young that my mom likes to share about me is when I broke my arm when I was 5 years old,” Kabir says. “The day I got my cast my mom took me to Toys R Us – she did not take us there very often because she believed in paying for experiences and not things. So this was very special. I asked my mom what the budget was for the toy. She said $20 and I told her then I should look for something for about $18 since there would be a tax to it. After browsing the aisles for about an hour, I decided I wanted a remote-control boat. Most of the boats were $25 – my mom said that would be no problem but I was not going to be convinced to go over budget. She offered to loan me the money and give me chores to work for the extra $5 but I told her it was never good to live in debt. Apparently I did find a boat for $18 after some searching – I still have the boat.”
Kabir, 17, is the son of Greg Bergin and Dr. Imandeep Kaur Grewal, who was born and raised in India. She came to EMU as an international student in 1990 and has been teaching in the Department of Teacher Education at EMU for over 20 years now.
To understand Kabir, is to understand his mom.
“She earned her PhD in 2014 while working full-time and taking great care of my brother and me,” Kabir says. “Besides making sure she raised us to be responsible and kind my mom believed that travel is another form of education and so the three of us have taken many trips together. Traveling to different states and countries, experiencing different cultures has made me very aware of differences in lifestyles and thinking – it helped me value the opportunities and privileges I have been given in my life and the responsibility I have to make a difference wherever and whenever I can.”
One place he is making a difference is in the classroom. Despite a hectic basketball schedule – there is no off-season for great players – Kabir has been able to excel in the classroom. He is taking a 3.9 grade-point average into his senior year and scored a 5/5 on the AP calculus exam.
Kabir has taken what he’s learned in the classroom and experienced in life through his travels to form a very strong opinion on racial and economic inequality. He doesn’t just talk about it, he addresses through the way he lives his life and his support of others.
“This past year I also took a class on Social Justice Leadership with Ms. Plouffe that opened my eyes even further on issues of racial and economic inequality in our country and in education,” he says. “My experiences at Skyline have made me acutely aware of how inequitable educational and life opportunities are for my classmates and teammates but they all have to meet the same fixed criteria for college admissions. SAT for example – I see first-hand how my friends who had help from a young age at home tutoring to learn math basics and especially to prepare for the SAT had more opportunities available to them. I refused to let my mom pay for any SAT prep programs – I did not want to add to my advantage. My mom and I worked on SAT prep together and have helped several of my friends also prepare for the SAT. My friends and classmates know that I am always available to help with math, to give rides or offer moral support.”
His desire to help others extends to the game he loves. He wants to share his passion for basketball and introduce the game to anyone – especially to those who can’t afford a pair of Air Jordans.
“My mom was born and raised in India so I have travelled to India many times to visit my family in India,” Kabir says. “On my last trip in the summer of 2016, before I started high school, my mom, brother and I went to India for six weeks. Cricket and soccer are the main sports kids play in India. Basketball is starting to gain popularity so I thought of spending some of my time in India sharing my passion for basketball with kids who might be interested. I ran a three-week long basketball camp. My AAU coach worked with me to develop the plan. It gets really hot in the summer months in north India – almost 100 degrees by 8 a.m. so the camp ran from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. five days a week for three weeks. I wanted the kids who came to enjoy playing the game while learning basic basketball skills. I ended the camp with breakfast for all the players and the kids went straight from camp to school. I had an opportunity to run the camp at a private school that had an indoor air conditioned state of the art court but I chose not to. I wanted to spend time with kids who had limited opportunities – so I ran a free camp at a local school for low-income families. The court we played on only had one hoop but we made the most of it. This experience has been the most powerful and impactful experience in my life. While I shared my love of basketball with the kids in my camp, the sense of brotherhood they provided me was priceless. Their strength, determination and joy continue to inspire me.”
Kabir needed all that strength and determination last year when he injured his knee during a game with Huron in late January. The injury sidelined him for the rest of the year and watching his teammates carry on without him was difficult – as was the rehab process he had to go through to get healthy.
“I pushed off my right knee trying to stop the ball and I heard a pop,” Kabir says. “It didn’t hurt too badly so I continued to play that game and also played a game the next day. I had surgery a week later to correct the knee cap dislocation and have been working out with my strength and conditioning coach and going to physical therapy at Team Rehab 3-4 times a week for the past five months.”
But Kabir maintained a positive attitude. He didn’t get down on himself or feel sorry for himself. This was a bump in the road – certainly nothing to deter him on his basketball journey.
“It was tough in the beginning just watching all my guys going out there and playing when I knew I could help them out,” he says. “After that it got easier because I had a lot of support from all my family and some friends and I changed my mindset from damn I’m missing out, to I have to get back as soon as I can for next year. My physical therapy team has been an important part of my recovery.”
Kabir has spent the summer rehabbing and shooting – around 500 shots a day. He was recently cleared to return to full basketball activities. And he can’t wait to put on the blue Skyline jersey again in a few months.
“I think it is going to be challenging in the beginning because as a team we have very little varsity experience, but we already have a very close knit team with good chemistry,” he says of the upcoming season. “So by the time the playoffs come I know we will be playing our best basketball and I truly feel we have a great shot at making it further than the past two years.”
Kabir started playing basketball when he was very young. “As soon as I started playing basketball I liked it more than anything else I had done since it felt like a second home,” said Kabir, who led his eighth-grade team in an undefeated season – the first for the Steiner School.
“When my mom put up a basketball hoop for me I wrote ‘Ball is life’ in the concrete,” he says. “When I was in middle school I asked for a t-shirt that said, ‘Basketball is my Girlfriend.’ I love the game and know I will play it for as long as I am able to, wherever I am. Over the years I have chosen basketball – whether it is a game or practice – over hanging out with friends and spending time with family. In all the years I have played ball I have only missed being on the court or on the bench one time – the game the day after my surgery and even that took a talk with the doctor and a long discussion with my mom – I wanted to be there for my team but mom and doctor said no.”
Kabir definitely wants to play college basketball and has begun searching for that perfect fit.
“I am looking for a college with strong academics and a strong basketball program preferably in an urban setting,” he says. “My ideal school would have high racial and economic diversity. I am exploring options in the fields of mathematics, economics and law.”