The idea of creating the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) was mooted by its founder Dato’ Sri Tony Fernandes to kickstart a professional basketball league in this part of the world. The league will be the incubation grounds for the teams to grow and function as professional and profitable sporting ventures, one that will nurture them in all aspects of the game, including management, sporting excellence, discipline and developing the sports at grassroots level.
Currently, there are six teams in ABL – The Singapore Slingers, The Brunei Barracudas, AirAsia Philippine Patriots, Indonesia’s Satria Muda Britama, Chang Thailand Slammers and Westport KL Dragons of Malaysia. The respective team owners are industry captains in their own countries, namely Erick Thorir of Indonesia, Tony Boy Cojuangco and Mikee Romero from the Philippines, Surasak Chinawongwatana from Thailand, Nadzaty Azma Azeez from Brunei, Mark Chang, Wee Siew Kim and Chow Yen Lu from Singapore and, Ruben Gnanalingam, Dato Wira Daim and Dato Robin Tan of Malaysia. Although hailing from different countries and backgrounds, these team leaders share and extol the same vision as Dato’ Sri Tony Fernandes: To nurture and develop sporting excellence in the Southeast Asian region.
Many of the teams boast the best players from their respective national squads with the addition of imports where the teams are allowed two international imports and three players from any ASEAN nation. Many teams also employ international coaches and technical staff. This has enabled the local players to improve their technical skills and physical abilities considerably.
Going into the second season saw a dramatic increase in speed, skills and competitiveness on court. Coupled with the increased coverage on regional television where the games are broadcasted on ESPN, as well as terrestrial stations such as JakTV in Indonesia, 8TV in Malaysia and IBC13 and ZOE in the Philippines, the response to the games has been great, with a whole new demographics of fans turning up every weekend to catch the ABL games. Young families are going to the games, as well as an increase in female fans. It is truly a great day out with action and entertainment for the young and old, male and female alike.
ABL’s next target is to kickstart a development programme for youngsters soon. With plans to create leagues for under 14 and under 17 teens, the league aims to encourage youngsters of all ages to play and enjoy the game. It also hopes to discover new talents who will emerge from the pool to make their way up the ladder and one day, be able to make a living from playing professional sports.
The ABL is already making great strides in changing the face of basketball in the region and is providing many of its players with at least five months of high level competition. Many players now have professional contracts and some even have full time employment with their teams. In the years to come, ABL expects to see more young players breaking the ranks to stake a claim in the sport and representing their countries on the ASEAN stage.
The Backbone of the League
CEO of ABL, Kuhan Foo, is a 20-year veteran in the sports marketing scene and has been extensively involved in the promotion, development and marketing of sports properties in the region. He has worked for international sports brands like Reebok, Fila and Nike and was director of events and head of operations for events such as the Kuala Lumpur International Marathon, the Singapore International Marathon, World Wrestling Entertainment Asian tours and the Asian Badminton Championships. At AirAsia, Kuhan was in charge of managing the partnership with Manchester United, overseeing all marketing activities related to the Red Devils. Up until recently, he was the COO of Malaysian Super League, the marketing arm of the Football Association of Malaysia.
The ABL Teams:
The AirAsia Philippine Patriots
Co-owned by businessmen and sports enthusiasts, Dr. Mikee Romero and Tonyboy Cojuangco, the Philippine Patriots were the champion of the first season of ABL in 2009. Determined to defend their title, the team incorporated a good mix of seasoned veterans and outstanding college players, as compared to their mostly young players from collegiate ranks in the first season.
According to team manager, Erick Arejola, he expects the veterans to provide leadership and experience especially during close games while the young ones are expected to provide intensity and athleticism. Together with Dr. Mikee Romero and the coaches, the team has already started scouting for promising players who have the potential to contribute in the coming seasons.
Westports Kuala Lumpur Dragons
The Kuala Lumpur Dragons was formed by the joint effort of Malaysia’s young entrepreneurs, Ruben Emir Gnanalingam, Dato’ Wira Dani Daim and Dato’ Robin Tan Yeong Ching when the opportunity to join the ASEAN Basketball League cropped up. The owners agreed on the name ‘KL Dragons’ as the dragon represents a fierce yet benevolent character, which also symbolises strength, power and authority.
With a vision to create a regional platform of high performance sports and moulding the team into a self-sustaining professional basketball team, the Dragons will be investing in facilities, infrastructure and player development to build and create an entertainment entity around basketball. Entering season two of the ABL, the KL Dragons adopted the name Westports KL Dragons as Westports Sdn. Bhd. was roped came in as the main title sponsor for the team.
The Brunei Barracudas story started when Dato’ Sri Tony Fernandes called on Nadzaty Azma Azeez in January 2009 to discuss a professional basketball league that he had just launched and asked if she was interested in forming a team from Brunei Darussalam. Soon thereafter, Kuhan Foo, the CEO of ABL, went over to provide details about the league and after a few weeks of contemplating, she agreed to form a team and join the league.
Posting on Facebook, asking for name suggestions for the team, Nadzaty received many suggestions but finally decided on the name when a friend who regularly went fishing suggested the name ‘barracudas’. Barracudas are very territorial predators that work together as a team offensively and defensively and that epitomised her vision of the team.
The Singapore Slingers were formed in 2006 when the team played in the Australian NBL in the 2006/7 and 2007/8 NBL seasons. In 2009, the team played a challenge series season with teams from the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia and China in an exhibition game for prize money and joined the ASEAN Basketball League as one of the founding members.
The Slingers have a number of investors who own shares in the organisation including their current major shareholders Mark Chang; CEO and founder of Jobstreet.com, Wee Siew Kim; CEO and President of the Basketball Association of Singapore, Dato’ Sri Tony Fernandes; CEO Air Asia Group and Chow Yen Lu. Through their passion for the game, the original owners of the team coined the name ‘Slingers’ in reference to slinging or shooting the ball into the basket, though some think it refers to Singapore’s most popular drink – the Singapore Sling.
Satria Muda BritAma
Formed in 1994, Indonesia’s Satria Muda BritAma was managed by a different body before Mahaka Foundation took over the running of the team in 1998. With a new vision ‘Juara Indonesia – Indonesia Juara’, Mahaka Foundation propelled the team to become the champion in the National League in 1999, a year after the takeover.
Owner of Satria Muda BritAma, Erick Thohir who’s also the founder of Mahaka Foundation, is passionate about sports, especially basketball and is committed to develop Indonesian basketball to compete at higher levels. His passion has led the team to a five-time win at the National Basketball League of Indonesia, as well as the championship title at the 2008 Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA) Championship and compete in ABL since its inaugural season.
Chang Thailand Slammers
The Chang Thailand Slammers was formed when the two founders of Thai basketball club, Surasak ‘Johnny’ Chinawongwatana and Nipondh Chawalitmontien, together with Kobsak Chinawongwatana, decided to pick up the pieces from the first season’s team.
With burning passion to fly their country’s flag high in the arena of basketball, they worked together to put Thailand in the map via the ASEAN Basketball League.
The marketing group for the team coined the name ‘Slammer’ and chose an elephant to represent the mighty power of the players. This season, the team, together with the management’s support and careful selection of players, has proven to be a force to be reckoned with, having reached top seeding in the current ABL.
Article extracted from AirAsia In-flight magazine, Travel 3Sixty January issue.
Words: Nicolette Ng
Images: Courtesy of ABL