Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Basketball plans to breach new borders next month with the launch of the inaugural ASEAN Basketball League, a project headed by wealthy entrepreneur and AsiaAir founder Tony Fernandes.

But ironically Tony is the Chairman of a Singapore Club. And if he is doing so much for Singapore, why haven't any Malaysian national associations approached him. He is a member of the MHF Finance Committee, backed MyTeam FC in its early days as he was the Vice President but surely even OCM or NSC could appoint him onto their Board.

While the game has a big following in countries like China, basketball has yet to take a iron grip on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a geo-political and economic organisation of 10 countries.

But with a potential market of some 600 million people, that could be about to change.

Six clubs - Brunei Barracudas, KL Dragons, Philippine Patriots, Satria Muda BritAma, Thailand Tigers and Singapore Slingers - will compete in the inaugural season of the ABL, starting in Jakarta on October 10.

But the plans are loftier than that with 20 clubs set to feature by 2011, with teams from Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia joining this season’s lineup from Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.

The region’s first commercial league has been set up with an initial input of 10 million US dollars with Fernandes handed the chairmanship.

The Malaysian entreprenuer’s experience in opening new businesses and exploiting markets is seen as invaluable to the league’s success.

“I’m confident of making money in the first year of the ABL ... And for the fans it’s a real thrill if you travel with your fellow supporters to another country, root for your team and come home,” he said.

The season, which will run till February, will comprise 15 home and away games with the top four involved in a semi-final playoff series, before the Grand Finale, earmarked for Malaysia.

With basketball’s world governing body FIBA considering the launch of a World Club Championships in 2011, Southeast Asian teams could soon find themselves up against NBA giants.

If if goes ahead, the continental champions will compete in a tournament at the end of each year, modelled on FIFA’s football World Club Championships, won last year by Manchester United.

“The ASEAN Basketball League is the first of its kind in Asia and a welcome indication of the maturity achieved by our sport,” said FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann.

“It will further boost the popularity of basketball in this area and beyond, while creating new opportunities and dreams for the FIBA family.

“We look forward to seeing new talents and countries emerge in basketball in the next five years as a result of this project.”

Each club in the ABL must have seven local players and three others from Southeast Asia, alongside two internationals. A salary cap will be imposed.

It will be a new adventure for ASEAN teams, who rarely get international experience.

Malaysia and the Philippines have semi-professional leagues and the Singapore Slingers used to be part of Australia’s National Basketball league, but outside that their exposure has been limited.

Organisers hope that inter-country rivalries can be nurtured to take the game to the next level.
“It’s exciting to know that FIBA have endorsed the ABL,” said Fernandes, who is also chairman of the Singapore Slingers.

“The winners of the ABL can move on to do battle against other continental champions and that will include your top NBA teams.

“So there could come a day when we’ll see the Slingers go up against the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics, for example. Wouldn’t that be a sight to behold?"