Tuesday, September 08, 2009

New hoops league to tip off in Southeast Asia

Basketball fans in Southeast Asia now have some professional teams to call their own, as the ASEAN Basketball League was officially launched last week in Manila. Games should get underway next month.

Backed by AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes, the league will start with six teams from six different countries: the Brunei Barracudas, KL (Kuala Lumpur) Dragons, the Philippine Patriots, the Satria Muda BritAma, the Thailand Tigers and the Singapore Slingers. There will be 15 home and away games with a four-team playoff in February.

Basketball hardly enjoys the following in ASEAN countries as it does in, say, China. My guess is that the Philippine Patriots are going to be the hottest team and probably the most financially successful. Of all these countries, the Philippines is definitely the most hoops-mad -- while soccer is king everywhere else, it barely cracks the top three favorite sports in the Philippines, coming in far behind basketball and volleyball (in that order).

I played a few games with my Filipino roommate's 14-year-old son, and at a foot shorter and 15 years younger than the rest of us, he dominated. The Patriots are the team I'll go check out when they come to Singapore.

According to ESPN Star:

Each ABL team will be fielding seven local players, three ASEAN imports (with one needing just ASEAN heritage to qualify), and two international imports. Teams do not have to field ASEAN imports if they have the additional three local players they are satisfied that can perform just as well, like the Patriots of the Phillipines.

A significant point was made at the press conference and that is the salary cap has been set at US$400,000 per season, with the top import being set to be paid in the region of US$100,000. The second top import's salary will be set at US$50,000, with the remaining players splitting the salary amount left according to their discretion.

The league is interesting because it will pit club teams that represent countries against one another, injecting an undeniable flavor of international competition with heated rivalries almost a given. I'm sure the Singapore/KL games will be intense.

It may take a few seasons to get off the ground, but with solid financial backing and the moral support of FIBA, the ABL could really be something. Measured against the always floundering CBA in China, success should not be too difficult.

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