Malaysia Dragons won ABL and no one’s talking about it?

calvin godfrey dunk malaysia dragons abl

Westports Malaysia Dragons are the champions of 2015 – 2016 ASEAN Basketball League but it doesn’t feel like it’s being celebrated much locally

Did you know that our local professional basketball team Westports Malaysia Dragons (formerly known as the KL Dragons) have recently won the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) for the first time ever? Why wasn’t a public holiday declared for it? Why didn’t any of my friends, even those who’re fans of this sport, talk or even share anything about it on social media?

I was surprised at first, but now I’m more surprised that I was surprised — the reasons why not a lot of Malaysians care about the Dragons or the ABL in general were quite obvious. Now the ABL’s management probably already have an idea and are working very hard to increase the popularity of the league and sport in general, but I’d just like to share my thoughts and feedback about it anyway to hopefully help reassure their efforts. In hindsight, here are a few main reasons why I think Malaysians generally just don’t care about the ABL;

Too far from NBA standards, unknown imports

There’s no disagreeing with this. The skill and athleticism in this professional league are certainly no where as good as the NBA. Actually, I’d say the level’s not even close to the European or Chinese leagues’. Despite the 2 world imports and 2 ASEAN imports allowed for each team, the non-ASEAN players that have played in the ABL thus far were virtually unknown, and none of them were too dominant or even flashy enough to catch any non-fan’s attention. There hasn’t been any genuine “showtime”, not like the ones in the NBA for sure. If I was a pure fan of the sport with no national pride attached, the ABL may definitely seem very unexciting to say the least.

The league is still new

Formed in 2009, the ABL only had 6 seasons thus far. Although I don’t know how long it’s supposed take for a new league to grow into a big thing, it’s fair to say that there were gradual improvements here and there. With more time, experience, exposure, smart marketing and investment, I think it could potentially become a very exciting league. Still a long road ahead, but they can start by teaching the live commentators to learn to be less bias, and pronounce player names properly (some of them mispronounced Wu Qingde as Wu “Kunder” before finally realising in the final game of the playoffs). And the replays were awful. Singapore’s broadcast had none while Malaysia’s had way too many, even the embarrassing missed shots and turnovers were replayed.

Poor local talent development

This point is perhaps only relevant to Malaysia. Singapore Slingers have developed some pretty good players like two-time ABL Local MVP Wong Wei Long and Wu Qingde in these two seasons, giving their nation a lot to be proud about and supportive of as their local players contribute substantially on both ends of the court. The Malaysia Dragons, on the other hand, are still overreliant on all four foreign teammates, especially on offence. The team’s head coach, Ariel Vanguardia of the Philippines, can lament all he wants, but it’s a fact that our local talents aren’t great and have never been outstanding. They look nervy all the time, they tend to miss easy shots and it’s frustrating to watch them screw up (like Arsenal, man). After all these seasons, their greatest strengths remain to be receive-and-just-shoot/pass-from-outside and foul giveaway (expendables). Not sure if it’s MABA’s fault or the Dragon’s. It’s difficult to gain massive Malaysian support when local talents keep failing to impress and the imports seem to be here merely to get paid.

malaysia dragons win abl playoff finals champions

The points above are the obvious ones that are known since the beginning. But I feel that the problems are actually deeper than the surface. The good thing is that these following issues are more solvable than the ones above and if these problems were tackled, I think it could help quicken the process of making ABL a thing in Malaysia;

Imports don’t stay / are not retained

There were great court chemistry between the Dragons’ ABL World Import MVP Reginald Johnson, Calvin Goffrey, Matthew Wright and ABL Playoff Finals MVP Jason Brickman. Credits to the talent scouts and coach of the team that found them and made them great together. They are the prime reason why the Dragons won the championship and I loved watching them play. But what’s the point if imports leave every season? Fans need long-term emotional attachment to players and there won’t be any of that unless the teams start keeping players. If there’s no loyalty, how do we see the Dragons as a real team? Our local players don’t even look like they’re tight with the imports. They just rush to give high-fives for whatever. The most heartwarming moment I saw between a local and an import was in Game 4 of the Playoffs when Singapore Slingers’ Wu Qingde got fouled out in Game 4 of the playoffs, and both their American imports Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander tried to console their upset teammate. Was there that kind of passion and relationship in the Dragons’ team? Some of our local players didn’t even look that happy when they won the championship.

Lack of support from media / press

Some kids failed their SPM because of Counter-Strike or DoTA back then, but I almost failed mine because of my love for basketball. I lived and breathed basketball during my secondary school days and yet this is my first time ever blogging about the ABL. The Dragons are hardly covered by the Malaysian news and papers, and it’s almost never talked about on local English and Malay blogs (not sure about the Chinese ones). When the Dragons won the playoffs, how many local papers had that story on their front page? The media need to start helping to promote the league and the sport in general and the local online fan communities of the sport have post in languages that the majority could read. If the media ain’t supporting, the Dragons or the ABL probably should start investing in advertorials and viral campaigns.

Basketball popularity

Remember those days where Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, Lakers, Nike Air, Slamdunk manga/anime and Taiwanese basketball rom-com TV dramas were highly popular in Malaysia? Well those days are unfortunately gone and the sport is definitely not as popular, or preferred by kids, as before. Heck, even DoTA has brighter future than basketball now. How many non-basketball fans today actually know who the reigning NBA MVP is? MABA, Dragons and the ABL need to gain more support from the government to promote the sport in a much larger scale. Make basketball cool again in Malaysia. Give the kids and the people to want to watch and play basketball. I believe it’s doable.

That’s all the two cents I have. Terima kasih.

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  1. James Dooney

    You make some great points here. I first became a serious fan of the dragons in 2014/15 – when I discovered the ABL – and, looking back in reflection, a lot of what you say here has merit. I will also add though that it was bound to happen. Let me explain.

    The Dragons first few years in the league were not too bad. No trophies, but no less than reaching the playoffs either. Then came 2014-15. The guys on the team seemed to gel better, we played better, the results went our way, and we got through to the championship round. Alas we lost – and it may have been in more ways than one.

    Reaching the finals in 2014-15, I feel, turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. The Dragons were suddenly within striking distance of winning it all, so it was natural to ride the wave of momentum present – a momentum that may have also shelved any hopes and plans the lads had in terms of looking to bring in and develop local talent. What are you gonna do when you have a chance at a genuine crack at winning it all yeh ????

    Looking back, my guess is that team HQ fully realised this and set about dismantling the championship team in order to bring in a new ethos of growth and development. I feel that the emphasis changed from winning championships to winning in growth and development. Growth and development doesn’t always go smoothly lol, and the seasons since the greatest ABL season of all time ( haha for my bias !!! ) have been at times frustrating and painful to watch. Such are growing pains. On court issues are only part of it in my opinion. Having lived in Asia for 15 years myself, I am well aware that sports take on a different perspective to that in western countries, and I am also aware that Basketball, particularly in Malaysia, is still very much a growing sport in terms of domestic development, popularity and awareness. Basketball is more developed in HK, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines, hence their ABL teams have performed consistently at a higher level. It’s a level the D’s need to make sure they are looking to reach.

    In order to reach it, they just might need to look at winning the championship off the court, so they can get the ring on it.

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