“Korean Basketball is losing popularity right now,” said Ha Seung-jin, who had played for the Korean national basketball team and the National Basketball Association(NBA). He took videos about problems with Korean basketball and uploaded it on YouTube. Some broadcasting station reported about his video and through the interview, current basketball players also agreed with his statements. Coming up in September, there is a worldwide basketball competition, FIBA World Cup. The Argus will take a look at the dangerous state of Korean basketball and consider how to improve it.
Phenomenon Lack of domestic superstars and franchise players
A superstar is someone who performs remarkably for a team and a franchise player is someone who has been playing for a team for a long time. They are essential for a professional team. Franchise players receive huge support from their fans since they contribute to the team for a long time. Fans wear those players’ jerseys and visit the stadium to meet them.
“Nonggu Daejanchi” which was hosted by the Korean Basketball Association became famous, and it led to the start of the professional basketball league. At first it was popular because there were players who were already famous since university players including Lee Sang-min, Seo Jang-hoon and Heo Jae played for it. Fans lost interest since those players decided to retire in the mid-2000s.
Cause Depending on foreign players excessively
One of the biggest problems of Korean basketball is that most teams depend on foreign players excessively. Lee Jung-hyun was the only domestic player who made it into the top 15 in terms of scoring in 2018-2019 season. Like this, teams depend on foreign players continuously, so domestic players are losing competition.
Fans can also notice this when they watch time outs through TV, each teams’ strategies are going mainly for foreign players. Domestic players just focus on passing the ball to foreign players. Son Dae-bum, the editor of the basketball magazine “Jumpball” said “Teams pay expenses for foreign players so they expect a lot from their performance. In this situation, domestic players only focus on helping them.” He added that, “If it is a close game, domestic players mostly focus on passing the ball to foreign players and they do not really mind it. They do not think that this is a strange situation. I just wish that Korean players have a greater sense of ownership.”
Solution Host major international basketball events to induce a revival
Hosting international competitions has some advantages. The team has more opportunities to compete in international competition, and it builds infrastructure that conforms to international rules in the preparation process. Players do not have to get used to the stadiums and environments since they are familiar with them. Fans give a lot of support to players, so with these things they have a higher probability of showing better performances.
Korea hosted the 2002 World Cup game and they achieved their first victory in their history against Poland. They became the first country to advance to the semi-finals as an Asian country. Korea constructed 10 stadiums including the Seoul World Cup stadium for the World Cup games. This created facilities for international soccer competitions, which made soccer more popular in Korea.
Son Dae-bum said, “Korea hosted the 2014 Asian Games and the basketball team got gold. It was a great chance to increase the popularity of basketball. However, we did not do anything at all. It is important to show great performances in international competitions, but ensuring all promotional efforts is also very significant. We have to make a new superstar and advertise basketball through TV programs.”
Phenomenon Decreasing prospects
In the past, prospects showed great potential and performances as amateur players and became key players as professional players. Kim Sun-hyung and Oh Se-keun earned 52 consecutive victories for Chung-Ang University. Kim Jong-kyu, Doo kyung-min and Kim Min-goo are players who showed great performance for Kyung Hee University. They are the examples of great prospects. After Oh Se-keun made his debut in the professional league, he led his team to the championship of the Korean Basketball Leagues in the 2011-2012 season and Kim Sun-hyung ranked sixth in scoring among domestic players. The players from the Kyung Hee University made their debut together and all of them scored more than 10 points per game.
Recently, players selected from the rookie draft have not shown remarkable results for their teams compared with previous players. There have not been any rookie players who scored more than an average of 10 points in the 2018-2019 season. And for the last three seasons, only two players scored more than an average of 10 points. Lee Jong-hyun and Heo Hoon succeeded to score average of 10 points in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 season season but Lee Jong-hyun only joined 20 games because of an injury.
Cause Poor results in international competition
So far, the Korean national basketball team has not had success in national competitions like the Olympic games or the FIBA World Cup games. They got eighth place in the 1948 London Olympic games and that is still the best record in Korean basketball history. The Korean team has not won a single game in the Olympic games since the 1988 Seoul Olympic games. In the World Cup games, the 11th that they achieved in 1970 is still Korea’s best result. Korea also participated in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but they finished without any victories.
The Korean national soccer and baseball teams have shown competitiveness in international competitions, and many sports prospects have decided to play baseball or soccer. The “2002 World Cup kids,” meaning children who decided to play soccer after Korea’s achievement in the 2002 World Cup. And “Beijing kids,” children who started to play baseball after Korean national baseball team got gold in the Beijing Olympic games are the examples of showing connections between the increase of prospects and the results of international competitions. On the other hand, there is not a “golden generation” for the national basketball team to show its competitiveness in international competitions.
Solution Long term policy of fostering prospects
There are no programs that increase Korean basketball prospects’ growth in the overseas, but if there were, prospects would be more likely to experience the good systems of overseas. Take for example the United States; Son Dae-bum explained this, “Countries such as Germany, China and Slovenia send their young basketball players to the U.S. for training. Korean basketball also needs to follow suit, yet it does not. The U.S. is advanced in basketball so training in the U.S. can bring out players’ potential.”
Korea Football Association implemented the “Overseas youth study project for outstanding players” and now it is running a youth training program called the “Golden Age Program,” Korea is doing its best to foster prospects. Korean soccer superstar Son Heung-min grew up through the overseas project and other players such as Ji Dong-won and Nam Tae-hee were also trained through it and played for the Korean national soccer team.
Son Dae-bum stressed the need of success stories for overseas prospect policies. “There are not any players who made successful careers in overseas, so parents of prospects often look negatively on sending their children abroad. Therefore, I hope Lee Hyun-jung who entered Davidson College with scholarship, the alma mater of NBA super star Stephen Curry, does well. If there are some cases of success, there will be more projects, and parents will not see it negatively.”
Phenomenon Failure of local marketing
In professional basketball, the perception of “our team, our player” is often relatively limited compared with other sports because of the failure of local marketing. Even if the team’s hometown is in the province, their training facilities and accommodations are in the metropolitan area, so they visit their hometown only one or two days before the match day. Moreover, they go back to the metropolitan area after the game ends.
On the other hand, local marketing in baseball went well, so people can easily recognize which team represents their hometown. For example, if people hear Busan, they imagine Lotte Giants, and if people hear Gwangju, they imagine KIA Tigers. Jeong Su-min, a student of Ewha Womans University said, “Baseball teams succeeded in local marketing; however, basketball teams failed to do it. I support LG Sakers which is a basketball team in Korea, their home stadium is in the city of Changwon; however, their accommodation and other facilities are in the city of Icheon.”
Cause Concentration of metropolitan areas
Six of the 10 professional basketball teams have accommodations and training facilities in Seoul and metropolitan areas such as the city of Yongin and the city of Suwon so they are busy going back there right after the game ends. Five teams have their home stadium in metropolitan areas and Seoul. Son Dae-bum commented, “The parent company’s headquarters are concentrated in the metropolitan areas, locating the teams in metropolitan areas make it easier to manage the team. Due to some reasons such as transportation, player’s livelihoods and children’s education problems, basketball teams prefer metropolitan areas.”
Korean professional baseball teams are considered a good example of local marketing. Players live near the teams’ home stadium during the season and only move on to other provinces when they have away matches.
Solution Securing living area in the hometowns and setting second hometowns
Korean basketball teams need to refer to the case of the NBA. In the NBA, players live in the hometown of their team, and teams have training facilities and rehabilitation facilities in their hometown. They make a lot of efforts to be a part of the hometown. Players participate in events in the hometown, and each team holds basketball camps for youth players. Writer of “Today’s NBA” Yeom Yong-keun commented about it, “The NBA hosts a social contribution program called NBA CARES. Through this, they contribute to the local community and participate in various kinds of activities such as volunteer work and donation.”
New York Knicks player Allonzo Trier said, “All NBA players live in the hometown of their team during the season. I also joined a basketball camp for youth players in New York and it was really helpful to both me and fans.”
Son Dae-bum said, “The NBA hosts some preseason games in provinces like Anaheim which do not have a basketball team.” Neutral ground will be a solution to promote basketball to fans in various regions. With this, they can set a second hometown so that they can reach various fans in other provinces.
They can find an example in Korean baseball leagues. Several teams have a second hometown. The city of Pohang is the second hometown of the Samsung Lions, Ulsan is the second hometown of the Lotte Giants and the city of Cheongju is the second hometown of the Hanwha Eagles. Accordingly, they can reach out to fans in various areas. Like Korean baseball teams, Korean basketball teams should host a second hometown so that they can reach out to fans nationwide.
The FIBA Basketball World Cup game will be a new opportunity for the development of Korean basketball. Competitiveness in international competitions will provide a proper chance to garner interest in domestic leagues from fans. In the 1990s, Korean basketball was in a golden age with superstars; however, right now, it is in a slump. It had been called one of the four major sports in Korea along with baseball, soccer and volleyball however, they are not in a good situation now. It set a turning point by winning gold medal at the 2014 Asian games, but they failed to solve the problem. Many problems have been brought up, they need to solve them quickly.
By Kim Ji-hyeon
Staff reporter of Culture Section