AT ITS heart, basketball is a team sport played by individuals on a rectangular court. Two teams of five players trying to shoot a ball through a hoop. A simple game that has churned out billionaires.
Despite leaving the game more than a decade ago, basketball’s prodigal son and one of the most recognised athletes in the world, Michael Jordan, netted an estimated US$80mil (RM262.2 million) last year from corporate partners.
These days, LeBron James, who applies his trade with the Miami Heat in the National Basketball Association (NBA), will earn US$19mil in salary and an estimated US$45mil from endorsements this year.
According to Forbes, Adidas sold US$40mil worth of basketball shoes endorsed by NBA star Derrick Rose.
James, named the NBA’s most valuable player last year, is the top seller among current NBA players.
Nike sold US$300mil worth of shoes with the star’s name on them last year.
Basketball has evolved from being just a sport. It is now a big business and major retailers, apparel makers and merchandisers are constantly milking the cash cow.
In this part of the world, the introduction of the Asean Basketball League (ABL) has given the opportunity for local and regional brands to grow.
Started back in 2009, the ABL’s first season featured six teams — the Satria Muda BritAma of Indonesia, the Westports KL Dragons of Malaysia, the Singapore Slingers, the Brunei Barracudas, the Thailand Tigers and the AirAsia Philippine Patriots.
The regional success of the league has fuelled the growth of many brands, among them Xballer Holding Sdn Bhd.
Established in 2006, Xballer is a sports apparel company that mainly deals with basketball goods.
Started by basketball enthusiast Jack Yoong, Xballer is a local brand that has grown from strength to strength, making waves everywhere it goes.
Currently under the watchful eyes of managing director Mike Tee, Xballer has reached heights that are the envy of some.
Tee, a former Johor state player, said the brand broke into the market after seeing a lack of quality in basketball apparel for local players.
“We wanted to give local basketball players high-quality products. As former basketball players ourselves, we knew what players wanted and we set out to cater to their needs. We designed our apparel to suit their tastes, but never compromised on quality,” said Tee.
Xballer’s was initially set up with RM50,000. According to Tee, the money all went towards research and development for the products.
“It was tough during the early days. The brand was not famous and there was pressure to succeed,” said Tee.
However, their perseverance paid off. These days, the company runs on a clicks and mortar business model, built around a physical retail presence and online sales.
Tee said Xballer believed in delivering the best level of customer service, product variety and quality assurance.
Those values have taken Xballer’s products to 10 different markets, including Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US.
“We have a very good relationship with our dealers. They are our key partners in supporting our events,” said Tee.
Pricing also plays a major role in ensuring the success of the business. Xballer’s strategy is to price its products between the mid- and high-end competitors.
To firmly establish itself as a leading regional brand, Xballer hosted the US Pro Basketball Alumni Tour of Malaysia on July 16, 2012 at Stadium Malawati, Shah Alam.
“Basketball is more than a sport. It is a lifestyle. We want to make it even more popular in Malaysia,” Tee said.
The US Pro Basketball Alumni Tour attracted thousands of people It was the largest basketball event in Malaysia at that time and featured legendary NBA players such as Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Jason Williams, Horace Grant, and Mitch Richmond.
Supported by enthusiastic fans from across the region, the company organised the event again last year. It has also carried out many other events to raise the game’s profile in Malaysia.
On the business front, Xballer is looking to expand into Iran and Nigeria — two basketball crazy nations.
The groundwork for both countries is being laid out, with Nigeria leading the race thanks to Nigerian basketballer Folarin Deola D’brown, who is based in Malaysia.
Having played in Nigeria, D’brown understands the market and will be Xballer’s key driver in penetrating the market.
“In Nigeria, people always look for something new and trendy. Xballer apparel has style and there’s great potential for the brand in the country,” said D’brown.
“We are working on a new concept. We are looking at it from a lifestyle point of view tied to sports apparel, which is something that Africans appear to appreciate. I have confidence that the brand will do well in Nigeria,” he added.
As the brand continues to make waves in the region, it has not forgotten its roots and carries out many development programmes locally.
The Xballer Chinese Independent High School Basketball Project provides financial aid supported by corporate and individual sponsors.
Sponsored schools receive jerseys, coach’s suits, basketballs, basketball socks and tickets to watch the US PRO Basketball Alumni Tour.
“We know young players feel good when they have new attire and it motivates them. They want to play more and train hard,” said Tee.
Last August, Xballer also gave aspiring basketballers from Hin Hua Chinese Independent School a chance to listen to former star Charles Smith deliver a motivational speech.
The brand also sponsors many athletes and sports teams, including MABA Selangor Basketball and Asean Basketball League title contenders KL Dragons.
Tee said even as the brand continues to grow, it pledges to continue helping the development of young basketball talent in Malaysia.