Towards a common goal

The Dragons celebrate after winning the inaugural Straits Cup, defeating causeway rivals The Singapore Slingers 84-79.

Some of my non-sports friends always come up to me and say that they can’t understand why so many people follow football or golf. Regardless of the sport, they always say that it’s basically one man or a group of men chasing a ball.

I always respond by saying that they are complaining to the wrong person because I love sports. But I also say that most sports have a technical nature to them, and you have to understand the technique to love and appreciate that sport.

Then they ask, what sport is simple to follow and also very entertaining? That’s when I start telling them about basketball, more specifically the Asean Basketball League (ABL).

Basketball is about scoring and stopping the opposition from scoring. The scoring part is quite entertaining – as the players have to shoot or place the ball into the basketball net. Placing the ball into the net includes the famous slam-dunks, lay-ups, and the acrobatic aerial moves that the players do to try and score.

Defensive moves are also great to watch – players knocking the ball out of their opponents’ hands for the steal or blocking them when the individual from the opposing team is trying to do a slam dunk or fancy aerial move.

So after explaining the above, the next question I get asked is, “So where can I watch this? From the sound of your explanation, you are asking me to watch the NBA.”

I laugh again and say, all you have to do is go down to MABA in KL and watch our Westports Malaysia Dragons take on opposing teams in the ever-growing ABL.

The ABL first started in 2009 and has grown from strength to strength. The league has six teams this season.

Participating teams this season are the Singapore Slingers, Mono Vampire Basketball Club and Hitech Bangkok City from Thailand, Pilipinas MX3 Kings from the Philippines, Saigon Heat from Vietnam, and our Westports Malaysia Dragons.

In previous seasons, the league had participation from the Indonesia Warriors and Laskar Dreya South Sumatra from Indonesia, Philippine Patriots and San Miguel Beermen from the Philippines, Bangkok Cobras and the Brunei Barracudas.

The league is now in its sixth season (2015/2016) which started in late October. Each team will play 10 home games and 10 away games during the regular season that ends in late February 2016. The top four teams will qualify for the playoffs (semi-finals) and the winners of each respective semi-final series will play each other in the ABL Finals series. A series usually is a best of three or five games.

Each team usually consists of a 12-man roster – two American imports, two Asean imports (imports from other Asean countries) and eight local players.

The American imports are tall, massive athletes who are known for their slam-dunks and scoring pedigree.

The Asean imports are usually from the Philippines. Not as tall as the American imports, but because they have played basketball nearly their whole lives and the sport is almost like a religion over there, these talents really know how to play the game.

Some people always argue, regardless of the sport, that for a local Asian league to produce good talent, it must not have foreign participation. But the ABL has proven that the league has made the local athletes better basketball players.

If you look at the recent 2015 SEA Games basketball tournament, the Philippines team only defeated Indonesia 72-64 in the final, and Thailand 80-75 in the semi-final. In the past, our Pinoy friends would have racked up cricket scores on opposing teams.

Coach Ariel Vanguardia of the Westports Malaysia Dragons also believes that the league is improving the quality of local players.

“Most of these guys come from football countries. So for some of the countries, basketball development leagues are hard to come by. The ABL gives the local players the exposure and opportunity to play with international talents which will eventually teach them how to play quick, aggressive, high-pressure basketball, just like the big basketball playing countries,” he said.

Dragons co-founder Ruben Gnanalingam believes it’s also about giving our local talents the right exposure.

“Exposure is crucial in any form of development. The ABL competition gives our local talents that high quality exposure,” he said.

Last year, the Westports Malaysia Dragons made the ABL finals but unfortunately lost to Hitech Bangkok City. When the Dragons made the finals, there was a renewed faith amongst the Malaysian sporting community that our country is capable of achieving great things in sports.

But success in sports is a journey. Just because you win today, does not necessarily mean you will win tomorrow. Athletes and coaches must always keep working, competing, believing and dreaming of continuous success – a great set of life lessons. And that is why I love sports, especially basketball.

I hope to see all of you at an ABL Dragons game someday. Trust me, you will not be disappointed that you came, because in basketball, the fans make the difference.

Happy New Year everyone!

Ben Ibrahim is a TV Presenter with Foxsports Asia, an Emcee, and also the home TV commentator for the Westports Malaysia Dragons. He can be contacted on his email at, twitter @benibrahim, and instagram: benibrahim_

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