Eastern set aside HK$10 million to become first professional basketball team in Hong Kong
Newly promoted side aim to shake up established order
Newly crowned A2 Division champions Eastern are set to shake up the local basketball scene by devoting HK$10 million to become the first professional team in Hong Kong.
Unbeaten in the league this season, Eastern, who also have a soccer team in the Premier League, will be promoted to the top tier next year to take on heavyweights such as South China and Winling.
Unveiling their ambitious plan for the upcoming season, coach Tam Wai-yeung said they were not only aiming at breaking the decade-long rivalry between South China and Winling, but also setting sights on the regional Asia Champions Cup.
“Our plans will be to build the strongest force in domestic basketball and then set foot in regional competitions, just like another Hong Kong side Regal did in the 1990s,” said Tam.
“We hope to set the standard for domestic basketball as we believe there is a market for the sport. If Eastern take the lead, I am sure other teams will follow.”
Regal won the Asia Champions Cup in 1997 after beating Kia Motors of South Korea in the final. They came second the following year following a defeat by Beijing Hanwei of China.
Lee Wai-lun, who was a young member of Regal those days and is now the assistant director of Eastern, said Hong Kong basketball had made little progress since.
“Many of our Asian counterparts have already started professional leagues but we are falling far behind. There have been some positive signs recently as the two top teams have strengthened their squads by securing overseas players but this is not enough as the nature of our league is still pretty much amateur,” said Lee.
“Eastern will be a full professional side. Players will have to give up their regular jobs but will be rewarded with monthly salaries for the whole year.”
Most of the players in Hong Kong are amateurs as the domestic season lasts for six months from March to July each year. Many have full-time jobs or are students. Foreign players are not allowed in A1 Division but each club can sign one “Hong Kong resident player” who must stay in Hong Kong for one year before registration.
To prepare for the new season, Eastern have already signed one American, Chris Barnes, who played in the Mexico League before and has been in Hong Kong for six months. The powerful 2.05-metre centre will pose a strong threat to the defence of any local side.
Lee said they had already targeted players from South China and Winling, but would not disclose details until the A1 Division Championship playoff is over. “We will form a 16-member strong squad and start training in September. We will become the champions,” said Lee.
The A1 Division Championship playoff between South China and Winling is currently locked at 1-1 in the best-of-five series.