FIBA (International Basketball Federation)

NBA All-Star Shawn Marion aims to grow the Chinese basketball scene as a new co-owner of New Zealand Breakers

‘The Matrix’ discusses his new role as a co-owner of National Basketball League (NBL) team New Zealand Breakers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2018, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 May, 2018, 6:32pm

Four-time NBA All-Star Shawn “The Matrix” Marion would never rule out bringing Chinese players into the team, especially for his new role as co-owner of National Basketball League (NBL) team New Zealand Breakers. In fact, he is surprised there are not more in the league already.

“With the population over here, you should have a couple more in there,” said the 39-year-old Phoenix Suns legend at an exhibition match for Dunk Kong, Hong Kong’s first slam dunk showcase on Wednesday. “Y’all turned out some great talented players – I got a couple of friends from China like Yao Ming and Yi [Jianlian] – never close the door on talent.”

Watch Marion’s Team Matrix get introduced to the Hong Kong crowd

Marion retired in 2015 to watch his now four-year-old son grow up because “watching your son grow up [via] the phone is not the same as being there”. In February, the former NBA champion became co-owner of Auckland outfit Breakers along with former NBA player Matt Walsh and seven others.

“The opportunity became available, and I thought it would be kind of cool to be an owner, so why not?” said Marion, who will visit the team for the first time this summer. “We’ve signed a lot of free agents and got a new coach – there are good things happening over there and I’m excited.

And while he insisted he never left the basketball realm, Marion has in recent months changed his mindset from player to owner.

“I’ll be behind the scenes; learning in the shadows,” he said. “I want to see how to do certain things, but I do have connections, so I could pick up the phone and call a few people, make things happen here and there ... but you gotta crawl before you can walk.

“The mindset of an owner is totally different; you have to try and put yourself in the best situation for the team to make sure you’re giving a product that the fans want to pay and see.

“As a player, I’m trying to get paid – so I can get the money.”

The Breakers, formed in 2003, are currently the only team outside of Australia to be competing in the NBL – and second in league history.

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With an increase in Asian players joining and an inexplicably high following in China – NBL chief Jeremy Loeliger said in 2017 there were more views in China than Australia despite no marketing – the League laid out a two-step plan to fulfil their Asian agenda.

In 2016, they implemented a rule to allow teams to bring in players from the FIBA Asian Zone without losing one of its three ‘import roster’ spots so as to encourage more Asian players into the League. The Sydney Kings made history the very same year after becoming the first NBL team to sign a Chinese-born player in Bo Liu from Chinese Basketball Association team Shenzhen Leopards.

The league additionally plans to grow the current eight-team league and introduce teams based in China and The Philippines.

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“I see the league expanding. Some expansion teams in China would be awesome because it’s a quick trip,” said Marion. “They broadcast the games and they’ve had a couple of games over here before. I can see it growing big.

“I can tell you this: the chances of getting to the pros is a lot harder here than it is in the States, but the opportunities are there now with television exposure and social media. The opportunities to get seen are there – you have to decide if it’s realistically in your place to do that. Or you got to get your degree and get a job.”

Marion’s encouraging words surrounding the Australasian basketball scene do not mean he is interested in making a stunning comeback, however. The Matrix has very much reloaded into an managing/executive role.

“No, I’m done. I’ve been done for three years now and I’ll be 40 next week,” said Marion, who only put up five points on the board in the 61-57 exhibition game loss to local team Eastern Long Lions. “I miss the camaraderie, the companionship and the laughs in the locker room, but I’m good.

“I’m still around, just in different facets.”