Until the mid-1990s, basketball was one of the most popular sports in South Korea. In 1994, the youth drama “The Last Game,” which was based on the theme of basketball, was a huge hit with over 40 per cent of the viewers, and the cartoon “Slam Dunk,” which is considered a masterpiece, became popular. This was also the time when the Chicago Bulls, a “superteam” of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in the National Basketball Association (NBA), gained global attention.
Unemployment team games drew huge crowds to watch the then-college sensation. University teams were even more popular. This was especially true for Korea University with Jeon Hee-chul, Hyun Ju-yup, and Kim Byung-chul, and Yonsei University with Moon Moon-eun, Lee Sang-min, and Woo Ji-won. The university players were treated as celebrities, showing off their skills against their unemployed brothers.
The explosive popularity of unemployed basketball naturally led to the creation of a professional league. Professionalisation, which had been discussed but stalled since the early 1990s, was pushed forward in unison by the fan base.먹튀검증
Professional basketball is on the rise
Professional basketball began with the 1997 season. There were eight teams in the league: Busan Kia, Anyang SBS, Wonju Narae, Daegu Dongyang, Gwangju Nasan, Incheon Daewoo Securities, Daejeon Hyundai, and Suwon Samsung. On 1 February that year, the first game was played between SBS, the parent company of the broadcasting company, and Daewoo Securities, the star group, and the league finished its first season with 21 games per team. At this point, 400,000 spectators attended basketball games, and two more teams were created for the new season. The 1997-1998 season saw a significant expansion of the schedule, with 10 teams playing 45 games per team.
The popularity of professional basketball never waned, and by the 2001-2002 season, its sixth year of existence, attendance exceeded one million. As interest in the sport grew, so did international results. In 2002, the team of Seo Jang-hoon, Kim Joo-sung, Moon Mung-eun, Jeon Hee-chul, Hyun Joo-yup, and Lee Sang-min won the gold medal in the final of the Busan Asian Games, defeating China 102-100. At the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, the team defeated Iran 79-77 to take the top spot. With Kim Joo-sung at the helm, the team has successfully completed a generation change, including Oh Se-geun, Kim Jong-kyu, Moon Tae-jong, Yang Hee-jong, Yang Dong-geun and Kim Sun-hyung, signalling the future of Korean basketball. “In the early 2000s, the league was so popular that we used to check the playoff schedule to plan the opening of the KBO,” said a basketball insider.
Faltering professional basketball and a lost administration
Since then, however, basketball’s popularity has begun to wane. The league’s heavy reliance on foreign players was a problem. This was compounded by the KBL’s administrative problems. The KBL had a separate award for foreign players. As a result, the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) was naturally awarded to a domestic player, which led to mixed opinions on the value of the MVP. Eventually, the KBL eliminated the foreign player award in the 2011-2012 season. However, the MVP award has always gone to a domestic player. In 2014-2015, when Ricardo Ratliff (Laguna) became the favourite to win the award, the foreign player award was suddenly reinstated, and from then on, the KBL awarded the MVP to the “most valuable” domestic and foreign player. With foreign players making up more than half of the roster, the KBL also imposed a two-metre height limit on foreign players. In the 2009-2010 season, the KBL had a naturalised mixed-race player system, limiting contracts to a maximum of three years, before abolishing it in the 2012-2013 season, adding to the confusion.
The increased sophistication of basketball fans has also had an impact. Thanks to the development of media, we can watch Kobe Bryant or LeBron James in action in real time. Add to that the lacklustre international performance of Korean basketball teams that have not even crossed the Olympic threshold. “The NBA is a different sport from Korean basketball because they use their overwhelming physical abilities to create strategies and tactics to match,” said a Korean professional basketball team coach. “Korean players are already at a disadvantage in terms of physicality, so there is still a limit to securing international competitiveness.”
Which team should you support?
Frequent venue changes are also a problem. For example, if the Daegu Dongyang left Daegu and became the Goyang Dongyang Orion, but one day, the team based in Incheon changed its parent company and established itself in Daegu, it would be confusing for fans who supported the Daegu Dongyang to decide which team to root for.
In fact, according to the 2022 Professional Sports Visitor Propensity Survey (Propensity Survey) released by the Korea Professional Sports Association, the proportion of “high-profile fans” who owned the jerseys of their favourite teams was 50.7% and 44.0% for Anyang KGC Ginseng and Dongbu DB, respectively, but the proportion of high-profile fans of KT, which moved from Busan to Suwon, Korea Gas Corporation, which is based in Daegu, and the newly created Goyang Carot was in the low 20s.
Hometown is an important factor in attracting loyal fans. However, only 10.1 per cent of respondents said they watch men’s basketball because they have a team to support. In professional football, where there is a clear local connection, 34.7 per cent said they go to games because they are loyal to their team. Professional baseball also surpassed professional basketball at 26.4%.
◆Speed and immediacy appeal… Superstars remain popular
While basketball’s popularity may be waning, professional basketball remains attractive and has potential. The sport’s unique speed, flamboyance, and excitement are still present, as are the superstars who represent the league. The inspiring storylines of domestic basketball are also not to be missed.
According to the ‘2022 Professional Sports Visitor Propensity Survey’ on the 26th, the top reason for visiting a basketball court is to see the players in person, with 30.0% of respondents saying this. This was followed by 13.1% who said that there are elements that can be enjoyed on site, and 12.5% who said that they can feel a sense of presence that is difficult to feel through broadcasting.
While the popularity of basketball has waned from its heyday, there is still interest in basketball stars. ‘Basketball President’ Heo Jae DayThe son of the CEO of One Sports, entertainment