Pro basketball likely to see smaller leagues
By Jung Min-ho
The future of Korea’s professional basketball leagues has been thrown into question amid growing speculation that both the men’s and women’s game are expected to feature fewer teams from next season.
Along with the unexpected breakup of the Shinsegae Coolcat in the Women’s Korean Basketball League (WKBL), the ET Land Elephants continued existence in the Korean Basketball League (KBL) is in doubt due to the possible sale of its parent company.
The latest projection of the downsized league came to light last week, as ET Land is reportedly on the market, with the fate of the Incheon-based team in the air.
To make the situation worse, Lotte and E-Mart, a subsidiary of Shinsegae, are seen as valid bidders in the takeover of the electronic goods chain, making the Elephants future more uncertain because of Shinsegae’s history in the women’s league.
The KBL’s board of directors is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the ongoing issue.
“It would be better to avoid any assumptions about the current situation. Listening to what the team has to say should be the first step,” An Jun-ho, director of basketball operations at the KBL, said in a media interview. “And then, we will prepare for whatever comes next.”
Last month, Shinsegae said that the company has decided to disband the Coolcat, founded in 1998. The news means the league has just five teams. As there are problems with operating a league with an odd number of clubs, the WKBL needs to quickly come up with a solution to its problems.
Whether the speculation over the Elephants is true, some indicators suggest that the future of Korean basketball isn't promising.
Basketball, once one of the nation’s top three sports along with baseball and football, is losing ground, which is attributed to the KBL lacking star players who used to have a profound influence on the game’s popularity.
When Lee Sang-min, Moon Kyung-eun, Woo Ji-won announced their retirement in 2010, the number of fans expressed regret over the departure of the sports’ biggest stars. It is important to find new talented players who can become the future of Korean basketball, for the continued popularity of the KBL.
The situation in the WKBL is similar. Soon after the disbanding of the Coolcat, the “basketball queen” KB Stars’ Jung Sun-min, a seven-time league MVP, announced her retirement, calling time on her 29-year-old career.
Although the seasons for both the KBL and WKBL usually begin in October, missing a team may delay the women’s competition this year.