Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Status of Taiwanese Basketball

Since the professional league CBA (Chinese Basketball Alliance) folded in March 1999, Taiwan is left without any pro basketball. Remaining franchises DROPPED BACK to the amateur ranks and re-joined the A-League (Amateur League), which is under the administration of the CTBA (Chinese Taipei Basketball Association).

Among the six pro teams, Luckipar Panthers and Hong-fu Rams closed business. Three-time champion Hong-kuo Elephants was sold to SINA.com president Daniel Jiang (Jiang Fong-nian) and changed its name to SINA. BCC Mars, Dacin Construction and Yulon Dinos keep their names under the A-League, but the team budget is way down than the CBA days. Players are forced to take pay cut in order to keep playing.

SINA relocates to Suchou, China and joins the Chinese CBA (Chinese basketball Association) afterwards. SINA owner Jiang was apparently disappointed at the Taiwanese basketball scene, prompting his decision to move the team to China.

After adding the pro teams, the number of A-League teams reaches to an all-time high. CTBA decided to split the league into two divisions - Division A1 and Division A2 (There's no Division B, though), according to the competition level. In 2001-02 season, there are 8 Div-A1 teams and 7 Div-A2 teams.

The A-League season is consisted of two stages - The President Cup and the regular season. Traditionally the President Cup starts in the end of the year. Usually it's in October or November. Competition format varies from year to year. The regular season starts after the Chinese New Year (Early February). Format also varies.

Different from the NBA rule-CBA, A-League uses international rule that has trapezoid paint and allows any form of defense.

Under this system, there will be no ANNUAL champion crowned. The two stages do have their own champions, MVPs, and stats leaders, but the stats are not combined so you won't see any PLAYER OF THE YEAR or 01-02 Scoring Leader stuff. Stats-keeping is lousy in the A-League. The league and teams don't have their own web sites, so don't bother looking for them.

Due to the shortage of player supply and quality players, most A-League players are still college students. That's why you can always see some wild games going on. A-League teams are not allowed to sign high school kids.

There have been rumors saying that the pro league will be back. But I don't see any sign that the pro league resurfacing. Economics are way down in Taiwan. Major corporates that support local basketball no longer want to invest money on basketball teams, mostly because basketball teams don't bring them any profit. It's believed there will be more teams folding in the coming year.

The weird part of the story is that high school basketball becomes one of the most popular sports here, drawing better TV ratings than any hoop events other than the annual Jones Cup Tournament. Current young stars Chen Hsin-an and Tien Lei both became household names in HBL (High School Basketball League), which is sponsored by NIKE Taiwan. Crowds packed almost every game, especially the HBL playoff games.

How to transplant the experience of the success of high school ball to the amateur ranks will be one of the biggest tasks for the newly elected CTBA president Wang Jen-da, who is also the owner of Dacin Construction. However, history tells us the future doesn't look bright.

On the national team side, CTBA decided to drop veterans and opted for young bloods in the new century. The Year 2001-edition Taiwan NT has a 33-year-old head coach Lee Yun-kwang, who previously has no head-coaching experience in any level, and four Under-18 high school kids, with the record-low average age. The reconstruction plan receives mixed results. Taiwan NT surprised everyone to grab silver medal in Osaka's East Asia Games (EAG) but fell to all-time worst 7th place finish in the following Asian Championship.

In all, Taiwanese basketball is at a crossroad. To find back the old glory and passion, Taiwanese basketball has a long way to go. It takes organizational works and hard work of teams, coaches and players to pull Taiwanese basketball up from the bottom.