Time to deliver, co-owner Wee tells Singapore Slingers
Singapore basketball franchise co-owner Wee Siew Kim says it's time for team to deliver silverware
It's always refreshing to have a sports chief who calls it as it is and doesn't beat about the bush.
Singapore Slingers co-owner Wee Siew Kim is bold and knows what he wants.
Speaking to The New Paper in an exclusive interview, he said: "In sports, everyone loves winners.
"Very few would want to be associated with a team that have no chance of winning."
Wee's Slingers are in the midst of an intense fight for the Asean Basketball League (ABL) Finals crown.
They are tied at 1-1 in the best-of-five series with the Westports Malaysia Dragons after two games in Kuala Lumpur.
The battle resumes with Game 3 at the Singapore Sports Hub's OCBC Arena, at 8pm on Friday.
Having come so close, you get the sense the 55-year-old Wee is hungry for the title.
It is not that the group CEO of paints and coatings company Nipsea Group does not care about growing the future generation of national cagers.
Since the Slingers were formed in 2006 as the nation's first professional basketball team, the former Basketball Association of Singapore president (2002 to 2011) and his partners have invested more than $10 million in the club, and boosting the standard of the game along the way.
The national team, mostly made up of players who have played for the Slingers, won back-to-back bronze medals at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in 2013 and 2015, after a long drought dating back to their one and only third-placed finish in 1979.
"The challenge now is to focus on winning. I want the Slingers to be the key basketball symbol in Singapore," said Wee, a former Member of Parliament of Ang Mo Kio GRC from 2001 to 2011.
"After years of building the team and local players, we believe the Slingers are good enough to focus on winning because that is a much better story to sell.
"And I hope, as a result, we can win the Asean Basketball League Finals this year and see more supporters and sponsors come on board."
The team have come a long way since their first match in 2006 - a 98-91 victory over the Adelaide 36ers in the Australian National Basketball League (NBL).
They pulled out of the Australian NBL after two seasons due to the rising cost of air travel and fuel prices and later became one of the founding members of the ABL in 2009.
They finished second out of six teams during the regular season in 2009, but lost 2-1 to Indonesia's SM BritAma in the semi-final play-offs.
This is the first time they are fighting for the title, and the Slingers' charge is all the more remarkable because many had tipped them to struggle, with four local rookies and just three imports on their 13-man roster.
But Wee and his technical team were quietly confident.
And the likes of shooting guard Desmond Oh, point-guard Wong Wei Long, forwards Delvin Goh, Wu Qingde and Ng Hanbin have stepped up to the plate, alongside Filipino point-guard Kris Rosales and the American duo, centre Justin Howard and swingman Xavier Alexander.
Wee explained: "We founded the Singapore Slingers with the support of Sport Singapore (then known as Singapore Sports Council) and the BAS in 2006.
"Our twin targets were to create a national basketball team for all Singaporeans to identify with, and to expose local players to regular high-level competition in order to move sports excellence in basketball.
"Every team in the ABL are allowed to sign four imports.
"But, this season, we deliberately signed only three because this is effectively the national team that we are nurturing and we want our local players to get game time.
"We have a good balance of imports and locals and we are happy that our local members have done well enough to win the Coach of the Year (Neo Beng Siang) and local MVP (Wong) awards this season."
Wee hopes the OCBC Arena will be full and noisy for Games 3 and 4 this weekend.
Hall One has been configured into a 2,000-capacity venue for the Slingers, who have attracted an average of 1,500 fans this season.
Wee is proud of what the group have accomplished.
"With the exception of football's S.League, Singapore largely does not have a culture of professional sports and the Slingers were a big undertaking, also in terms of convincing people to pay to watch them play," said Wee.
"We started from scratch with the intention of providing wholesome entertainment which makes good fun weekend outings for families.
WATCH THE SLINGERS
"We still have some way to go to getting people to the stadiums to watch the Slingers, although in recent years, there have been more fans who have come to accept them as a team that truly belong to Singapore."
Despite the huge financial outlay, Wee is here to stay.
He said: "We want to show that it is possible for aspiring basketballers to make a living out of the sport.
"We also want to create an environment where the Slingers can find employment within the basketball ecosytem after their playing careers are over.
"As for me, I'm still in this with the team because we have a good team working together and I can't let down.
"Among them are our general manager Michael Johnson whom I roped in as a co-owner last year, his wife Michelle who works so hard as our office administrator, our coach Neo Beng Siang and all our players.
"Everyone has played his or her own big part in this family.
"I really appreciate all their efforts and hope we can finish this season on a high."
Asean Basketball League Finals
Singapore Slingers v Westports Malaysia Dragons (Best-of-five series tied at 1-1)
- Friday (8pm): Game 3
- Sunday (4pm): Game 4
OCBC Arena, Singapore Sports Hub
Tickets, priced from $6 to $36, are available from the Singapore Sports Hub website (sportshub.com.sg), Singapore Indoor Stadium box office and all SingPost outlets.