SINGAPORE:  The Singapore Slingers, the country’s sole professional basketball team, face an uncertain future after the club announced in a press release on Monday, Nov 20, that the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) is unlikely to continue in the foreseeable future. This decision was made after they were informed by FIBA, the international governing body for basketball, that the league  ‘does not fit into FIBA’s future plans for basketball in the region’.

“FIBA will be selective of which leagues it would support and allow moving forward. FIBA’s clear instructions to the regional basketball federations essentially denied the ABL a viable future. The ABL has spent the past 2 years trying to find a compromise with FIBA without success,” read the statement by the Slingers on Monday.

The ASEAN Basketball League debuted in 2009 amid considerable fanfare, backed by the prominent figures of AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes and sports entrepreneur Erick Thohir, who at the time served as the president of the Southeast Asia Basketball Association.

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During a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur in 2009 to announce the launch of the region’s new basketball league, then FIBA secretary-general Patrick Baumann said, “The ASEAN Basketball League is the first of its kind in Asia and a welcome indication of the maturity achieved by our sport. It will further boost the popularity of basketball in this area and beyond, while creating new opportunities and dreams for the FIBA family. We look forward to seeing new talents and countries emerge in basketball in the next five years as a result of this project.”

However, over a decade later, FIBA’s vision for basketball development in the region had changed, leading to the withdrawal of their support for the ABL. The Slingers, having been an integral part of the ABL since its inception, had secured two runner-up finishes in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. In 2016, they fell 2-3 to Westports Malaysia in a best-of-five series, and the following year, they succumbed to the Hong Kong Eastern Lions in the finals.

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Photo: Facebook screengrab / OfficialSingaporeSlingers

“The Singapore Slingers, who have been a cornerstone of professional basketball in Singapore over the past 17 years, will explore how it can continue to be a development platform for our top Singapore basketball players through the active involvement of SportSG,” added the Slingers in their media statement.

“The Slingers have been a feature in the local basketball scene through their competition in the ABL, community outreach programmes as well as its support of the ActiveSG Basketball Academy. We believe that the goodwill continues to reside in the fans, players past and present as well as the younger generations of Singaporeans who have been exposed to basketball via the Slingers.”

The ABL took a break from 2019 to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It resumed in 2023 with the ABL Invitational from January to March. The eight-team competition witnessed the absence of several prominent clubs from the previous 2018-19 season, including reigning league champion Formosa Dreamers and runners-up Alab Pilipinas. The Slingers concluded the regular season within the top four and secured a place in the playoffs. In the semi-finals, the Slingers claimed victory in the first game with a score of 94-82. However, the Saigon Heat managed to level the series with an 81-79 win. In the decisive and thrilling third game, the Slingers narrowly missed a spot in the finals, falling just one point short, 85-86.