Wanted: Fans to roar Singapore Slingers on in ABL title bid

Singapore Slingers' point guard Wong Wei Long (left) takes on Westports Malaysia Dragons' point guard Jason Brickman (right) in Game Two of the Asean Basketball League Finals.
Singapore Slingers' point guard Wong Wei Long (left) takes on Westports Malaysia Dragons' point guard Jason Brickman (right) in Game Two of the Asean Basketball League Finals.PHOTO: KUK THEW

Assistant coach Johnson urges local fans to support team as they bid to win 1st ABL title

They did well to overcome the rowdy home crowd in Game 1 of the Asean Basketball League (ABL) Finals, but pressure finally told as the Singapore Slingers succumbed to the Maba Stadium's hostile environment in Sunday's Game 2.

Already struggling to get into a rhythm in their battle against the Westports Malaysia Dragons, the vociferous taunting and jeering from the fans in Kuala Lumpur exacerbated the Slingers' frustration.

And now, Slingers assistant coach Michael Johnson wants payback as the series heads to the OCBC Arena for Games 3 and 4 this week, starting on Friday.

With the series finely poised at one game apiece and both teams needing two more wins, it is crucial the Slingers capitalise on their home-court advantage if they are to deliver a first-ever ABL title.

"The (KL) crowd was very raucous and spiteful," said the Australian, a day after their 67-83 Game 2 loss. "(When) a couple of things went wrong, the crowd got behind their team and we didn't handle that well. It made our players less focused on the game and (instead) on the surroundings."

He hopes that Singapore's basketball fans will return the favour this week by turning up in droves to back the home team, just like how the Malaysian fans supported the Dragons.

The Slingers have enjoyed an average home crowd of 1,200 this season on the back of a fine run, which includes a 10-match winning streak.

But Johnson wants double that number of bums on seats for Games 3 and 4. He said: "If we can get 2,500 Singaporeans cheering their lungs out, it gives that extra boost to the players when they're tired."

Point guard Wong Wei Long added: "If you know a lot of supporters are standing behind you, you will feel that adrenaline rush. Even if you are hurt, you will not feel the pain for 40 minutes."

Johnson, who is also the Slingers' general manager, acknowledged that it has been a struggle for the Republic's only professional basketball team to attract fans since the ABL's inaugural season in 2009.

Though tickets are distributed through help from partners and the Basketball Association of Singapore, obstacles like the lack of an advertising budget have stood in their way.

Community outreach efforts are mainly targeted at schools, with the players conducting clinics at schools such as East View Secondary throughout the season.

Said Johnson: "We don't have the financial backing or sponsors to have street banners, billboards... it's only been this year when people started to finally get behind the team."

So while the Slingers have been able to match the Dragons on court, the story is quite different off it.

For Games 1 and 2, when some 80 Slingers fans travelled across the Causeway, they had to find their own transport to KL. In contrast, the Dragons are providing chartered buses to ferry their fans to Singapore for Games 3 and 4.

The Dragons also have more than 10 times the number of followers on Facebook - 50,305 - compared to the Slingers (4,820).

All this has led Johnson to appeal to Singaporeans to be the team's "sixth man", saying: "It's a heck of a series. There's fantastic basketball, it's going to be a great atmosphere.

"We hope that the locals will come along to the game to support their local Slingers, which features their local national players."

• Tickets for Game 3 are available at http://www.sportshub.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'WANTED: FANS TO ROAR ON SLINGERS'. Print Edition | Subscribe