They Got Game

In conversation with Jim Wong, NBA Asia Associate Vice President of Global Partnerships, on the Jr. NBA’s plan to promote basketball and an active lifestyle via youth programs in Vietnam

How did you become involved with the program? What is your history with the organization?
I’ve been with the NBA for six years. Shortly after I joined, I was tasked to grow the Jr. NBA program across Southeast Asia, expanding it from one country (Philippines) to its current state of six markets (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam). Our Jr. NBA program is now the largest for the NBA in any region.

What are your main reasons for developing basketball here in Vietnam?
We are focused on encouraging more kids to engage in sport through Jr. NBA—the league’s global youth basketball participation program—to help instill healthy, active lifestyles among the youth and address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity and inactivity.
As a professional basketball league, our goal is also to promote and grow the game of basketball internationally, with our office leading the growth of the Asia-Pacific fan base—specifically within six Southeast Asian markets. Vietnam will play an integral role towards achieving our goal of reaching 40 million kids in the region through the Jr. NBA program by 2025.

Is money or brand development a priority?
Both are important in growing a sustainable business, which drives us to work with partners and stakeholders that share our mission and help bring the NBA experience closer to our passionate fans. Jr. NBA serves as our platform to teach the fundamentals of basketball and engage with 10-14-year-old boys and girls, a crucial period in which children develop an affinity for brands which is essential in Vietnam where football among other sports remain very popular.

Will this be both for boys and girls?
Yes, Jr. NBA Vietnam is an inclusive program for boys and girls.

Is the program involved only in cities or in rural areas as well?
Since 2014, Jr. NBA Vietnam, through a series of clinics and Jr. NBA Coaches Academy workshops, has been staged in cities including Soc Trang, Can Tho, Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Dinh, Da Nang, Nghe An, Thanh Hoa and Hanoi. We have plans to expand the program and reach more rural areas in the near future.

How did you go about approaching the government for support on this?
In Southeast Asia, we started the Jr. NBA program in the Philippines before expanding it to four countries including Vietnam in 2014. We were aware of the challenges of penetrating a football-driven region and assessed that an ideal route to promote basketball and reach a critical mass would be through the support of the local government. Since its launch, Jr. NBA Vietnam has received support from the government and key basketball stakeholders in the country. Through our partnerships with the Vietnam Basketball Federation and the Ministry of Education and Training, we recently inaugurated the Jr. NBA Coaches Academy that allowed us to expose teachers to on-court training and basketball education across eight cities.
We will continue working with the government and key stakeholders and are committed to creating a positive impact through our programs for the Vietnamese community.

The Jr. NBA wants basketball to become an important role in the athletic curriculum of Vietnam and other Asian nations. How do you go about accomplishing this?
The NBA is committed to growing the game of basketball in Vietnam in the long term, as demonstrated by the significant investment involved in staging the Jr. NBA program during the past five years and the enthusiasm shown by students and teachers learning and teaching the sport. It is crucial for us to continue working closely with the Ministry of Education and Training to jointly build on the existing infrastructure for basketball in schools and develop a curriculum that kids will greatly benefit from.

What in particular about basketball makes it conducive to Asian countries?
Basketball is a growing sport in Asia both in terms of interest and participation. It is a recreational activity that needs minimal costs and requirements—a hoop and a ball—that can be played as an individual or in groups.
Additionally, it doesn’t require a big space and is a sport that is relatively easy to learn. What Asian kids give up in height, they make up for by being agile and quick, qualities that are relevant and valuable to the way the game is played today.

What is the state of the program in the Vietnam right now? What kind of growth have you seen over the five years that the Jr. NBA has come to Vietnam?
Jr. NBA Vietnam has seen its numbers grow exponentially in the last five years, increasing its participation from more than a thousand kids in 2014 to over 1.6 million boys and girls to-date. The program is experiencing its best year, which can be attributed to the NBA establishing partnerships with local stakeholders including Ministry of Education and Training, Vietnam Basketball Federation, Sports Skills Academy and Vietcontent.
These relationships paved the way for the launch of the Jr. NBA Coaches Academy workshops that aim to further local basketball development by teaching on-court training and basketball education to coaches and instructors, who in turn share in the role of facilitating basketball participation among their students.
The overall progress is encouraging but there’s still a lot of work to be done as we continue to improve the youth basketball experience for players, coaches and parents.

Does the Jr. NBA have plans for Vietnam in 2019 like they did in previous years? Can you tell me more about the tournaments and how the best players are selected?
This year, we will stage Jr. NBA Vietnam Camps in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in May and June, respectively, and name five boys and five girls as the 2019 Jr. NBA Vietnam All-Stars based on their on-court performance and how they exemplified the Jr. NBA core S.T.A.R. values of Sportsmanship, Teamwork, positive Attitude and Respect.

In China, the NBA has become incredibly popular. Do you foresee something like this happening in Vietnam as well?
That is the primary goal not only in Vietnam but across the whole region. Our work does not stop after we’ve built our fan base as we continue to engage fans post-event, providing a variety of touch points to consume the NBA through retail, TV and social media. As an example, our media partner Vietcontent carries NBA Games and programming and televises six live games per week in Vietnamese, while our Jr. NBA Vietnam website and Facebook page publish locally relevant content regularly.
We are seeing local participation and engagement head towards a positive direction but for us to develop into a mature basketball market like China, it is essential for us to work with partners and local basketball stakeholders who share our commitment in growing the game and bringing the NBA experience closer to fans.

What makes basketball an appealing sport in certain countries like China, and potentially Vietnam?
Basketball is participated by over 300 million people in China according to the Chinese Basketball Association and continues to be one of the most popular sports due to its accessibility with court facilities spread out across the country. Other formats  including 3-on-3 basketball are gaining traction with its inclusion in the 2020 Olympics.
We believe that basketball can eventually grow as the second most popular sport in Vietnam because it is inclusive and requires minimal costs and equipment to start playing.

You have initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles as well as anti-violence in schools. Could you tell me more about these programs?
Through the years, we have collaborated with non-profit organizations and institutions in Vietnam to promote our corporate social responsibility activities through NBA Cares.
With our longstanding partnership with UNICEF, we recently joined them in promoting World Children’s Day in November 2018 where we had participants of the Jr. NBA Coaches Academy join the global call to action to Go Blue for every child to raise
awareness about the importance of speaking up against violence in schools and bullying and fostering a safe environment for students to fulfill their potential.
Among other highlights, we partnered with the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City to refurbish their  basketball court as part of the NBA’s commitment to providing Vietnamese youth with increased access to play the game.

Has Vietnam presented any particular challenges for the Jr. NBA program?
Yes. Given that Vietnam is a football-driven market, we experienced the challenges that come with introducing basketball to the community that included language barrier and access to basketball facilities.
Crucial to the success of the program was establishing the trust and confidence of the government and local community, whom we’ve continued to build relationships with in making the Jr. NBA program what it is today. The NBA will continue to invest in the Jr. NBA program and is committed to long-term growth of basketball in Vietnam.

Photos Courtesy of NBA Asia

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