Set KBL players free by abolishing FA draft

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Set KBL players free by abolishing FA draft

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Lee Seung-jun, Moon Tae-young and Chon Tae-poong


The first-ever half-Korean free agent draft in the Korean Basketball League officially wrapped up on Monday with the Seoul Samsung Thunders’ forward Lee Seung-jun going to the Wonju Dongbu Promy over the Seoul SK Knights after a lottery pick.

Two other half-Korean basketball players’ destinations were already determined last Friday, with Chon Tae-poong moving from the Jeonju KCC Egis to the Goyang Orions, while the Changwon LG Sakers’ Moon Tae-young was signed by the Ulsan Mobis Phoebus.

For the half-Korean FA draft, only four teams (the Knights, Promy, Orions and Phoebus) were allowed to enter this draft since other teams have previously owned or currently have half-Korean players.

The Orions have another half-Korean player, Lee Dong-jun, the younger brother of Lee Seung-jun, and the Knights have Kim Min-soo, who was born Julian Fernandez in Argentina. But since the two entered the KBL after being granted Korean citizenship, the Orions and Knights were allowed to participate.

The teams acquired these half-Koreans in exchange for a 2013 first-round pick in the traditional rookie draft and strengthened their weakest positions. The move will also likely expand their fan bases.

For half-Korean players, the new draft may seem as though its as good it gets, but in reality they are treated like foreigners even though they are officially Korean, and their careers are suffering the consequences.

Three players - Chon, Lee and Moon - entered the KBL through a half-Korean draft back in 2009, which was the first of its kind and introduced these players to the KBL. Won Ha-jun was also drafted by KT&G (now the Anyang Korea Ginseng Corporation) and Park Tae-yang, who was picked up by KTF (now Busan KT Sonicboom).

These players were drafted from the United States. Chon went by Tony Atkins, Lee was called Eric Sandrin and Moon’s original name was Gregory Stevenson. Won went by Kevin Mitchell and Park was known as Chris Vann.

The KBL first opened its door to these players under the condition that these players gain Korean citizenship during their stay and sign contracts with one club for less than three seasons. While Mitchell and Vann failed to adjust in Korea and received five-year bans from the KBL after violating their contracts, Chon, Lee and Moon successfully cemented their name in the league and became top “Korean players” after becoming naturalized citizens.

Chon, 32-year-old point guard, was the first among half-Koreans to experience a KBL title when the Egis won in the 2010-11 season, while the 34-year-old forward Lee became the first naturalized Korean to play for the national basketball team when he helped Korea win the silver medal at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. Moon, 34, was the league’s top scorer in the 2009-10 season.

However, what they can never achieve is franchise star status for one club. Technically, half-Koreans can stay with their old club, but only if other clubs don’t make any offers to them. With their skills and popularity, this is the most unlikely scenario.

Last season, Chon publicly stated that this is a form of “discrimination,” saying that he can’t understand why half-Korean players need to move on to other clubs every three seasons and go through a special FA draft. In Chon’s perspective, even though they’re now Korean, they are still treated like “the other Koreans,” having no freedom to choose KBL teams but instead getting “drafted” by clubs even if they are supposedly free agents.

Some people say that the current KBL rule actually benefits these players by helping them earn more money because it makes them a free agent every three years. In fact, all three players have received the best deals for fourth-year KBL players through this FA draft. But money can’t always buy a player’s heart and desire to win a championship with the club.

Others say that since these players’ talents are equal to true foreign players - such as non-Koreans like Rod Benson - they can’t be treated like Korean players. They worry that if there are no regulations, half-Korean players on one team could dominate the league for a long time, so these players should move around to give equal chances to other clubs.

But what if a Korean player has dominant skills like foreign players in the near future? Will he be treated like a foreigner as well?

Sometimes legendary players cement their legacies with one team. Michael Jordan won six NBA Finals in a Chicago Bulls jersey and changed the league forever. The KBL should reconsider its FA system and give the players a chance to change this league, too.

by Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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