As the baseball season draws to a close, the gap in the Korean sporting calendar is filled by the beginning of the basketball season. It doesn’t have the benefit of allowing you to sit outside on a sunny afternoon or evening, but at least it’s live sport.
I’ve always enjoyed basketball. I played for a few years as a kid at school and then took it up again for a few months a couple of years ago when I was working near Southampton. As far as watching it is concerned I was a regular at the local women’s team in Norton when I was about thirteen. I’d like to say it was the quality of the play and the presence of a number of international players that attracted my friends and I. It’s more likely though that it was the gym knickers that they wore that kept us turning up each week.
I’ve managed to see a few NBA games too, on visits to America. Mainly Orlando Magic against various opponents in Florida, but a couple of years ago I saw Kobe Bryant play in the LA Lakers v Clippers derby.
I wasn’t expecting NBA standard games in Korea, but providing the games are competitive I thought that it might be an interesting way of spending a couple of hours.
SK Knights play at the Jamsil Students Gymnasium, which is right next door to the baseball ground shared by Doosan Bears and LG Twins. It’s only three stops from my apartment on the subway, but as this game took place on a Sunday, I thought I’d walk it for a change. The streets are a lot quieter on a Sunday afternoon, although the traffic tends to pick up a bit later in the evening.
There wasn’t a lot going on as I walked towards the Sports Complex, but I did notice some abseiling window cleaners.
One of the reasons why I fancied the walk is that I wanted to check out the Tancheon River, primarily to see if it would be easy enough to get to on my bike and whether or not it had a lit cyclepath alongside it. I got there after about forty minutes and it looked ideal, both for cycling southwards towards Bundang or heading in the opposite direction to connect with the Han River.
I paused as I was crossing the bridge and looked down into the water. On what appeared to be the shallower side to my right I could see some large fish that might have been carp. They were about eighteen inches long and were just sat on the bottom of the river, facing upstream and barely moving. Occasionally they would shimmy sideways a little or disturb the silt with their mouths. I was surprised that nobody was fishing from the bank or the bridge. Next time I walk that way I’ll take some bread or something to drop in and see if they will feed.
I arrived at the stadium at about half past two, just as the ticket office was opening. There were a few people hanging around and plenty of stalls selling the usual beer, squid and gimbap. The tickets ranged from 30,000 won for courtside up to 4,000 won for the third tier behind the basket. I paid 8,000 won for a seat in the second row of the third tier, square on to the court, if you know what I mean.
It was too early to wait around and so I got the subway back to my apartment and returned a couple of hours later. It was certainly a lot busier by that time and as I went inside there were big queues for the popcorn stands.
My seat had already been taken by a small kid on what was probably a birthday trip with his mates. The venue wasn’t full though and there were plenty of alternative seats to choose from. I stayed in the second row of the third tier, but just moved along a bit. It was quite a small place and you would have a decent view even if you were sat in the back row.
From what I can work out of the rules, each team is allowed two non-Koreans, but can only have one of them on the court at a time. Both teams started with an American centre and the two of them virtually played a private game against each other. It was like when you were having a kickaround as a kid and a couple of blokes on the way back from the pub joined in, one on each team.
They had cheerleaders too, although they did look at little on the young side to ogle. They weren’t as athletic as the cheerleaders I’d seen in Los Angeles who had me worried by their tendency to throw each other twenty feet up into the air. The Koreans made up for this though by throwing stuff into the crowd at any opportunity. They had those guns that fire tee-shirts, but also bows and arrows, frisbees and pizza in boxes that they very generously distributed.
The game wasn’t particularly close. SK took an early lead and pretty much maintained a fifteen point buffer throughout the match. It got temporarily interesting in the final quarter when Busan reduced the deficit to six points at one stage, but they couldn’t ever completely close the gap. I couldn’t work the fans out. They made plenty of noise, but a lot of them seemed to be cheering for both teams. I suppose it’s one way of getting involved when you are a neutral.
Two hours later it was all over, SK running out winners by ninety points to seventy-eight. I’ll probably go back again in the hope of seeing an evenly matched game, but on first impression it doesn’t compare with sitting outside in the sun, sipping a beer and watching the baseball.