NBA will find its next poster boy after Kobe
Levy believes NBA will find its next global superstar; confident junior programme will be launched here
As the Los Angeles Lakers struggle to the finish line in yet another disappointing season, another NBA icon prepares to bow out of the game.
After 20 seasons, Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant will retire after the final regular season game against the Utah Jazz on April 14.
One can imagine many NBA executives would have had that date plastered on their walls, wondering about the fate of the league when it loses a basketball star with huge global appeal and marketability.
Not so, says the NBA's managing director for Asia, Scott Levy.
He believes the NBA is well-equipped to replace their 18-time All Star and poster boy.
"Even before Michael Jordan entered the league, we were getting this question that there are not going to be a lot of stars coming after someone retires," he said, at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre yesterday.
"But, there are many other players who will keep the game exciting for a long time. I feel very confident that the league is in great hands."
Regarded as the greatest basketball player in history, Jordan retired in 2003 and a number of critics wondered if the NBA would lose popularity around the world.
By that time, Bryant, a rookie in 1996, had already picked up the torch as he teamed up with Shaquille O'Neal and coach Phil Jackson to win three NBA championships with the Lakers (1999 to 2002).
Bryant has been the biggest star of the NBA for much of his career and Levy singled out Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook (both Oklahoma City Thunder), LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard (both San Antonio Spurs) and James Harden (Houston Rockets) as "must-see" players in the league right now.
"Kobe has created an incredible legacy and just like Yao (Ming), I don't think he will disappear from the game," Levy said.
"Because the game is becoming bigger globally, there are just more and more players coming into the league."
Levy is in town for a Junior NBA Asia Advisory Council meeting, which advises on the Jr. NBA Asia programme that is held in the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The annual programme which is free, focuses on grassroots development using Jr NBA coaches, including NBA director of operations Craig Brown, to supervise open clinics for kids aged five to 14.
The top-performing boys and girls aged between 10 and 14 are then selected to participate in a national training camp under the guidance of current or former NBA players.
The Golden State Warriors forward Marreese Speights (Indonesia) and Portland Trail Blazers forward Mason Plumlee (Vietnam) both visited the region last year.
Levy, who stressed that the programme is not about finding the next NBA star, expressed confidence that a Singapore version will eventually be rolled out.
"We have been talking to Sport Singapore about a comprehensive programme for several months, it's more down to the details as opposed to whether it will happen," he said.
"Our hope is to expand our programme to Singapore; we understand that its population and economy are different from the rest of South-east Asia.
"So, it'll look a little bit different, but we do hope to have it here before the end of the calendar year."