Bas­ket­ball brings ex­pats to­gether

The Korea Times - - PEOPLE - By You Soo-sun

The largest ex­pat bas­ket­ball league in Korea is run by two guys from Cal­i­for­nia work­ing in com­plete dif­fer­ent fields but joined by the same pas­sion for the sport.

Hind­son Her, 31, is the founder of the league run un­der the group, “Project Ball.” He has been teach­ing English in Seoul since 2010. He be­gan play­ing bas­ket­ball with a small group of friends who longed to form bonds with those go­ing through sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences as for­eign­ers in Korea. But more than that, they just wanted to play ball which was at the time largely in­ac­ces­si­ble to ex­pats here.

Among them was Ja­son Min-kee Kim, a 29-year-old South Korean from Sil­i­con Val­ley in San Fran­cisco, Cal­i­for­nia. An en­tre­pre­neur, he has run two star­tups and now works for a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm, and was re­cently put on the Forbes’ Un­der 30 Asia list. On the side, he works as a man­ag­ing part­ner for the group.

Un­der the lead­er­ship and ded­i­ca­tion of the two men, the small group quickly de­vel­oped into a com­mu­nity, now with ap­prox­i­mately 2,500 mem­bers, mostly ex­pats work­ing and liv­ing in Korea.

“I wanted to build a com­mu­nity — one that’s united with just a ball,” Her told The Korea Times. “It has brought to­gether many ex­pats here but now we are even be­gin­ning to at­tract Kore­ans.”

While Kim shares the same pas­sion for bas­ket­ball, his ap­proach has been slightly dif­fer­ent — and his unique per­spec­tive has helped shape the once bas­ket­ball-only league to a big­ger project run­ning var­i­ous pro­grams in­clud­ing a bas­ket­ball academy for young peo­ple and a league for women.

“With work­ing pro­fes­sion­als coming here as many large cor­po­ra­tions are coming to Korea these days, I saw a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity,” Kim said. To do this, he hopes to es­tab­lish the group into a le­git­i­mate busi­ness cor­po­ra­tion.

“The chal­lenge is in pro­vid­ing con­sis­tent, qual­ity pro­grams, and hav­ing our own em­ploy­ees and fully ded­i­cated man­age­ment are crit­i­cal to meet those ends,” he said.

Another chal­lenge, the two noted, was see­ing many of their mem­bers come and go as they of­ten stay in Korea tem­po­rar­ily. Still, through word of mouth, they are re­ceiv­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of new­com­ers in­clud­ing Kore­ans.

Of­ten la­beled as “the for­eigner team” in games, the team has stayed mostly away from play­ing with other Kore­ans here. Still, there are many other Kore­ans open to the team who wish to play with them, whether just for the fun of it or to get a lit­tle prac­tice in con­ver­sa­tional English along the way.

“It’s not easy and won’t come too fast as it’s about coming out of their com­fort zones for most Kore­ans. But those who do come to play of­ten come back, bring­ing others with them,” said Her.

Cour­tesy of Project Ball

Hind­son Her, left, and Ja­son Min-kee Kim pose dur­ing a bas­ket­ball event.

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