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