Heart of a Champion: Boone Overcomes Pain to Win ABL Title

Right as they were posing for pictures during their championship celebration as the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions clinched the 2016-17 ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) title with an 82-80 double-overtime win over the Singapore Slingers in Game 4, World import center Josh Boone clutched teammate Tyler Lamb and told him, “This doesn’t happen too often, you better cherish it.”

Shortly after, Boone, teary-eyed and visibpy exhausted from a 50-minute bout, sat down his back against the OCBC Arena floor’s LED screens, staring blankly while soaking in what just happened. The moment was pure and unadulterated. There was nothing left to do.

Boone had a strong case not to be in Singapore at all. He willed his team to a victory in Game 2 but aggravated his ankle injury. A day prior to Game 3, Boone posted on Instagram a photo of his entire right foot, in all of its black and blue glory. He even skipped one of the Long Lions’ practices to give his injury some time to heal.

“In any other situation, I wouldn’t have even considered playing for two weeks on this ankle,” Boone said.

But with a championship title on the line, only the second of his professional career if ever he decided to push through, Boone made a bold move to play through the indescribable pain and throw away whatever advice was handed out.

“I’ve been basically on one leg for these last three games.”

In Game 4, Boone played all 50 minutes. He left everything on the floor. The game never seemed to end, putting more pressure on Boone, but the import persevered while finishing with 13 points and 16 boards.

With Boone in the roster, and the continued impressive play of imports Marcus Elliott and Tyler Lamb, the Long Lions would sweep the Singapore Slingers in back to back assignments on the latter’s home floor.

Game 4’s championship-sealing victory was the most dramatic moment for the Long Lions without a doubt; it was the first time ever in league history that an ABL Finals game went to extension. The intense back-and-forth showdown lived up to its billing, with neither team leading by more than seven points.

“The fact we had to work so hard to get it makes it even sweeter for us. It’s one thing to come out, get a blowout, and it’s another thing to overcome every obstacle, play 50 minutes on the road, win two straight games and win the championship,” Boone shared.

This was a Hong Kong side that blew homecourt advantage in Game 1 after the Slingers have come out strong behind record-setting performances from Justin Howard and Josh Urbiztondo.

To be blown out at home in a deflating manner then respond with character and sweep the rest of the series, Boone describes, is “one of the best feats” he has ever seen.

“We worked harder. That was really all it was. In Game 1, we got out-worked. We thought we were the best team for a long time. We were number one in the regular season. Singapore played well, scouted us well, we made great adjustments throughout. We just played harder in those last three games,” Boone said.

Even with a game to spare, the Long Lions knew winning it in Game 4 last Sunday would be the ideal way to close the series out.

“It’s championship time. We said from the beginning we were going to leave everything on the floor and we were gonna come away from this game as champions. We did that. It took a lot of hardwork but we did it,” Boone shared.

Character has defined this Hong Kong squad, and Game 4 couldn’t have emphasized that more. It was clear the Long Lions are more than a mere group of individuals. They play with synergy. They complement each other. They thrive in playing team basketball. And Boone himself would have felt guilty letting them down, in spite of the dire situation he was in.

“The character is great. They are the reason I came out to play these last two games. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be able to play,” Boone said.

“Just this team, this organization, they worked so hard in the short time that I’ve been here. I’ve been super impressed with how professional they have been and the work ethic that they had. I’ve seen a huge change with the work ethic that they had the last two months. I got here and I was worried, but they picked it up. From one to 13, 14, the whole coaching staff, everybody behind the scenes, everybody worked hard to get to this point.”

The Long Lions are ABL champions right in their inaugural season because of that.

With the remaining strength inside of his 6-foot-11 frame, Boone stood up from the floor, dragged himself to their locker room to have his right ankle wrapped up in huge ice bags, before exiting for the team bus.

After all the sacrifices made, the highs and lows experienced this season, and the passion shared among each other, there was only one thing left to do.

“These things, you really have to cherish it. I’ve been doing this for 11 years now. It’s only my second time being a league champion,” Boone said.