Perfect Harmony: Team Basketball Has Defined the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions

A simple glance at the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions’ ABL championship-winning roster will tell you: this team is no joke.

They’ve got Josh Boone, an NBA veteran, Marcus Elliott, a top-level guard who has starred in South American basketball, a seasoned ABL Heritage import in Tyler Lamb, and some of the finest local players in Lee Ki, Fong Shing Yee, and Chan Siu Wing, who have all represented their country in the Asian level.

The Long Lions are stacked; they were poised to win a ton of games from the start by just overwhelming opponents with talent. But making the system work harmoniously is another thing, and that chemistry has lifted Hong Kong to a whole different level.

“We have guys like Marcus and Josh, anybody on this team can easily want the ball, but this team is really close and I think that’s what helps us get over the hump,” Lamb said after the Long Lions captured the ABL title last Sunday.

Hong Kong edged out the Singapore Slingers, 82-80 in a pulsating double-overtime battle. In that game, the selflessness of each of the Long Lions was highlighted.

“We know who to feed when they’re hot, we know who to go to. Marcus has been that guy the whole season, so he is definitely our honcho. But when I’m hot, he gives me the ball, when Josh is hot they give him the ball, when Ga is hot, they give him the ball. Nobody on our team has egos. That is a big thing for us since Day 1. Playing without egos and playing together has carried us throughout the season,” Lamb shared.

Elliott paced the squad with 26 points, 3 rebounds, and 8 assists en route to winning the Finals MVP award; Lamb had 21 points, while Boone finished with 13 points and 16 boards. All three had their moments in the grueling fourth quarter and overtime periods.

Elliott helped the team erase a fourth quarter deficit by knocking down three triples; in the first overtime, it was Lamb who scored four of the team’s six points to keep them alive. In the second extension, all three scored a field goal to push the Long Lions to victory.

Most of the Long Lions including all of their Big 3 members broke down in tears during the championship celebration. They all knew how difficult it exactly was to succeed.

Boone himself wasn’t even supposed to be in Singapore to let a right ankle injury heal. But Boone owed it to the team’s support which made him feel he had to reciprocate how they have taken good care of him.

“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 shared.

“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.”

Elliott has clutch genes and plays fearlessly on the floor. But in a heartfelt post-game interview, Elliott, still overcome with emotion, opened up sincerely about how was forced to skip the funerals of two loved ones — his grandfather and a friend — as part of his job as a professional athlete.

“I love this game. I sacrificed so much for this game. I played for everything. I put it on the line. And that’s just how it is,” Elliott shared.

“It’s the sacrifices you make. I’m sure there are plenty of sacrifices everybody’s made. Not just me, not just players but the entire organization.”

Then there was Fong Shing Yee, once again providing the dirty work expected of him. He finished with 9 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 steals, even taking home ABL Player of the Game honors. Lee and Chan both chipped in offensive production too.

“I think the only thing that kept us going was how close we are as a group. Being able to battle through adversity, staying together, and keeping our energy up through the whole game,” Lamb said after Game 4.

“We know Singapore is a tough team, they never back down, they never go away until the last second. They battle until the end. We just stuck together, through the tough times and the good times, and we were able to pull it out, win two big games in the road. This feels amazing.”

One fitting word to associate with the Long Lions is synergy. The team is greater than the sum of its parts. They don’t play with personal egos. They could care less about individual awards or statistics. They have each other’s backs. When somebody goes down, another steps up. When somebody commits a mistake, another picks him up and makes him stronger.

“That makes everything much easier and smoother. Because you are going to deal with tough times in games no matter how good you are,” Lamb said of the Long Lions’ relationship.

“Like I said, character is a big thing with our team, and our team has great character from the locals all the way to the imports. We are a close-knit group. That lets us get over the hump and win games like this, a tough double-overtime game.”

Of course, there to steady the ship is newly-crowned ABL Coach of the Year Edu Torres, a veteran tactician for two decades now. Torres is so accustomed to the intricacies of the sport that he even predicted Lamb making the game-winner for the Long Lions.

“Coach Edu has been telling me all week that I will be hitting the game-winner. He sees me hitting the game-winning shot. That’s the only thing going through my mind, and coach was right, man, it was a game-winning shot that just rimmed out,” Lamb said.

Lamb had a golden opportunity to seal the win in regulation after an offensive rebound with about four seconds remaining, but his one-hander from point-blank just rattled out.

“But my teammates were right there to pick me up. They told me not to worry about it. We stuck together, we regrouped, we went through two tough overtimes and we were able to pull out a win against this very good Singapore team,” Lamb added.

Lamb went on to score a fastbreak basket which made it 82-78 for the Long Lions at that point. The Slingers never caught up after that, and the Long Lions went on to celebrate inside the OCBC Arena.

“It just feels great. Marcus put me in a great position to score. It wss a two on one, and our team just never gives up. We just keep fighting. When your team fights like that, you have to do good things,” he said.

Call it a prophecy from Torres. Call it Hong Kong’s ability to deliver in the most crucial moments in the grandest of stages. Or better yet, call it the reward for buying into the system from the start.

Team basketball has defined the Long Lions. They didn’t just top the ABL season because of that, but they’ve also raised the standard higher.