Marcus Elliott must have pictured it a thousand times in his head. Making his return to the Southorn Stadium to a great ovation from what surely would be an appreciative Hong Kong crowd. Fans of Hong Kong Eastern knew that Elliott would have stayed with them if it was an option. However, things did not go that route. A new coaching staff wanted a fresh start and Elliott was not a part of the future they were planning to build.
The 2016-17 ABL Season World Import – MVP did not have to wait long to land with a new team as the Singapore Slingers welcomed him with open arms. Singapore hopes that his pairing with the reigning World Import – MVP Xavier Alexander would be enough to finally secure the team’s first-ever ABL Championship after falling short in their first three trips to the Finals.
There were no cheers for Elliott at the Southorn Stadium during his first-ever trip back. No homemade placards welcoming him back to his former home. What greeted him was silence as the ABL and Hong Kong Eastern wanted to take the necessary precautions to keep the public safe from the 2019 novel coronavirus.
“I wish it would have happened differently,” Elliott said. “I would have wanted the fans to be here. It would have been a big moment for both teams and for the league as well but it was not meant to be.”
The roar of the crowd would have helped Elliott prepare himself psychologically for the game. Now he’s left wondering how they would have welcomed him back. With the two teams on different groups, this would be the only time for the Slingers to play in Hong Kong unless the two are matched up come playoff time.
The silence in the arena only stressed Elliott’s personal feelings about his return. With no noise to drown it out, he had to confront it head-on.
“It felt weird this morning in shoot-around but I really felt it when they were calling the starting lineup,” Elliott said. “I was looking down at the other end and I was seeing the brothers that I won championships with, one in a local league and one in the ABL. I almost got a little emotional. I had to hold it in. But I’m just thankful. I thank God for my time here. I know that life is about change.”
There certainly was a lot to be thankful for in Elliott’s stint with the Hong Kong Eastern. They won the ABL title in their maiden year in the league besting Singapore 3-1 in the Finals. And although they could not replicate this success, Hong Kong Eastern still had a couple of respectable semifinal appearances in the next two years.
The reality of basketball is that permanence is a myth. And Singapore is a team that knows all too well the irony in this reality with a former Slinger in Wong Wei Long sinking the dagger in Game 5 of the Finals last season to take the crown to Indonesia.
Even if Elliott was a huge part of the team as the only World Import that lasted in the first three seasons of Hong Kong Eastern, his stint had to come to an end, like everything else in basketball.
Elliott ran to center-court to greet his former teammates upon the referee’s instructions to shake hands but it was all business after that. He had a job to do and it mandated for him to do everything he can to defeat the team he considered family.
“I didn’t talk to them too much to them before this game because they are now the enemy. It was my job to beat them now,” Elliott explained. “But after the game, it was back to normal.”
As a real student of the game, Elliott watches as many ABL games as he can, often catching his old teammates’ contests. He’d tell Steve Guinchard he had a good game. He’d implore Lee Ki to stay confident even if the shots have not been falling. He’d message Chan Siu Wing to ask how he’s doing after suffering an injury.
“We stay in contact,” he said. “It’s beyond basketball with these guys because I stayed here for three years. They were my brothers.”
Although Elliott may not have gotten the reaction he wanted from Hong Kong Eastern’s fans, it should warm the heart that his presence was very much welcome for his old teammates.
“I’m so happy to see him again,” Lee said. “He looked good, still a champion. We’ve built a good relationship in his three years here. We got an ABL championship and a local championship and many memories in between. It was just really good to see him. He’s good with his new team. I wish he’s happy there. I just hope he keeps playing basketball because I love watching him play.”
While it may be true that a team’s composition will never be permanent, what endures with the members of the squad are the memories they built together. All those hours of practice, the flights, the waiting at different airports all over the region. All the tough losses and glorious wins. All the momentum shifts and epic plays.
Elliott drives inside…kicks it out to Lee Ki…who takes the three…it’s good!!!!
Those are the things that last even as Elliott now wears red beside Lee’s white.
“It was cool to see him again. Unfortunately for us, he did a good job,” Guinchard said about Elliott who finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists in the Singapore win. He took over in the end game and made the biggest shots for the Slingers like how he did it inside the Southorn Stadium in the three years prior.
It would be the Hong Kong Eastern wingman who would put Elliott’s real value to a team in the proper perspective.
“He’s not just a good player,” he said. “He’s also a great guy. He’s a role model. Everything he does, he does with passion and I try to live my life the way he’s living his.”
Whatever happens to Hong Kong Eastern’s foray in basketball, Elliott will always be a part of it as he was one of the handful of players who laid the foundation for the squad. Now it’s time for Elliott to do this again for another franchise. And this is what he’s playing for right now. To be remembered not just a Hong Kong Eastern great but an ABL great and he knows the direct path to being that is to help the Singapore Slingers get over the hump and finally win the title that has eluded them since the league began.