The feeling must have been so familiar for Wong Wei Long. Dying seconds of the crucial contest. The ball game still on the line. His coach draws up a play and tasks him to take the big shot.
The arena surely felt familiar. He has connected with big shots here before. It was the 26th of March 2016 in this very same place where he hit a buzzer beater for the ages to keep his team alive and force a Game 5 in the Finals.
With 58 seconds remaining, score tied, Wei Long set a screen on the baseline and popped out to the three-point area. He received a perfect pass that landed squarely in his hands, giving him ample time to launch a shot as his defender was too slow to close out.
Wei Long, for the longest time, has been front and center in the development of basketball in Singapore. He’s the country’s best scorer and their ambassador. He was respected, even loved by the community, for what he stood for, for what he has done for them and their basketball program throughout the years. Big shots from Wong Wei Long were often followed by jubilation here. A wild celebration that gave the player goosebumps and often left him speechless.
But when he made this shot at the OCBC Arena, there was barely any sound.
It was met largely with resigned silence, exasperation even from the majority of the crowd, save for his bench and the few people behind them.
Instead of Singapore’s white and red, Wei Long was wearing an unfamiliar purple.
Instead of the Slingers, he took the lead for the BTN CLS Knights Indonesia.
Singapore would still have its chances to get back into the ball game but they ultimately fell short. And the entire basketball community in the country will forever have the memory of their former superstar sinking the biggest basket against their team in ABL history.
All the good times, all the success, all the championship runs with Wei Long, forever replaced; singed into their collective memory is a vision of him winning a championship without them, reaching their ultimate goal with someone else.
Few could have foreseen it could happen. Stars like Wei Long don’t just depart from a team they helped build. Franchise cornerstones like Wei Long don’t just suddenly play somewhere else.
After he fell out of the lineup from the Slingers, Wei Long bounced around the region in an effort to keep his basketball career going. A rule change in the ABL that abolished Heritage Imports and relaxed the rules on locals opened a door for Wei Long to get back into the league. As his mother was born in Indonesia, it allowed him to play as a local for the Knights.
Throughout his separation with the Slingers, Wei Long must have thought of this moment a thousand times. Game on the line. Ball in his hands. Knights versus Slingers. He yearned for his moment against his old team. He craved the opportunity to show his former squad that he has already moved on from them.
He finally got it on the grandest stage with a shot that took the ABL title away from the Slingers’ grasp for the third time in four years. The last time they lost, Wei Long was still on their side. His eyes, like his teammates, red with tears as they watched Hong Kong Eastern celebrate winning the title on their home floor in 2017.
Wei Long’s eyes were dry as he hugged his new teammates after the final buzzer while for former teammates, his brothers, such as Ng Hanbin were crumpled on the floor pondering what could have been if their MVP stayed.
“It was emotional for me. My mom, my dad, my wife, my brother, my sister-in-law, they are all here, supporting me. There were flashbacks for me. From the time I played for Singapore they already supported me,” said Wei Long after the match. “My mom and my wife were coming in and out of Singapore, going to Indonesia to support me for the entire season. I was so excited when I hit that shot because I know that the championship is gonna be for us.”
Wei Long struggled throughout the series. He missed the first game due to an eye injury he suffered in their semifinal series against Mono Vampire. He had 3 points in Game 2, 5 points in Game 3, and only 1 point in Game 4.
Wei Long had another sub-par performance in Game 5 with only 6 points but no one would remember how poorly he shot in the series because he made it count when it mattered the most.
“Douglas (Herring) gave me the shot. We ran through the set play, we ran through the play the coach wanted to do. And although I didn’t play a very good finals, when the coach called for me I’m always ready for the last second shots,” Wei Long said.
Winning the ABL title gave Wei Long a chance to take a step back as he recalled his journey to the top of the hill.
“I was very excited when I got the call from the owner seven months ago and here I am making this shot in the finals, it means a lot for me. Winning this championship is amazing,” Wei Long exclaimed.
People always say that the third time’s a charm. In this series though, the charm was for one not the many. The charm was for Wei Long and not the Slingers. He breaks the spell. He wins his first ABL title, an accomplishment he knew was long written in the stars. For the Slingers, the arduous road to the elusive championship stretches on for at least one more season.
“It means a lot to me as a player, like at home they are so supportive every game,” Wei Long said about the fans in Surabaya. “They sing, they chant, they shout my name whenever I hit a three-point shot so when I make that shot, this means a lot to them. It was huge for me and for the whole organization.”
Wei Long went on calling the Indonesian crowd “the most amazing” he’s ever met. Words that were daggers to hearts of the Singaporean fans who have supported him for so long, perhaps hurting more than that dagger of a three that he buried in Game 5.
But that’s the nature of the sports. There are no permanent teammates, no permanent relationships. Chances to win titles are often fleeting in team sports. You have to grab them when you can, while you still can. Loyalties can cease to exist but championships are forever.
“Throughout my life and this is an unforgettable moment,” Wei Long closed. “Three trips to the ABL Finals, I finally won a championship.”