Over the next week, four teams – Saigon Heat, Hong Kong Eastern, NS Matrix Malaysia, and
Singapore Slingers – will be competing for the title of champions of the 2023 ABL Invitational.
After fighting their way through the four circuits in the first two months of the year and this
Playoffs circuit in Ho Chi Minh city, the last team standing, whoever it maybe, can proudly say
they left it all on the court among the best clubs.
Before we dive deep into that intense action, let’s take a quick look at the previous champions
in ABL competitions, going all the way back to the inaugural ABL season in 2009.
The inaugural season of the ASEAN Basketball League featured six teams from six different
countries, and it was the Filipino club, Philippines Patriots, that emerged as champions to claim
that first title.
The Patriots finished the regular season with a 12-3 record before sweeping through the
Playoffs. They handily took care of the KL Dragons in the Semi-Finals, 2-0, and proceeded to
sweep the Indonesia Warriors in the Finals, 3-0, as well.
Jason Dixon and Gabe Freeman were the two stars for the Patriots as both averaged double-
doubles in their undefeated Playoffs run. It was also a perfect finish for Robert Wainwright,
who scored the first-ever points in the ABL and ended up with the title at the end of the season.
The Patriots made a second consecutive trip to the Finals in the following season of the ABL but
would not be able to hoist the trophy for a second straight time. Instead, it was the new team
Chang Thai Slammers from Thailand who dethroned the reigning champions.
The Slammers had their struggles, finishing the regular season with an 11-4 record and having
to battle down to the wire against the Singapore Slingers in the Semi-Finals. After beating the
Slingers in a do-or-die Game 3, the Slammers overcame the odds and swept the Patriots in the
Finals to celebrate the title in the Philippines.
Jason Dixon made the move to playing with the Slammers that season and proved himself a
winner as he took his new team straight to the title. This season provided the perfect
opportunity for local player stars like Piyapong Piroon and Attaporn Lertmalaiporn to put their
skills on display and end up with the trophy as well.
The Indonesia Warriors were hungry. They played in the ABL for three seasons and even though
they reached the Finals in their inaugural season, they were still unable to claim a title. In 2012,
they finally did.
After a rocky start that saw them win only 4 of their first 10 games, the Warriors concluded the
regular season with a 5-game win streak to make the playoffs. They swept the Philippines
Patriots in the Semi-Finals and complete the double-kill against Filipino clubs by beating the
mighty San Miguel Beermen, 2-1, despite losing the first game.
The Warriors were loaded with one of the best lineups in ABL history led by Steven Thomas,
Evan Brock, Larry Smith, Stanley Pringle, and Mario Wuysang.
The San Miguel Beermen made it their mission to get revenge after losing in the Finals the
previous season and the other ABL teams felt their wrath in 2013. After losing 3 of their first 6
games, the Beermen went undefeated through the rest of the season with a 16-game win
streak – the longest ever in the history of the competition.
The SportsRev Thailand Slammers were able to put an end to that streak by upsetting the
contenders in the first Semi-Finals game of the Playoffs, but the result was inevitable. The
Beermen won the next 6 games, including the three Finals games against the Indonesia
Warriors to claim their title.
There was just no stopping a lineup that features Asi Taulava, Chris Banchero, Brian Williams,
Leo Avenido, and Justin Williams.
The 2014 season was a roller coaster of a season. Hitech Bangkok City started off with 7 straight
wins at home before finishing with a 14-6 record, but when in the Playoffs, they blasted
through both the Singapore Slingers and KL Dragons without a single loss.
The successful run was carried by their stellar defense, anchored by Steven Thomas and Chris
Charles, while supported by the clutch performances of Jerick Canada and Patrick Cabahug.
Also, not to be overlooked was the contribution of Wuttipong Dasom who stepped up as a
rising star in Thailand.
The KL Dragons and Singapore Slingers were two of the founding teams of the ABL and it took
them six seasons to finally make it to the Finals, where they faced each other. Both teams had
marvelous regular seasons with records of 16-4. The Slingers started the season with a 9-game
win streak and the Dragons finished the regular season with a 7-game win streak.
The Finals series between the two teams ended up being epic as it went the length of five
games before the Dragons ended up as the victors.
It was a memorable season for the Dragons as they witnessed the brilliance of Jason Brickman
as he commanded an elite offensive squad that included Matthew Wright, Reggie Johnson,
Calvin Godfrey, and Loh Shee Fai.
Sometimes, all it takes is one try. The 2016-17 season in the ABL introduced two new teams and
one of them was able to immediately dominate in their rookie season, Hong Kong Eastern.
The Hong Kong club quickly stapled themselves as an elite team in the league, going on a 10-
game win streak midway through the season. It was not too surprising to see them lift the
trophy at the end of the season as they took care of the Singapore Slingers in the Finals, 3-1.
Marcus Elliott had a phenomenal rookie season with Hong Kong Eastern and he was able to
combine forces with Heritage Players Tyler Lamb and Steven Guinchard as well as star local
players Lee Ki, Chan Siu Wing, and Fong Shing Yee to success.
The legacy of Filipino clubs in the ABL is one of legends and San Miguel Alab Pilipinas were
aiming to put their name in the record books after joining the ABL the season prior. That
mission was accomplished in 2017-18 as they willed their way to a season to remember.
Alab Pilipinas had a rocky start, losing their first three games of the season, but eventually got
into their groove with two straight 8-game winning streaks that spanned through to the Finals.
The clash in the Finals was an epic one with Mono Vampire Basketball Club, but in the end, it
was Alab Pilipinas that gave the Philippines bragging rights to having a third ABL title in the
country. The Import Players were strong for Alab Pilipinas as they had Renaldo Balkman and PJ
Ramos, but the likes of Ray Parks Jr., Lawrence Domingo, Caelan Tiongson, Ethan Alvano, Josh
Urbiztondo, and Brandon Rosser certainly made them one of the best teams ever in the ABL.
After a horrendous inaugural season in 2017-18, the CLS Knights came back determined to
improve. And they sure did get better, going all the way to win the title – making it the second
ABL title won by an Indonesian club.
The Knights looked far from a championship team to start the season, winning only 2 of their
first 9 games, but with changes and time, they got it together. Riding on the wave of a frantic
home crowd, the Knights barged all the way to face the Singapore Slingers in the Finals. The
series went the distance yet again, before the Knights were able to disappoint the Slingers on
their homecourt in a 3-2 series win.
Maxie Esho shone brighter than anyone else for the CLS Knights and the late addition of Doug
Herring only made the team better as the season progressed. With the likes of Brandon Jawato,
Wong Wei Long, and Sandy Kuriniawan rounding up the lineup, the CLS Knights were able to
come out on top at the season’s end.