After Lee Sang-min, who reigned as the best star in Korean basketball, retired, there was a time when there was a high voice of concern about the birth of a new star. The worry was nothing more than a fiasco. There was a star who far exceeded Lee Sang-min’s record of the most votes in all-star fan voting, which seemed to be unbreakable, and this season, even a “world star” who is receiving global attention appeared. This is a summary of the genealogy of handsome or popular stars who have led the KBL box office success.
※We would like to inform you that this article was published in the February issue of Jumpball, a basketball magazine.
There was Lee Sang-min before Huh Woong
KCC moved to Busan and became a wasteland, but Jeonju was truly the “mecca of basketball” before. KCC is a team that performed car parades after winning the championship game in Jeonju and also showed street cheering for spectators who could not enter the gym before the championship game.
Lee Sang-min was the player who led KCC to a popular national team. During the nine seasons from 2001-2002 when All Star fan voting was introduced to Korea to 2009-2010 when he retired, Lee never missed the most votes. He was a bench member with only 3.8 points for 15 minutes and 48 seconds on average during the retirement season, but he still boasted of his popularity by receiving 53,891 votes (49 percent of the 109,673 votes) or half of the 109,673 votes cast by his fans.
Lee Sang-min was the most popular star produced by Korean basketball. When he was a student at Yonsei University, the news of his knee injury was covered by the 9 o’clock news, not sports news, and when KCC failed to keep Lee Sang-min in the process of recruiting FA Seo Jang-hoon, his fans visited the headquarters to protest. The press conference announcing his retirement was also crowded with fans who shed tears, saying, “Oppa, you said you will play for another year!” and “Please send my brother another team!”
He was not just a popular player. He was a superstar with all his skills. Lee was named MVP of the regular league for the first time in two consecutive seasons since the launch of the KBL, and posted a total of 3,583 assists. This is the second highest record after Joo Hui-jeong (5381 assists). In the semifinal match against the Philippines at the 2002 Busan Asian Games, he hit a dramatic buzzer beater, contributing to the gold medal. Lee moved to Samsung in Seoul after his prime, but at the age of 34, he displayed his robust performance by scoring a new personal record (35 points).
Yonsei University in the 1990s is also a must-have for Lee Sang-min. Handsome and good basketball players including Lee Sang-min, Moon Kyung-eun, Woo Ji-won, and Kim Hoon drove around the “oppa unit,” and there was even a car dedicated to post offices carrying fan letters sent to Yonsei University’s basketball team. Seo Jang-hoon recalled in an interview with Jumpball when he was an active player, “500 to 600 fans came to my accommodation every day, and more than 1,000 fan letters came to my room.”
While he is incomparable to Lee Sang-min in the “new world,” Woo Ji-won is considered the first among the “human world.” Woo, who served as a model for the cover of the first issue of the jump ball with Jeon Hee-chul, was called the “crown of the court” when he was a student at Yonsei University for his good looks. Not only was Woo ranked third (1,116) in the KBL’s three-point shooting, but he also saw a 40.1 percent success rate. The overall success rate of free throws was 86.3 percent.
Although he overcame his arm problems in a car accident he suffered in his childhood with constant efforts, Woo Ji-won always had a tag that followed him. He was evaluated as a “half player who only throws shots and does not do bad things.” He was receiving the highest salary in the team, but in the early part of the 2006-2007 season, when he played more games as a bench member, he visited Yoo Jae-hak, then head coach of Hyundai Mobis, and expressed his intention to retire.
It was a watershed moment in Woo’s basketball career. Woo woke up to bad things after hearing coach Yoo Jae-hak’s advice, “You need to lower yourself and think about what role your team needs.” “After the meeting with the coach, I looked at how many rebounds he had after the first half,” a Hyundai Mobis official recalled.
With a change in style, Woo’s nickname changed from Prince Hwang to Madangsoe, and Hyundai Mobis won the 2006-2007 season in a unified manner. That’s how manager Yoo Jae-hak, Woo Ji-won, and Yang Dong-geun tasted their first professional wins.
“Post Lee Sangmin” era
Lee Sang-min, who boasts the best ticket power, left, but KCC continued to be a popular national team by steadily supplying unique stars. Kang Byung-hyun, who gave KCC its “second heyday” along with Ha Seung-jin and Jeon Tae-pung, was the first star to be selected when discussing “post Lee Sang-min.” Kang Byung-hyun, who had many fans since he was a student at Chung-Ang University with his good looks, suffered from growth for a while after his debut at Incheon Electroland (currently Daegu Korea Gas Corporation), but his skills have been in full swing since he was traded to KCC.
Choi Hee-am, the then head coach of E-Land, who sent Kang Byung-hyun and recruited Seo Jang-hoon, drew attention by leaving a comment saying, “I sent a bill and received cash,” but when I opened the lid, Kang Byung-hyun was a new book, not a bill. Unlike E-Land, which played the No. 1 role that did not fit the composition of the player, he showed his firepower without regret when he met coach Huh Jae, who guaranteed autonomy in the attack.
Along with teammates Ha Seung-jin and Kim Min-soo (then SK), he was once mentioned as a strong candidate for the Rookie of the Year award. Jeonju fans cheered for the appearance of a star who succeeded Lee Sang-min, and fans held unique placards such as “Kang Bang over Flowers (Kang Byung-hyun’s nickname),” a parody of the popular drama “Boys Over Flowers,” and “Honey Mulgang Bang.”
Kim Sun-hyung is also a must. Prior to the opening of the 2011-2012 season, Oh Se-geun, the star of the “Oh Se-geun Draft,” dominated the spotlight, but it did not take long for Kim to catch the attention of KBL fans. Kim Sun-hyung presented a ray of hope to SK, which was walking in a dark age, by displaying splendid basketball such as Eurostep, reverse layup shots, and rapid attack development.
He was not only good at basketball. With his dancing and singing skills, he was responsible for various special performances at the 2011-2012 All-Star Game. Kim Sun-hyung was also the winner of the inaugural Popularity Award, which KBL established during the 2011-2012 season. Kim Sun-hyung led SK to its first regular league victory in the 2012-2013 season, and based on this, he was named the most voted by all-star fans.
Kim Jong-kyu, who was dubbed “Changwon Idol” along with Kim Si-rae in his early debut days, is also a star. Kim Jong-kyu has been loved by loyal LG fans as he is a big man who plays fastball.
Upon joining the club, Kim won the Rookie of the Year award by beating Kim Min-gu by winning his first regular league title at LG, and also won the Popularity Award in the 2016-2017 season. He also performed Tiki-taka with Hyun Joo-yeop on KBS2’s entertainment program “President’s Ear Is Donkey’s Ear,” becoming the star of the Popularity Award in the 2018-2019 season. Kim Jong-gyu was the first player to win the Popularity Award twice or more.
The ‘Gamsim Shin-ki’ of old memories has changed the club’s history
“You’re so perfect when you’re a rookie?” In 2004, I was shocked when I saw a boy band on TV. The five-member band was a complete idol group with basic visuals, excellent singing and dancing skills. It was like a group with the know-how of SM Entertainment, which produced numerous idols such as H.O.T. and SHINHWA.
An Internet reporter who was born in 2002 who recently finished his Jumpball activities said, “I’ve never seen five of them perform. I’ve only heard of them.” TVXQ was a perfect group since their debut, and just as they dominated the music industry for a long time, there was a group that shocked the basketball world. It is now a memory.
The program dates back to 2007. Anyang Jeonggwanjang (then KT&G) selected Yang Hee-jong as the third pick in the 2007 draft. Yang Hee-jong quickly became a star of Anyang by showing off his good looks and strong backbone. U-Know Yunho, who was close with Yang, visited Anyang Gymnasium to watch the game, drawing keen attention (the leader of TVXQ was U-Know Yunho, and the captain of Jeonggwanjang was Yang Hee-jong).
Kim Tae-sul joined the organization after Yang Hee-jong. He once had high expectations as a promising player to lead the future of SK, but he headed to Anyang in 2008-2009 when he was traded for Joo Hui-jeong, the MVP of the regular league. After the 2008-2009 season, the organization planned to have Yang Hee-jong (commercial officer) and Kim Tae-sul (social service worker) serve in the military at the same time.
It was determined that it would be too much to seek the presidency with all of their strength, and thus decided to compete with promising players who will join them during their service in the season after their discharge. Players who joined the team in the meantime were Park Chan-hee and Lee Jung-hyun, who were ranked first and second in the 2010 and Oh Se-geun, who was ranked first in the 2011 draft. All five of them had outstanding skills and personality, and the team name KGC Ginseng Corporation coined the nickname “Gamshinki.”
The 2011-2012 season, which marked the first and last season of the first season, was a perfect one. At that time, he ranked second (36 wins and 18 losses) in the regular season, the highest in his team’s history, and caused a stir by beating Wonju DB (Dongbu at the time), which was considered the “impregnable” team, with four wins and two losses in the championship game. The average attendance of 3,763 recorded in the regular season is also still the highest ever recorded in a team. Through successful trades with rookies such as Kang Byeong-hyun, Moon Sung-gon, Byun Jun-hyeong and Park Ji-hoon, Chung established the 2nd and 3rd generation of the team to achieve a total of four championships.
Your brother must be so handsome
Some brothers shook the KBL’s popularity scene. They are Heo Woong (KCC) and Heo Hoon (KT), both of whom are enjoying their heyday. They were the sons of “basketball president” Heo Jae from their school days, and were recognized for their skills after their professional debut. They were all selected to make the national team, and Heo Hoon was even honored as MVP of the 2019-2020 season. His father Heo Jae and brother Heo Woong failed to win the title, either.
Heo Woong is so popular. His popularity soared in March 2021 when he appeared on MBC’s popular entertainment program What Are You Doing When You Play? but he was actually one of the most fandom players in the KBL. From the 2015-2016 season, his second year after his debut, to the 2016-2017 season, he received the most votes from all-star fans, and he already won the Popularity Award in the 2019-2020 season before the airing of What Are You Doing When You Play.
Starting with the 2019-2020 season, Heo Woong won the popularity award for four consecutive seasons until last season, and has never missed the most votes for All-Star fan voting from the 2021-2022 season. In the 2021-2022 season, he won 163,850 votes, easily surpassing Lee Sang-min (2002-2003 season, 120,354 votes), who was likely to remain an immortal record.
Prior to these, Lee Seung-joon and Lee Dong-joon were brothers who were called “visual geniuses.” Born to an American father and a Korean mother, Lee Seung-joon and Lee Dong-joon were western-looking and over 200 centimeters tall, attracting many fans.
In particular, when Lee Seung-joon was playing for Samsung, women’s sports announcers were waiting in line to take pictures with him after the game. The brothers Lee Seung-joon and Lee Dong-joon, who retired side by side after the 2015-2016 season when they played for SK, later signed an exclusive contract with Ha-ha’s agency and once actively engaged as broadcasters.
Lee, who continued his career as a 3×3 player and coach of Chosun University, has continued his relationship with basketball as a skill trainer. Lee Dong-joon was also selected as a member of the 3×3 national team along with Lee. Perhaps it was because his rugged playing style reminded me of Kang Baek-ho, the main character of “Slam Dunk.” He also made headlines by saying that his son was named “Lee Baek-ho.”
The appearance of a true ‘world star’
After Woo Ji-won and Ham Ji-hoon, Hyundai Mobis became a “visual genius” after a long hiatus. Park Moo-bin, the second pick in the 2023 draft, is the main character. Park, who has been drawing attention as a next star with both skills and appearance since he was a student at Korea University, has been proving his value since his debut season. He is continuing his fierce competition with the LG Rookie of the Year award by not only revitalizing Hyundai Mobis with bold breakthrough and 3-point shooting but also showing off his assist ability.
Park’s star was also highlighted at the unveiling event of Louis Vuitton’s spring and summer 2024 men’s clothing collection held on April 12. He was invited to the stage along with actors Jang Ki-yong, Wi Ha-joon, singers Beenzino, Zion T, Code Kunst and The Boyz star, which is unusual for an athlete. 마카오카지노
An official from Hyundai Mobis said, “I got a call from the agency in a hurry two days before the event. Louis Vuitton knew that it was the All-Star break period and was able to attend the event thanks to the invitation. It was an honor for the club as well as a popular sports star.”
An official from Hyundai Mobis also said, “Since joining Park Moo-bin, the number of followers on the club’s YouTube and social media has risen significantly, and the number of fans in their 20s who visit their home stadiums wearing Park’s uniforms has also increased sharply. It is not easy to count specific figures due to on-site sales, but as there are significant changes felt by the club, we are constantly discussing marketing to continue in the offseason.”
Lee Kwan-hee is known as the “final king” when expanding her presence worldwide. Lee Kwan-hee, who used to be called “Gwanjino” because she looked like Beenzino, saw her popularity rise sharply after appearing on season 3 of “Solo Hell,” a popular Netflix entertainment show. Lee hoped to appear on season 2, but her appearance was postponed by a year due to the overlapping team’s training schedule.
“As far as I know, an acquaintance of Lee Kwan-hee was close to the program writer, so I applied for the program instead. The coach has a strict rule that says, ‘No one should miss the training of a team.’ As a result, Lee could not appear in season 2, and the schedule for season 3 was adjusted,” an LG official said.
Lee Kwan-hee, who was also popular with many women in “Solo Hell” (I envy her the most), has also exploded in her personal social media followers. As it is a popular program in Asian countries, Lee Kwan-hee has 860,000 social media followers as of the 7th. Considering that Heo Woong has 100,000 followers, which is considered the best star of KBL, it is no exaggeration to say that he has been reborn as a “world star.”
An LG official said, “Although the audience itself has not increased significantly, the club’s YouTube channel has received a lot of comments from foreigners. However, we need to be more careful about marketing related to ‘Solo Hell.’ We are discussing internally, but we are still cautious as we may get negative reactions from existing basketball fans if we do it prematurely.”