By Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene
On April 1, 2023, the Mongolian male basketball team repeated their historic success by winning the 3×3 Asian Cup, defeating the Australian team twice, the first time being in 2017. This remarkable achievement has sparked widespread celebration among Mongolians, as basketball holds a special place in the hearts of its people.
— Batbayar (@Baabarfc) April 2, 2023
In addition, Delgernyam Davaasambuu has emerged as a star, earning the title of MVP in this 2023 Asian Cup game.
— FIBA3x3 (@FIBA3x3) April 2, 2023
Breaking the mold: Success in team sports
Despite our small population, Mongolians have always had a passion for sports. Historically, we have excelled in individual sports such as wrestling, boxing, and shooting, earning medals at the Olympic Games. However, there has always been a perception that Mongolians were not as good at team sports. But in 2020, the Mongolian women’s basketball team made history at the Tokyo Olympics by participating in the 3×3 basketball game, a significant milestone for Mongolian basketball.
The success of the Mongolian basketball teams in 3×3 is undoubtedly a testament to their hard work, dedication, and passion for the sport. However, these alone may not be enough for the country to excel in team sports on a consistent basis. One of the crucial factors that enabled the recent success can be traced to sponsorship. The 3×3 games are sponsored by many organizations in Mongolia, and the main sponsor is Mongolia’s biggest national mining company Energy Resources. Often team sports require more funding than individual sports, thus Mongolia might have lacked consistent success. Although local companies and politicians always sponsored the teams, and have kept the game going domestically international games require bigger funding for training, equipment and travel costs.
Another factor is the effective management of the association. In the past, association rivalries hindered the teams’ progress, preventing them from participating in FIBA games for several years, between 2015 to 2022 (I have written about the wrestling association rivalry). However, since the associations have united under one, Mongolia has been able to compete in the pre-qualifying games for the Asian Cup 5×5 and secured spots for future qualifying games. A well-managed association allows the teams to access the resources they need to compete at the highest levels and ensures that the players are not hindered by political infighting or lack of support. This united front is necessary in ensuring that the players are supported and prepared for international competition.
I am thrilled to see our basketball players making waves internationally. The success of Mongolian basketball players is not limited to the national team. Mongolian Mike, or Enkhiin Od Sharavjamts, the son of respected basketball player Sharavjamts, is the first Mongolian to play in the NCAA and perhaps on his way to the NBA. Additionally, several Mongolians play in professional teams abroad, while other young players follow in Mongolian Mike’s footsteps. At only 20 years old, Enkhiin Od Sharavjamts is a young and upcoming player with a bright future ahead of him.
The evolution of basketball in Mongolia
Growing up in Mongolia, basketball was always a beloved pastime for many of us. Even now, as Mongolians living in Canada, we continue to play the sport with other Mongolians in our community. Although we may not be as skilled as the younger generation, our love for the game remains as strong as ever.
— Twit, twit (@TuulTwitte) June 13, 2014
Basketball was introduced to Mongolia during the 1940s when Russian and Chinese experts brought the game to the country. The Mongolian Basketball Association was established in 1962, but it wasn’t until 1994 that the association underwent a restructuring that adopted American basketball. In recent years, the skills of Mongolian basketball players have been elevated. I distinctly recall Couch Pak, a Korean who has trained several young Mongolian players to a high level of skills, who was respected greatly in the Mongolian basketball scene. Around 2010, we started bringing in USA legionnaires, who also have helped sharpen the players’ skills. We are really seeing the culmination of many years.
Success in basketball at international games, and individual successes in places like the USA, are important for many reasons. It helps to showcase the skills and abilities of Mongolian athletes on a global scale, inspiring young Mongolians to pursue their dreams and passions. It can also help to raise the profile of Mongolia as a nation, attracting interest from investors, tourists, and potential partners. It also challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about our country, showing that we are capable of more than a plain steppe or just being associated with the legacy of Chinggis Khan (although nothing is wrong with these associations, it is a single-sided image, I think). I look forward to the days I watch a Mongolian players play at NBA.
Bat-Erdene ZORIGTKHUU is a mining professional currently working at Gibraltar mine in BC, Canada. He holds a Master of Applied Science degree in Mining Engineering from the University of British Columbia, where his research focused on Mining Local Procurement (Local Content) in Mongolia. Before pursuing his academic career, Zorigtkhuu worked for the Mongolian Mining Corporation, in Mongolia.
Zorigtkhuu’s experience in the mining industry, combined with his academic research, has given him a unique perspective on mining local procurement and its impact on the industry. He continues to be passionate about finding sustainable solutions for the mining industry and improving the lives of local communities affected by mining operations.