Hoopla: Basketball is catching on

Sports in Mongolia have long been dominated by three activities closely related to the country’s traditions: wrestling, archery and horse racing. However, as the country began to develop economically, there was an influx of Western culture, including sports. Today, a number of sports are becoming more popular among Mongolians, especially in urban areas. One that is especially catching on is basketball.


This new popularity can be explained by three factors. The first is that, as an indoor sport, it can be played throughout the year, including during the winter. Second, there are a good number of Mongolians living in the US; consequently, the influence of American culture in Mongolia has been notable in the last decade, including in basketball. Third, the participation of the “Dream Team” in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona – today considered the best team ever assembled – coincided with Mongolia’s transition to a free market economy. This opened the door for a greater influx of basketball devotees. “The uphill battle of selling the sport to Mongolians has already been overcome,” Alan Walls, the American head coach of the Mongolian national basketball team, told OBG.


There are two basketball associations in Mongolia. The Mongolian Basketball Association (MBA), established more than half a century ago, is the only official association in the country recognised by both the government and FIBA, the international basketball federation. The association is charged with developing and promoting Mongolian basketball over the long term.

It also has a clear short-term objective: to qualify both the men’s and women’s teams for the first time for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships. To help develop Mongolian basketball on the road to achieving this, the association hired Walls in October 2013 as head coach of the national teams. Walls is a longtime college coach from Hawaii with experience coaching on the college and professional levels throughout the US and internationally. “Mongolian basketball has great potential, especially given the physical strength of the players and their increasing ability and skills,” he told OBG.

Although Mongolia has never qualified for the FIBA Asia Championships, there is a great opportunity to do so this time round. Aside from the physical prowess and talent that Mongolian basketball players currently have, there is now proper coaching, planning, organisation and structure, all of which have been put in place in order to achieve this goal.

The other association, the Mongolian National Basketball Association, is currently organising the Sprite Super League, the country’s only professional basketball league, running for the last two years. Prior to that, the league was organised and managed by the MBA, but due to several challenges related to administration, it became a separate entity in 2012. Thus far, the championship is not recognised by either the MBA or FIBA. The second Sprite Super League season ended in Mongolia in March 2014, with the finalists being SBL XacBank and the Hawks. In a seven-game playoff final, SBL XacBank won the championship 4-0.

International Participations

Foreign players have been taking part in the Mongolian basketball scene since 1992, when the country first started receiving Russian players. Today, there are players from Nigeria, Puerto Rico, the continental US and other countries. The purpose of foreign participation has always been to increase the level of play and the level of entertainment for fans. Mongolia allows three foreigners on each team, with the stipulation that only two of them play at any given time.

Impact On Business

The growth of sports has had an effect not only on the general public but also on business. A number of companies have become sponsors of teams playing in the Sprite Super League, seeing an opportunity to support new cultural trends as well as to promote their business among fans.

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Cover of The Report: Mongolia 2014

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This article is from the The Guide. chapter of The Report: Mongolia 2014. Explore other chapters from this report.