By Tony Mariadass
Pictures by Azneal Ishak (Malay Mail)
Hailing from tiny state Perlis, Datuk Yeoh Choo Hock, a former physical education teacher rose to become a legend in the development of basketball not only in Malaysia but Asia.
People like Yeoh are a rare breed who are prepared to sacrifice their health for the game.
Starting off as a state basketball coach in 1970, Yeoh has been involved in the game for 45 years now.
In 2012, he suffered a stroke mainly because of the stress of his job and extensive travelling he had to do in the name of the game.
When he wanted to step down as the secretary-general of the FIBA Asia where he had held the post from 1998 after suffering the stroke on Chinese New Year day when he was back in his hometown in Kangar, the game still sought his expertise.
FIBA Asia president Sheikh Saud Ali- Al-Thani did not want to let a man with such great knowledge and contribution he has made to the game, to just step down.
He called for an emergency meeting of FIBA Asia and changed the constitution to pave the way to appoint Yeoh as the Emeritus secretary-general.
That is the kind of admiration, adulation and adoration Yeeo has garnered for his services.
Accolades for Yeoh are non-stop and everyone in basketball only has nice things to say about him.
Some of the accolades that has come his way include: “Some men are born great. Some men have greatness thrust upon them. And some men are the very definition of greatness. Yeoh belonged to this rare third group of men,” attributed S. Mageshwaran from India who wrote extensively on basketball in Asia.
“Yeoh was not born a legend. But for sure he grew into a legend with an approach that was driven by simplicity, but with unflinching focus and dedication with a touch of spirituality underlining his entire life,” said Sheikh Saud at the appreciation gala dinner for Yeoh in 2012.
Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) long time secretary-general and now assistant secretary said: “Yeoh is a very hard working person… full of ideas, full of energy. He has devoted his whole life for basketball. The biggest contribution he made to basketball was that he really worked hard at popularising basketball among the various ethnic communities in Malaysias when he ran the non-Chinese basketball tournaments.
“He initiated the Basketball for Peace movement, which is quite extraordinary, because I don’t think any sport organisation has done that.”
Indeed that was Yeoh and he readily admits that basketball is his way of life.
“My life has been only basketball. I can’t imagine leading a life without basketball,” said Yeoh who turns 71 on Dec 20.
“Basketball has been my religion. Basketball has been my God. I made some wonderful friends through basketball.”
Yeoh is still the modest man he is known for despite his vast contribution and achievements from the game.
Yeoh’s journey with basketball began in 1970 when he became the head coach of Perlis Basketball Association, a position he held till 1975. He also became the Advisor of Perlis Basketball Association in the year 1980 and remains so till date.
He was the national coach from 1975 to 1989 and moved to administration of the game when he became the deputy secretary-general of Malaysia Basketball Amateur Association of Malaysia (MABA) in 1984 and then became the secretary-general from year 1990 to 2008. In 2008, Yeoh was elected as a vice president of MABA for a four-year term.
Yeoh has been one of the greatest contributors of basketball in Malaysia - the 12-storeyed Malaysian Amateur Basketball Association (MABA) building – is a standing testimony.
MABA House which took shape in May 1971 saw Yeoh carry on the creation and dream of a resourceful man and who had become president of MABA six years earlier, the late Tan Sri Khaw Khai Boh who was then the Minister of Housing and Development.
Together with the likes of Datuk Lee San Choon and Datuk Chan Ah Chye, Yeoh took MABA further through and expansion phase with the building of the Basketball Stadium and carpark when he was appointed the build committee chairman.
Yeoh raised the money for the building through a lottery draw and also hosting China to a first basketball friendly in Malaysia after diplomatic ties was established in 1974, where a total RM10 million was raised for the project.
The perseverance, persistence, panache and a penchant for hard work, has certainly made Yeoh not only a mark in Malaysia but synonym for basketball in Asia and the world of basketball.
He has held several important positions in almost every position and top sport organisations in Malaysia and abroad.
At the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Yeoh, was a member of the Coaching Committee from 1987-2008.
At the Asian Basketball Confederation as it was known then, Yeoh began his career as a technical assistant to the ABC from year 1983 to 1990, and then became the deputy-secretary general from 1994 to 1998.
Yeoh is also the founder-secretary general of the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA), being one of its founding fathers in 1994.
At the Commonwealth basketball level he was a key contributor in the basketball development amongst Commonwealth nations holding the position of treasurer in Commonwealth Basketball Association from 1983 to 1997 and vice president from year 1998 to 2006.
At the International Federation of Basketball Asia (FIBA Asia), he held the position of secretary-general from 1998 to 2012.
At FIBA, the world body, Yeoh was a member of the Technical Commission from the year 1990 to 1994, member of the FIBA Central Board from 1998 to 2006, and honorary vice president from 2002 to 2006.
To sum it up, Yeoh has held every position the game has to offer in Malaysia, Asia and world.
A national Level 3 Certificate holder since 1974, Yeoh also guided the Malaysian National team to several achievements, has been team manager at the 1987 Sea Games in Jakarta, FIBA Commissioner at three Olympics (1992 in Barcelona, 2000 in Sydney and 2004 in Athens) and FIBA World championships for men, youth women and women .
Among the top awards and recognitions awarded to Yeoh include:
1997: Best CEO Award by USA Basketball Association
2001: John Wooden Life Service Award by USA Basketball Association
2000: Millennium Recognition Award by Malaysia Association of Physical Education in Sports Science.
In recent years, Yeoh also has held the position of CEO for Malaysian Basketball League MBL from year 2005 to 2006.
He has also organised a basketball invitation tournament in Myanmar in year 2003 to promote world peace. With six countries participating, the event was first ever basketball event to be organised in Myanmar in more than 33 years.
No one can match the legacy Yeoh has left for basketball and it is only fitting that Olympic Council of Malaysia induct him into their Hall of Fame when they announce the latest inductees at next month.