Tyler Lamb had just finished a regular season game at MABA Stadium, a game in which he finished with 25 points when our eyes met across a floor littered with players and spectators.
“Hey bro, just wait for me about ten minutes. I’ll get changed real quick,” the Hong Kong Eastern heritage import would say as he patiently took pictures with a contingent of fans that had gathered around him, awaiting their turn.
Shortly after, the Thai-American came out from the locker room with buddy Lee Ki. We walked back to his hotel along with world import Ryan Moss, who completed the trio of victors. It was then that I took the chance to share with Lamb a picture we took during his rookie season with Hi-Tech Bangkok City.
“That was my rookie year as a pro,” Tyler excitedly recalled. It was five-minute walk, but we had talked a lot about the rivalry between Westports Malaysia Dragons and Hi-Tech Bangkok City from back in the day, which of course included reminiscing about his head-to-head game with current Gilas sharpshooter Matthew Wright.
As soon as we reached the hotel lobby, I figured he would be tired after just finishing an exhausting game so I wasted no time in starting our interview in regards to him joining Hong Kong Eastern last season, back when they still took on the moniker of “Long Lions.”
“I didn’t know too much about Hong Kong at that time, but I thought it was a good opportunity for me to join a new team and [play] a new position so I can try new things.”
A lot of players may be vocal and aggressive on the court, but they could be a completely different person off the court as is the case with the perennial heritage import MVP candidate, chuckling as he self-proclaims to be a “quiet guy.”
“I stay home with my kids after basketball. I enjoy the family time to be honest with you.”
Now a father of two beautiful daughters, he is ready to lead his team to become the first team in ASEAN Basketball League history to win back-to-back championships. However, this season, the defending champions weren’t quite as dominant throughout the regular season as they were the year prior.
“EVERYTHING WAS SMOOTH LAST YEAR, AND THAT’S ALWAYS THE MAIN GOAL, SO I TOLD THEM I WILL BE BACK. BECAUSE I PLAY TO WIN AND I HAVE A VERY GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TEAM.”
“There will always be ups and downs in a season. It’s a fantasy to think everything will go smooth and perfect for as long as six months.”
Lamb prefers to calmly see games in the regular season as tests before his team’s real battles shift to another gear in the playoffs, but still urges his teammates to stay together as a unit, sharing that, “I think we have to remain mentally tough and play together as team.”
After seeing just how lethal Eastern was last season, it seemed like just about every team in the league this season made strides to assemble a back-court pairing in attempts to match with the Eastern combo of Tyler Lamb and world import teammate Marcus Elliot, but the Eastern duo still looks to remain as the measuring stick.
“I like to play against Akeem Scott and Mikey [Michael] Williams, and also [Anthony] Tucker with Mikh McKinney,” the combo guard answered when asked to provide two top-notch backcourt duos from this year’s ABL competition.
“These guys bring up their energy every time they played, and I would be very excited to meet them in a very tough playoff series.”
As crucial as import players may be for their respective teams, the quality of local players are also vital to a team’s success. In fact, a key part of the successes that Eastern has experienced stems from contributions by the likes of Lee Ki, Chan Siu Wing, and Fong Shing Yee.
As a player that has been in the league for just around three years, Lamb is glad to see the development of all local players in general, even mentioning a few names of those who have received his attention aside from his aforementioned teammates.
“There is one player from the Kung Fu, but I don’t really remember his name,” Lamb truthfully acknowledges. At that moment, my gut instinct was that he was referring to ‘Camel,’ [Luo Yong Xuan], so I had to ask if it was number 10 from Chong Son, and he immediately confirmed my thought with a, “Yes, that guy! I like what he is doing because he didn’t start the season well, but to be able to get himself out of it and play well during the middle of the season, that definitely gets my respect.”
While the heritage import did have some difficulty giving me another name, I was surprised that he didn’t mention anyone from Mono Vampire. I promptly asked if he had noticed any Thai players who might have just slipped his memory.
“Oh yea! I almost forgot about him. Big Teerawat Chantachon was my guy during the SEA Games. I love the way he plays and he is developing his game well. He is definitely on my list of locals.”
Tyler then added another name that fans have not heard much from this season.
“From Singapore, I like Leon Kwek a lot. Even though he is not playing much this season, last year, he had an amazing year.” Due to his commitments to Singapore’s national service, Kwek, who averaged 10.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest last season, hasn’t gotten much action this time around.
“WHEN HE CAME TO HONG KONG, WE REALLY BUILT OUR RELATIONSHIP FROM THERE.”
The first heavy match-up during last year’s men’s basketball tournament at the SEA Games surely had to be when Thailand faced off against the Philippines. Both Lamb and fellow Hong Kong heritage import teammate Christian Standhardinger both served as their nation’s respective naturalized players in Kuala Lumpur over the summer. It was an intense game, with the mighty Philippines once again receiving the last smile, but Thailand showed that they were no easy out.
“Christian was my rival back in college in our conference. I didn’t really know much about him as a person, just knew that he is a good player. I found out about him during the SEA Games, and he that he was going to join us in Hong Kong, so we talked a bit, but not much.”
From NCAA match-ups to national team rivalries, one could suspect the respect that two may have for each other throughout their basketball careers. Now, they have come together as teammates, playing alongside one another and looking to continue their partnership as professionals in the ABL.
“He’s my roommate for every road trip and is a very smart player and person. We talk a lot about the PBA. Hopefully, we can be teammates in the Philippines someday. We have chemistry when we hit the court. It’s like we have been playing [together] forever.”
After hearing that, I couldn’t help but quietly nod my head, imagining a team bolstering both Lamb and Standhardinger, along with June Mar Fajardo, Chriss Ross, Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, and Marcio Lassiter. The thought itself is just scary to think of.
It may be too early to tell, but the possibility of not seeing the Thai-American offensive juggernaut could be a tough pill that fans of the ABL may have to swallow in the future.
“I honestly don’t know about my future, but I would love to keep playing for Hong Kong even if it’s not in the ABL. But I rather just take it one step at a time. Don’t want to think too much about that right now.”
There’s no telling what the future holds, but I think any fan of basketball from the region would be glad to know that Tyler is willing to stay within the region, specifically, as a player for Hong Kong Eastern.
“I just want to enjoy the moment. Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy the present when you’re playing basketball. We’re always thinking ahead to the next game, or what we did wrong the last game, so I want to enjoy the experience and have fun with my teammates now.”
“IT MEANS A LOT TO ME WHENEVER I CAN PUT UP THE NATIONAL TEAM JERSEY AND FIGHT.”
Since basketball is growing rapidly within the sector, many players with Southeast Asian heritage are coming back for an opportunity to play as a professional.
In the case of Tyler Lamb, it takes more than just having roots to being made available to represent one’s country, to ultimately being selected, as he was chosen amongst other great Thai-Americans such as Freddie Lish and Moses Morgan to represent Thailand over the 2017 summer.
“A lot of people don’t know, but I grew up with my Thai family, so Thai is actually the first culture I had when I was young.”
Not only did he convey the background of the Thai-upbringing that he experienced growing up in California, but Lamb elaborated on how, as a whole, the overall importance of how those who share a similar heritage has impacted him.
“The support and love I get from all the Thai people is tremendous. I honestly felt it all. To me, to be able to help represent the country and try to reach goals, like beating the Philippines, you know, it’s honestly just more important for the young kids in Thailand, or the young kids who are growing up with Thai heritage.”
He further stressed the role that he is trying to play, and what it could mean being in the limelight of men’s basketball competitions which pits country versus country.
“They see me out here doing well, representing the country, and so I want them to believe that they can do that one day. The love I get from Thailand is very inspiring to me and my family.”
As we began to wrap things up, Tyler made sure that I record one last thing. It was sort of like an opportunity for him to share a few personal words his beloved fans from around the region.
“To the Thailand fans that have been supporting me, I thank you for all the love and I hope I can influence and inspire kids to represent the country like how I do. To all the Hong Kong fans, I appreciate you guys so much for bringing me to your country, two years in a row. It’s been amazing.”
It was from the moment that we started conversing about Thailand, its national team program, and helping lead his young teammates to compete against the powerhouses of Southeast Asia that I could honestly feel just how proud and grateful the Thai-American is. To many, basketball is about getting buckets, the x’s and o’s, the glories of winning, but for Tyler Lamb, it’s all that, along with the national pride that he carries in his blood.