Game 7 of the 2022-2023 Korean Basketball League (KBL) championship finals at Anyang Indoor Stadium on May 7. As the buzzer sounded to signal the 100-97 victory of the home team Anyang KGC Ginseng Corporation after a hard-fought overtime game, KGC coach Kim Sang-sik (55) burst into tears. Tears that flowed unbidden. He was overwhelmed with emotion at the culmination of his 40-year basketball career.
“I just burst into tears, and when I looked at the two coaches (Choi Seung-tae and Cho Sung-min), they were already crying. We won the regular season, the championship, and the East Asian Super League (EASL). I thought this kind of thing only happened to other people, not my life story, but the story of other great people. I thought it was all over for me as a basketball coach….”
The championship game against Seoul SK was an epic drama. After losing the first game, we fought back and evened the series at 2-2 through four games, but we dropped the fifth game and were on the brink. If they lost one more game, their glory as the number one team in the regular season would fade. However, Kim and the team’s pillars, Oh Se-geun, Bae Byung-joon, Byun Jun-hyung, Moon Sung-gon, Park Ji-hoon, Omari Spellman, Daryl Monroe, and others, stepped up to the plate and won the sixth and seventh games to complete the sweep. It was the myth of a wire-to-wire, perfect victory, as the team won the regular season without losing a single point from start to finish in a season that began last October, and then went on to win the playoffs and the championship.
The epic drama against Seoul SK메이저놀이터
After about 10 days of overwhelming emotion, Kim Sang-sik was able to calmly recount the story. “I don’t usually cry much,” he says, “but when I see other teams win, they hug each other and cry, and I didn’t really understand that feeling. I just imagined it, but there’s a reason.”
Kim’s tears reflect not only the time he spent sweating with his team, but also the adversity he has faced as a player and coach. He was especially emotional because it was his “last challenge” as a coach, when he was about to end his career without being given the chance to showcase his abilities by changing teams.
Kim Sang-sik played for Bae Jae-joong, Yang Jung-go, and Korea University before joining the unemployed team IBK in 1990. His father is Kim Young-ki (87), a former KBL governor who was a member of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics team and one of the best guards of his time, and after retiring from basketball, became a national coach, sports administrator, and financial CEO, making a mark on Korean sports history.
With his father’s reputation as a top Korean basketball star and a successful leader and administrator, Kim was always cautious in his behavior. His father’s reputation as a successful Korean basketball star, leader, and administrator has always made him cautious.
After playing for Gwangju Nasan since the inception of professional basketball in 1997, where he was the leading shooter and earned the cool nickname “Mobile Missile,” he was traded to Anyang SBS (the predecessor of KGC) in 1999, where he played until 2003, when he retired. The reason for the trade was that the Nasan basketball team, whose parent organization had gone bankrupt, wanted to raise money, so they traded him for cash.
He dreamed of a normal life as a coach, but his post-retirement journey was hard to remember. At KT&G (later SBS), he assisted head coach Kim Dong-gwang, a mentor who had guided him from his corporate banking days, but when Kim quit in 2007 due to poor performance, he had to take over as acting head coach and organize the rest of the season. This was the beginning of his ‘life as an acting coach’. Although he did a good job of managing a team in crisis, he was not given the chance to be promoted to full-time head coach.
In the 2007-2008 season, he assisted Lee Chung-hee in coaching the Daegu Orions. Lee’s departure in the middle of the season led to another season as acting head coach. This time, he was promoted to full-time head coach, but by the end of the 2008-2009 season, he was fired.
After a brief stint as a national team coach, working with Heo Jae, he was given the opportunity to coach again under Kim Dong-gwang at Seoul Samsung in 2012. But as fate would have it, Kim quit in 2014, and he was forced to accept the fate of a third acting head coach. This time, the full-time job didn’t come his way.
Each time there was a gap, he traveled to the United States to study and watch advanced basketball. Sincere and humble, he always worked hard and prepared, but the opportunity never came. He later reunited with Heo to work as a national team coach. When Heo resigned after the 2018 Asian Games, he was forced to take over as acting head coach for the fourth time. He was later named head coach, but stepped down after the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to work with the national team.
He had one last chance to coach a professional team before the 2022-2023 season. The circumstances were not favorable. Most of the teams with coaching vacancies filled them with younger leaders, and there was no room for him.
He was about to say goodbye to basketball.
“I thought basketball wasn’t for me,” he says, “so I went to Jeju Island for a month to let go of all my regrets and clear my mind, and then I came to Seoul to visit Coach Heo Jae’s mother, and that’s when KGC contacted me.” He was recommended for the position that had opened up when coach Kim Seung-ki, who had led the team to the championship and runner-up spots in the past two years, left for the upstart Goyang Jumpers.
He signed on the dotted line on the day of the interview, and went into the season with a lot of pressure. The team’s best shooter, Jeon Sung-hyun, had left the KBL, leaving a gap in their scoring options. Kim addressed this with a “motion offense,” where all of his players run and take advantage of opportunities. He recruited Bae Byeong-jun, Jung Jun-won, and others to play and share the scoring.
We praised the players and tried to utilize their strengths in order to play non-stop basketball. Behaviors that break teamwork were strictly controlled. We went to players’ college graduation ceremonies and gave small gifts to foreign players’ mothers when they came to visit, which touched their hearts. Communicative basketball, where players and leaders trust each other and make sacrifices, and fun basketball have become synonymous with Kim Sang-sik’s leadership. On May 15, Kim and his coaching staff enlisted in the military.