‘Returning salmon’ Kim Jong Un says he still likes basketball a lot
Kim (35, 179cm) is a veteran among veterans in the WKBL. For 19 seasons, her basketball life has been full of twists and turns. Dissolutions, acquisitions, invalid records, injuries, unexpected transfers, championships, and a return to her home team. If there were a graph of Kim Jong-un’s life, it would be a deep, choppy undulation. Still, he’s managed to stick it out for 18 years and become a league veteran. Here, she tells us why she chose to take the risk of returning to her family’s team, even though everyone told her not to. (Interview conducted on 12 May).
This article originally appeared in the June issue of Jump Ball.
Why did the veteran return to her hometown team?
Kim donned the jersey of the Shinsegae Coolcats as a first-round pick in the 2006 WKBL Draft. While Shinsegae didn’t win a championship with Kim, it wasn’t a team that was labelled as a last-place team, but it was disbanded at the end of the 2011-2012 season. For a moment, the players were like duck eggs in the Nakdong River, waiting in silence. Hana Oehwan announced its takeover, and it seemed like the team would blossom with the support and attention it received. However, the team began to be labelled as last place and lost the playoff spot they had just secured in the 2015-2016 season. The entire season was forfeited due to the Chelsea Lee scandal, in which Lee was found to be a mixed-race player.
He then moved to Woori Bank. In his first season with Woori, Kim won the league title. He won two regular season titles, and five seasons later, in 2022-2023, he won another title. Faced with the prospect of being benched, Kim took a reckless gamble. He made a comeback with Chinjung and Hana One Q, still in last place.안전놀이터
“Ginga Minga.” These were the first words Kim Jong Un spoke in an interview. He asked Hana One Q to prepare his jersey for the photo shoot. On the day of the interview, he saw the Hana One Q jersey with his number 13 on it. Tears formed in his eyes. It seemed to contain many emotions that could not be expressed in a single word. “Ginga Minga” and “Xing Xing Xing” were the only words that could describe his feelings.
How did you feel after the transfer?
I’m still very nervous. On the first day, I didn’t get any sleep. When I was lying down, I thought to myself, “Am I really back? Now I’m training mainly for rehabilitation. There are so many bad places, but the coach doesn’t put any pressure on me and lets me build my body on my own. I’m working out with the juniors separately, so it’s not like I’m stuck with them. When I train with the ball, I’m very close to the players, but I don’t have the opportunity to do that, so it hasn’t really hit me yet. I just talk to them at meals and with the rehabilitation group.
Shin Ji-hyun was very happy to see you back, how are you two getting along?
I actually go to her room more than she does. She’s become a lot more reserved. When I came back, I explained the situation to Shinji (Shin Ji-hyun’s nickname) and told her that she shouldn’t expect too much from me (laughs). When I told her that she was older and not the young Kim Jong-un I used to know, she said she would help where she could. I think I’m more dependent on her. When we eat or talk about things, I can feel that she has really grown up. When I was at Hana~KEB Hana, I was really stressed about my grades. I jokingly told Shinji that I finally understood how she felt back then, but I felt bad even as I said it. Everyone knows that I can’t run around for 40 minutes, and no matter how many wins we get just because I’m here, my presence must be a plus.
What are your goals for your comeback?
I want to win a lot and give the younger players a taste of what it’s like to win. I’m going to talk a lot with (Yang) In-young, (Kim) Anna and the senior players. I think In-young has been through a lot. My heart ached while listening to her story. I just wanted my body to go back to where it was three years ago. I think I have to do everything in my power. I knew I had to give it everything I had.
It must have been a difficult decision to make, how did you decide to move on?
At the end of my career, I didn’t think there was any point in free agency, but my home team called me back, and thankfully I had offers from other teams. I wanted Woori Bank to stay as well. There were many teams that valued my physical appearance more than my value as a player. I think I’m one of those players who has had a lot of ups and downs, but I also think I’ve been able to survive thanks to those evaluations. When I was thinking about transferring, I thought about a lot of things. But there was only one thing. I remembered the regret that I didn’t make it in my home team. If I stayed at Woori Bank, I wouldn’t have to worry. I would have had a stable career and good grades. It was a risky move at my age. People around me and my family discouraged me a lot. They said, “You’ve won so much, you might as well retire now. Why do you want to buy and suffer?” But I’m too old to retire…. I think I still really love basketball. I felt like I would have regrets. No one knows yet whether it will be a success or a failure, but I wanted to come back to my hometown team and give everything I have and help the younger players grow.
A basketball life with more thorns than flowers
Kim Jong-un’s basketball life, as he describes it, has been full of twists and turns. He resembles a flower called matricaria, which blooms along rural roadsides and in fields, and whose name means ‘strength in the face of adversity’. In addition to past hardships, future hardships may be waiting for Kim Jong-un. Nevertheless, he chose the thorny path once again.
There were many twists and turns before you returned to Hana Won Q. What memories do you have?
In the New World, I didn’t feel like I was in last place. When it was disbanded, I knew there weren’t many companies that wanted to buy it. I was 27 at the time. I was 27 years old at the time, and I knew that there weren’t many companies that could take over. The players below me were crying because they didn’t know what to do with their lives. At that time, my sister Kim Ji-yoon, coach Heo Yoon-ja, and I had a lot of willpower and we got along well. The three of us said, “We need to do well without any losers so that someone can take over.