Having made it to NBA, Singaporean Esther Quek returns home to contribute to local basketball
After more than four years working at the biggest organisation in the sport, Esther Quek wants to grow the Singapore basketball scene and inspire the youth.
Working in the NBA (National Basketball Association) is not something anyone can achieve easily.
But for Singaporean Esther Quek, who describes herself as “normal”, she achieved it. Between Dec 2016 and Feb 2021, Esther was a part of the NBA’s marketing team in Asia, working with agencies to run marketing campaigns in the region for the basketball league.
For the uninitiated, NBA is widely deemed as the pinnacle of the basketball world, even bigger than arguably the Olympics and Basketball World Cup.
The work is understandably hectic, with loads of work-plan meetings on a daily basis to discuss content for the various campaigns. However, working among the best in the world kept her invigorated every day.
“It’s just amazing to be doing what you love at the highest level. The NBA hires a lot of talented people… You can learn so much from these different people, working with them in a regional and global team,” she said.
Working for the biggest organisation in the basketball world had its perks too. Esther got to meet global basketball stars such as Ricky Rubio, Jaylen Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and Justise Winslow through work and had opportunities to interact with them on a personal level.
More memorably, she was also involved in the 2018 NBA All-Star weekend in Los Angeles.
“I was in charge of bringing the legends around, including AC Green, Dale Ellis and Muggsy Bogues. I also had a chance to visit George Gervin and Muggsy in San Antonio and Charlotte respectively and spent time with their families the following year,” she shared.
“These are moments where money can’t buy. It’s not because they are legends, it’s because there’s this certain level of friendship and connection – making you feel so welcome and at home with them.”
Despite having reached the pinnacle of her career working for the premier professional basketball league in the world, Esther remains humble about her achievements in her beloved sport.
Esther’s journey in the sport has been a story of hustling, taking brave decisions and following her heart.
An avid basketball lover since eight years old, Esther was a promising player in her formative days. She was even selected to the senior national women’s team at 14 years old.
While she didn’t progress enough to make it as a professional player, she started a basketball magazine called Draw & Dish (later renamed as Jumpshot) in the mid-2000s that focused on local basketball. The publication was a product of Ash Media Asia – an event management and coaching company she started.
She also organised three-on-three basketball competitions around Singapore to provide relevant content to the magazine.
“At that time, there weren’t any basketball magazines [in Singapore] so I saw the opportunity to do this. I wanted to grow the sport here and create more opportunities for people to know that basketball is actually very popular in Singapore,” she shared.
While it had reasonable success initially, the media landscape’s shift towards digitalisation meant that the magazine’s business model quickly became no longer viable and the publication ceased three years later.
“As everyone was moving into digital marketing and media, you can see a lot of publications are not doing well,” she revealed. “Every advertiser is trying to allocate money to the digital space where you can track audiences, so it was a bit of a struggle in terms of advertising dollars.”
Esther then formed a women’s basketball team called Team Jumpshot, which still plays in the National Women’s Basketball League today, with the freelancers she worked with for the magazine playing for the team.
She focused her business on event management and providing coaching programs to schools for the next five years, before making the tough decision to wind up the business in 2013 and make a career move to learn more skill sets.
“I decided after eight years that I had enough experience in this space… If it’s not working out, I’m not going to continue. It’s just insane doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” she shared.
She started working in sales and advertising, first with StarHub and then Discovery Networks Asia Pacific. The experience she gained over at both companies helped her to refine her career skill sets.
Then, the opportunity to join the NBA came, thanks to a mutual friend she had working in the NBA.
“The VP (vice-president) of marketing is a Singaporean (the first to work in the NBA) and has been in the organisation for many years. We have a common friend and I got to know from him that the organisation was looking for a female who is in the media space and knows basketball. So that’s where I fit perfectly,” she revealed.
The family-oriented Esther – who enjoys a great relationship with her 97-year-old grandma – did have slight reservations on leaving the comforts of home, but decided to take the plunge for her dream role.
“I love changes and challenges. At the same time it’s never easy to step out, especially having to leave my family behind. But I thought through it – it’s a great opportunity and I wouldn’t want to regret not going for it,” she shared.
“What’s important at that point of time is really to have faith and step into the unknown, to try new things while my parents and my grandma are still in good health.”
Fast forward four years and four months, Esther made the decision to return from Hong Kong (where NBA Asia is based) to Singapore and spend more time with her family amid the pandemic. It’s a decision that she described as “hard to make”.
While she has not made a specific decision yet on the next chapter of her career, she is looking forward to utilising her talents to help the local basketball scene.
“Apart from spending a bit of time with my Team Jumpshot, I’ll definitely be involved and continue to grow the Singapore women’s team and probably youth basketball community,” she shared.
“I’m not sure exactly where, but I know I’ll be somewhere doing what I like.”
Having made it to the highest level in her profession, Esther hopes her story can inspire youths and young females in their pursuit of a dream career.
“I’m not even a top coach or player, I’m just an ordinary person who has a good team backing me up,” she said.
“For me to be able to go into the NBA brings hope to a lot of youths and female basketball players. It shows that you just keep doing what you love and one day someone somewhere will recognise your abilities and give you an opportunity. That’s where you step in and that will be very powerful.
“If a regular person like me can get into the NBA (National Basketball Association), I guess a lot of people who have dreams of where they want to be can surely achieve them.”
She also wants aspiring youth to know that it is also crucial to focus on the journey and brush up on their skill sets.
“To be able to work in your dream job or vocation, I think it has a lot to do with how you get there. People will often say they want to work in this certain field, but you need to know what you need to get there,” she said.
“Think about the skill sets that are required at the scope that you’re looking at and what you can bring to the table. From there, you work backwards and brush up on your skill set – so when your skill set and the needs of the organisation meet, then you can be part of the ecosystem.
“But do realise your goals and aspirations may change over time. The most important thing is to focus on your strengths and you’ll be eventually where you want to be, or where you’re meant to be.”