It’s a shame that Handball doesn’t have some marketable Asian stars (like Jeremy Lin or Yao Ming) that they couldn’t promote the same way. Well, actually they do have (or have had) the stars that could be promotable, but failed to fully capitalize on the opportunity. Amazingly, the German Bundesliga’s all-time career scoring leader, Kyung Shin Yoon is a South Korean. In 12 seasons from 1995 to 2008, Yoon scored 2,908 total goal averaging almost 8 goals/game. This is a crazy, dare I say, “Yoonique”, anomaly in a league which is probably around 98% white European. Yet Yoon, who continues to play in South Korea, is probably less known in his native country then Lin is now after two weeks of good play.
Well, it was back at the 1993 World Championships when I had my first opportunity to see Kyung-Shin Yoon play. And it was an up close and personal opportunity as Team USA battled South Korea for 15th place and an opportunity to avoid the “wooden spoon” (i.e. last place). We did our part to keep the USA’s unblemished record of World Championship futility alive, losing 35-28. After the match, I remember telling my teammates, “That young guy Yoon’s quite a player. You know wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he gets a contract from some Bundesliga club soon. Heck, I’ll go further; barring injury by the time he’s done playing he’ll be the all time scoring leader in Bundesliga history.”
In truth, I don’t remember much of anything from that match other than the annoying little sing song chant the Koreans did on defense after they had scored a goal. But I do remember, thinking, “hey that guy’s pretty tall for a Korean” and surely that was the 19 year old Yoon on his way to future stardom.
And quite a career it has been. In 12 seasons starting with Vfl Gummersbach in 1995 and ending with HSV Hamburg this past Saturday he found the back of the net a record 2,908 times. In 7 of those 12 seasons he also led the league in scoring, including a single season scoring record of 324 in the 2000-2001 campaign. What is even more remarkable is that with his nearly 8 goals/game average he has accomplished this in far fewer matches then most of the other players on the top 10 all time scoring list. Sure, he’s benefited from the fast style of play introduced by Gummersbach and now favored by many teams in the HBL, but he’s also benefited from remarkable consistency and a career that has been relatively injury free.
What’s surprising and somewhat disappointing to me, however, is the lack of celebration or acclaim that surrounds the departure of a player with such a record. Handball is above all else a team sport, but holding the career scoring record in the World’s best professional league is arguably the greatest individual record a handball player can have.