How Marques Bolden Became Joyo, An Indonesian Basketball Sensation

A few years ago, Marques Bolden, currently a two-way center for the Charlotte Hornets, traveled halfway around the world to play for the National Team in Indonesia, a densely populated Southeast Asian archipelago made up of more than 17,000 islands. What he discovered there – a beautiful country, a welcoming culture, and unwavering support – far exceeded anything he could have ever imagined before this life-changing journey began.

Born and raised in the Dallas area, the 6-10 Bolden was a former McDonald’s High School All-American, who later played three seasons at Duke University. Undrafted in 2019, the now 25-year-old Bolden has bounced around the NBA G League ever since, making 17 scattered appearances for Cleveland, Milwaukee and now the Hornets over the past five years.

Earlier on in his professional career, Bolden and his agent, Michael Johnson, began exploring additional playing opportunities during the summer months, when most global leagues are usually on hiatus. That’s when they discovered the Indonesian National Team, a program with relatively limited historical success in FIBA tournaments outside of Southeast Asia. Though he doesn’t have any direct Indonesian bloodlines, Bolden became eligible to play for the Patriots after becoming a naturalized citizen of the country.

“We did a lot of research on the country of Indonesia and the basketball culture over there,” explained Bolden. “Both of my parents were American born, so it wasn’t like my family came from Indonesia. I ended up getting naturalized, which was a long process, but I’m glad I got it done. We went over there in 2021, practiced with the team, got familiar with the country, but I couldn’t participate because they canceled a lot of tournaments because of COVID.”

Using naturalized citizens is a common practice in FIBA competitions, although some have limitations on how many can be on an active roster. Several NBA players have represented or can represent countries they weren’t born in or don’t have ancestorial ties to, including Joel Embiid and Hakeem Olajuwon (both United States), Serge Ibaka and Nikola Mirotić (both Spain), Shane Larkin (Turkey), Javonte Green (Montenegro), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Jordan).

Even if they maintain dual citizenship – which isn’t permitted under Indonesian law – FIBA doesn’t allow for players to simultaneously represent multiple countries. They can switch National Teams under certain circumstances, but the process can be long and complicated.

One of the requirements for Bolden to become an Indonesian citizen was to learn and then recite the National Anthem – in Indonesian – multiple times in front of government officials, along with several of the country’s laws. Once he passed, it took about three months to officially receive full Indonesian citizenship and a brand-new passport.

Once he got the green light to play, Bolden began making annual summer treks to the capital city of Jakarta, where the Indonesian Basketball Association (abbreviated as PERBASI) is based. Besides a few minor cultural differences – like driving on the left side of the road – Bolden’s assimilation into the local landscape was pretty seamless. He quickly began learning Indonesian, the 11th most spoken language in the world, and can now comfortably converse at a first-grade level. And because his first name is difficult to pronounce in Indonesian because of the ‘Q,’ Bolden, with the help of a National Team manager, adopted a simpler nickname, “Joyo.”

“It wasn’t a huge culture shock,” recalled Bolden. “Learning the language, I really wanted to show that I wanted to be more than a basketball player. You just immerse yourself in the language with day-to-day activities. My teammates teach me new words every day and being around them, I pick up different stuff. We all come from different walks of life, so for them to embrace me, allow me to learn the language, culture, and different things that they do, that was one of the most important things for me.”

Led by Serbian-born Head Coach Miloš Pejić since 2021, the Indonesian National Team has finished higher than eighth at the FIBA Asia Cup only once back in 1967 and never qualified for either the Summer Olympics or FIBA World Cup. There are a few other naturalized players available for Indonesia, one being American-born former Southern Illinois guard Anthony Beane. Two more are originally from Senegal and then another from Dominica.

Prior to Pejić’s arrival, the Philippines had claimed 18 out of a possible 20 gold medals – including 13 straight – at the biennial Southeast Asian Games. Indonesia was originally supposed to compete in the SEA Games in November and December of 2021, but the Vietnam-based tournament was rescheduled for May of 2022 because of COVID-19. In the seven-team round-robin format, Indonesia went a perfect 6-0 and got an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double performance from Bolden in its final game to help seal an 85-81 upset win over the Philippines and a SEA Games gold medal, both of which were federation firsts.

Later that summer, Bolden and Indonesia placed 11th – the country’s highest finish since 1985 –at the self-hosted 2022 FIBA Asia Cup, after not even making the 16-team field in 2017, 2015 or 2013. Bolden averaged the second-most points of any player in the tournament (21.8), the fourth-most rebounds (11.3) and the most blocks (2.8). Last August, Bolden was the leading scorer (23.4 points) and had a 40-point game against Kazakhstan at the Pre-Qualifying Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Asia, with Indonesia finishing 2-3 behind undefeated winner Bahrain.

Although not quite as popular as some other sports like soccer, badminton or Pencak silat (martial arts), interest for basketball is rising in Indonesia. Just last year, Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines collectively hosted the 32-team 2023 FIBA World Cup, marking the first time that Indonesia has had the chance to do so. The National Team sits 75th in FIBA’s most recent world rankings and 15th out of 44 Asian teams, which includes Australia and other Oceanic nations.

“Basketball is growing in Indonesia, but we’re behind as far as the basketball culture in Asia,” explained Bolden. “We’ve got a lot of young talent. It’s just about getting players in the right environment with the right exposure, facilities, and resources. Those things aren’t the best over there, so that’s something we’re working on. The fan support is amazing. There’s a huge following over there and on social media, they show a lot of love. I feel like I’ve got a lot of people rooting for me in Indonesia. They’re part of the reason, too, why I go so hard today.”

Not only does Bolden want to compete for the National Team as much as possible until his playing days are over, but he’s also committed to growing the sport in Indonesia, whether that’s through youth camps, high schools or maybe even Basketball Without Borders. “I want to continue being the face, the representation of that basketball culture,” he said. “This is something I plan on doing until I’m done playing, representing the country, bringing awareness there, just doing anything I can to grow the sport of basketball in Indonesia.”

What began as a journey to play basketball in Indonesia evolved into something so much more for Marques Bolden. This country welcomed him with open arms, becoming a second home where he says he could see himself living later in life. Though Indonesia doesn’t have any major international tournaments this summer, Bolden still plans on traveling back to cheer on his National Team teammates who are playing in the local leagues. In a way, Bolden will be harnessing the same love and support that he received when he first made that lengthy overseas voyage.

“It’s just bigger than basketball,” he said. “I love Indonesia, a very beautiful country that’s unique, diverse and on its way. Obviously, I went over there to play, get better and work on some things. Once I got over there, I really embraced the culture and became a citizen, which is something I don’t take lightly. Basketball has taken me to some amazing places and allowed me to meet some amazing people. I just want to make the most out of life.”

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