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Sports

Last accolades for FIBA World Cup

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Almost a month after the climax of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, praise continues to pour in for co-host the Philippines and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas. Those who were part of the frenzy of world-class hoops voluntarily confess the one-of-a-kind experience they received at the hands of the nation’s top sports official and the everyday Juan dela Cruz. During Monday’s media day for the Utah Jazz for the upcoming NBA season, Gilas Pilipinas guard Jordan Clarkson summed it up perfectly.

“It’s love. It’s something you really can’t describe. I think you just got to be there to really see it and feel that energy,” said the 2021 NBA Sixth Man of the Year. “Everybody that came to Manila felt that, especially the NBA guys and guys from other countries.”

After breaking FIBA’s all-time one game attendance record on opening day, fans staked out the hotels where the various national teams were staying. Many practically lived in the lobby of the Shangri-La at the Fort, just to get a glimpse or autograph from, or photo with their favorite NBA or international player. Later, some of the crowds moved to the Conrad Hotel, where the likes of Luka Doncic and Slovenia resided. But everywhere they went, visiting teams all said the same thing: Filipinos recognized them, took care of them, and knew their basketball like very few other countries in the world.

The foreign media who thronged to the arenas all reported on the near-flawless staging of the games. The one complaint was putting on weight because they couldn’t stay away from the food served at the playing venues. Some couldn’t help but compare  the improved service and hospitality to previous host China. Now, there was literally nothing they could complain about.

Even the teams that did not fare as well as expected had a great time. Lithuania, for example, beat Team USA in an impressive display of teamwork and shooting, but later was knocked out and lost their final consolation match to neighbor and basketball brethren Latvia. Dr. Mindaugas Bal?i?nas, secretary-general of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation, admired how passionately Filipinos love the game.

“In Lithuania, basketball is almost religion,” says Bal?i?nas, who has a doctorate in Basketball Science. “Filipinos love the game as much, and are very friendly. We hope to come back and help Philippine basketball.”

All told, the monumental undertaking – and care – show thousands of guests in the country left an indelible mark on their memories of the Philippines. Now, the world knows with absolute certainty that Filipinos are world class not just in basketball, but in showing their fellow fans a great time. And they can’t wait to return and feel the live again.

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