NOT everybody who plays in the Basketball World Cup goes home with a medal. Most players don’t even come close to that level.
But everybody goes home with something.
It’s a tradition that goes back at least a half-century at most FIBA events. The pregame handshake between teams is a gift exchange. That ritual has continued at this World Cup, which ends with the medal games on Sunday.
Players listen to their anthems, standing in unison on opposite foul lines, then approach midcourt for a handshake and each player and coach presents an opposing contemporary with a gift.
For USA Basketball this summer, opponents received a blue baseball cap featuring the federation’s logo. The Americans brought about 300, just in case.
“It’s obviously different,” US guard Austin Reaves said. “The first time we did it, I thought it was different. But it’s cool. It’s a sign of respect before the game … mutual respect that kind of sets the tone for the game.”
Nobody knows for certain how the gift-exchange portion of the pregame handshake started. FIBA historians can find evidence of it at least in the late 1950s at the major global tournament level — FIBA events like the World Cup, and the Olympics — as well as in club competitions. Teams often would exchange pennants, sometimes personalized for a certain game or event.
Ellis Dawson has seen much more than pennants. He’s been with USA Basketball for about two decades, much of that time as the assistant director for national team operations. And he has an important job — after the handshakes, he goes onto the court with a small bag to secure the gifts that US players just received from opponents.
Dawson either presents players with them after the competition ends or, in the case of the World Cup team, will send them packaged to players’ homes.
“It’s kind of cool,” Dawson said. “You see a lot of different things from different people.”
Among the highlights this summer: A multi-use charger for electronics, which Greece gave out before its game with the Americans. (“A neat little gadget,” Dawson said.) He’s seen pins, trinkets, flags and more, as gifts over the years.
And sometimes, he even gets fans involved. A couple of kids in Manila went viral after getting caught on camera carrying a sign that said “Austin Reaves LeBron James” — the Los Angeles Lakers have a huge following in the Philippines — and Dawson handed them hats as well.
“USA Basketball has been around for so long and the tradition of gift-giving is wide,” Dawson said. “Some of the trophies we have in our office are amazing. International basketball has a lot of rivalries, but it also has a lot of camaraderie and excitement for your country.”
Image credits: AP