SUDDENLY the global event and colorful spectacle that is FIBA World Cup 2023 is over. And yet the sounds and sights of it stay alive, being played and replayed in memory and sometimes in dreams—so complete was its takeover of life and reality the past three weeks.
Putting the event together was long. The preparations were meticulous and tedious. Thousands of volunteers took time out from their day jobs and school to get steeped in knowledge and habits of how to be service champions. The goal was to make this hosting unforgettable. To make Filipino hospitality shine through.
Scores of walkthroughs, briefings, rehearsals, meetings, ocular inspections, preparedness seminars and a pep rally preceded the real thing. So when it all came together on opening day, August 25 at the Philippine Arena, the grandness was expected. The lights and colors were dazzling. The crowd and the celebrities in attendance were eye-popping. And the action on the court—the best basketball from the world’s best teams and countries—was riveting.
Sixteen days of that, with a daily grind of two games each—one at 4 or 4:45 p.m. and another at 8 p.m. or 8:45 at Smart Araneta Coliseum and Mall Of Asia Arena, respectively, practically guaranteed FIBA Basketball had become life for the journalists, volunteers and members of the Local Organizing Committee that were heavily invested in the ongoing elite basketball competition.
And yet even the sideshows and sidelights that accompanied the main event were just as fascinating. The presence of so many nationalities all in one place, all at one time for one, made me wonder at times if this was the same Smart Araneta Coliseum or MOA Arena I watched games and concerts in.
Every group brought its trademark verve and culture to every game day. National flags were worn like cloaks and shawls. Paint and stickers in their nations’ colors brightened up faces. Colorful wigs blossomed. Unusual fashion rocked the scene as diehards stormed game venue corridors to express what’s in their hearts and shout out their pride of country.
The Lithuanians were one colorful and rowdy group. Dressed in yellow-green-and-red that reflected their flag, they occupied one solid section of the MOA Arena and cheered as one. They banged their drums. They were almost always on their feet. When Jonas Valanciunas, the most recognizable player for Filipinos, was in action, even Pinoy fans joined in the cheering.
The Latvians were just as enthusiastic, if not more so. Forming a foot soldier-like group clad in maroon and white—their national colors—they paraded inside and around the periphery of the MOA Arena, shouting Lat-vi-ah! Lat-vi-ah! with gusto and chutzpah.
The Serbian crowd too was one of the most passionate, and the most numerous. Easily identifiable because of their light blue and red colors, they can take over the arena with their unified fervor. Clearly the crowd favorite on final night, the pro-Serbian crowd was noisy and rabid. But the German crowd—with red, yellow and black flags and clothing themes—stood their ground and celebrated in the end as FIBA WC 2023 World Basketball Champions.
There are other random observations I would like to include here.
1. I find Euro ball fascinating and intelligent. It is system based, finesse ball and feels like a game of chess being played out in a basketball court.
2. Despite its 8-0 run throughout the group phase, the quarters and the semis, Germany was low key and sort of flew under the radar. Most people—journalists included—picked passionate Serbia to win the Cup. But cool, precise and laser-focused Germany got the job done. German technology, shall we say?
3. Luis Scola, Pau Gasol, Carmelo Anthony and Sue Bird are truly awesome and worthy FIBA Global Ambassadors. They have a great grasp of what basketball means to people and the world, and where it’s going. They speak from the heart.
4. The Philippines proved it can host an event of this magnitude very well.
5. Luka Magic is real.