25 August, 2023
10 September
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Hoops hysteria sweeps Manila with FIBA Basketball World Cup

MANILA (Philippines) - The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 tipped off in the Philippine capital of Manila, and hoops hysteria swept the city. The tournament promised to be a spectacle like no other, and it delivered on opening day in spectacular fashion.

Basketball fans from all over the world eagerly anticipated the event, and they were not disappointed. The Philippines, of course, provided the perfect backdrop for the quadrennial event.

That's because basketball is more than just a sport in the Philippines. It is a way of life.


And that was as evident as it can be as 38,115 fans packed the Philippine Arena for the home team's opener against Dominican Republic, breaking the FIBA Basketball World Cup indoor attendance record set in 1994 at the former Skydome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Even the man of the hour for the Dominican Republic, Karl-Anthony Towns, could not help but be mesmerized by the Filipinos' passion after guiding his side to a close-fought 87-81 win in his national team return.

"Filipino fans are amazing. I really appreciate all the fans showing us so much love and generosity and graciousness in our welcome here," he said.

"It's amazing that we have such a chance to visit such a beautiful country and to meet such amazing people who are so loving to the game of basketball and celebrate their country and their team so hard. I respect fans who respect their people. Salamat, mabuhay!"

There probably isn't a more fitting place on the planet for a World Cup record to be broken.

"People are raised on basketball from the age of 2 and 3 years old," said Philippines assistant coach Tim Cone. "We have three seasons: rainy season, wet season and basketball season, and we play basketball through it all."



In fact, it is not uncommon to see people playing basketball in the streets, in the parks, and even in the alleys. The country's love affair with the game is unparalleled, and it was evident in the way they welcomed the world's biggest basketball players to the biggest global basketball tournament.

Gilas Pilipinas Ariel John Edu saw it first-hand.

"For us to host the World Cup is amazing," said Gilas Pilipinas Ariel John Edu. "Playing against great competition like the Dominican Republic just sets up a great atmosphere for the tournament and our fans have so much passion for basketball."

Throughout the game, one could hear the grunts and groans of the crowd with every foul and missed shot. When a basket was made, you could hardly hear yourself think as the fans cheered and yelled their lungs out.

Even when Gilas Pilipinas star player Jordan Clarkson fouled out, the fans grew even louder, carrying the players all the way to the game's final moments.

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Dominican Republic's own head coach, Nestor Garcia, acknowledged the deafening atmosphere.

"The crowd was unbelievable," he said. "They were so loud, but they respected the game. All the fans supported their team but still respected our team."



The record-breaking turnout, however, was not enough to buoy the Philippines to a victory in their first assignment of the tournament. Dominican Republic outlasted the hosts. It was an outcome that Philippines head coach Chot Reyes hoped would have been very different.

"(Winning) would have been a great gift to the record number of people that showed up," Reyes shared, tipping his hat to Karl-Anthony Towns' performance. "The players fought really, really hard, but in the end... their guy just went to work and kept going to the basket. It was too much for us."


Despite the opening day defeat for the hosts, the first day of action in Manila was filled with love for the game.

The atmosphere at the opener was electric, as fans started packing the Philippine Arena as early as six hours before. They participated in the Fan Zone activities and got their souvenirs from the myriad shops all over the world's largest indoor arena.

The Philippines prepared an elaborate series of opening-day performances to set the stage for a truly exciting first day of action. Even for those who couldn't watch the games live and in person, they packed the plethora of watch parties all around the city. Fans gathered to watch the games and cheer on their favorite teams.

That love for basketball also translated into no less than Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr attending opening day at the Philippine Arena. He also suspended government work and all classes in public schools at all levels in Metro Manila and the province of Bulacan for the opening ceremonies of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.

This sense of the occasion is palpable elsewhere in Manila as well. Even before the opening day of action, Filipino fans already welcomed the world's best teams with open arms.

"To be here in the Philippines, I remember playing in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament here in 2016. I remember the fans being awesome," said New Zealand's Isaac Fotu. "It's already been awesome so far. It's great to be back.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the USA team has been at the center of attention. Earlier in the week, the Americans touched down in Manila to a very warm reception by both local representatives and tournament organizers at the airport.


As they traveled to their hotel, they were met with an enthusiastic spectacle of motorcycle-riding fans, merrily waving in salute to the motorcade.

"I love it. The people are great. Where we're staying is great," said Austin Reaves. "Just the interactions we have with everybody and the love that they have for basketball is special."

His teammate Jaren Jackson Jr and USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill couldn't agree more.

"It's dope. Being out here, seeing a lot of people, feeling the energy of Manila," according to Jackson.

"I had the good fortune of visiting Manila in 1996," Hill said. "The love for the game is absolutely incredible."

For USA assistant coach and Filipino-American icon Erik Spoelstra, the event carries even more significance and not even head coach Steve Kerr could deny Spo's effect on the local fans.

"I love it. It’s so great seeing Spo here. A Filipino legend and wonderful to see the attention that he is getting," Kerr shared. "But also the way he reveres his fellow countrymen and honors his past. It’s beautiful to see."

The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023's opening day spectacle was like no other. It was a must-see event for basketball fans all over the world, and it promises to be a shining moment for the international game.

To read more about Eric Spoelstra's return to the Philippines, click here.