29 June, 2021
04 July
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''This is such a treat to have basketball here'' - Fans back at Victoria sports events

VICTORIA (Canada) - Dimitri Adamopoulos went to great lengths to support the Greek National Team. He even cold called a higher-up at the Hellenic Basketball Federation to invite the team to his restaurant in downtown Victoria.

That was almost two years ago, when it was announced that Victoria would host one of FIBA’s men's Olympic Qualifying Tournaments. The coronavirus pandemic paused the event - and the Greeks’ dinner at Adamopoulos’ restaurant.

The team still came to Victoria, but they can’t visit the restaurant. The event is being held in a bubble, restricting players, coaches and other team personnel from venturing outside their designated hotel, practice venue and game arena. Adamopoulos still found ways to support his countrymen. He and other members of the local Greek community prepared a welcome package that included, among other things, an assortment of homemade Greek desserts.

And on Thursday, Adamopoulos was one of about 40 Greece fans in a section of Victoria Memorial Centre, cheering for Greece as they played against China. Adamopoulos’ row was full of Greek flags draped over seat backs.

The game was the first sporting event in British Columbia with fans in attendance since March 2020. The province entered Step 3 of its restart plan on July 1. During this stage, indoor sporting events can admit 50 percent the venue’s patron capacity. Given the international nature of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, 10 percent capacity — around 740 fans — is allowed at the Victoria Memorial Centre, according to Friends of Victoria Basketball, the local organizing committee.

“This is such a treat to have basketball here,” Adamopoulos said.

The scattered and socially distanced fans who populated the arena on Thursday provided a welcomed sight and ambience. The first two days of the tournament were played without fans.

And though there weren’t enough of them to create deafening roars that flood full arenas, the players took notice.

“It’s great to have Greek people all over the world and to know they support you,” Greece’s Konstantinos Mitroglou said after his team beat China 105-80. “We saw the Greek flags. We saw their support whenever we would have a basket or a good defensive energy play. We’re very happy, we thank them for their support.”

On the opposite side of the venue, four students from China sat near Team China’s bench, proudly displaying their Chinese flag. The students attend Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.

China coach Feng Du acknowledged the group with a wave before tip-off.

“We actually wanted to attend (Wednesday) for China vs. Canada, but we were not allowed to do that. If we got the opportunity today, we were going to come and support,” Tong Onu said.

China had a disappointing OQT, getting eliminated after going 0-2 in the Group Phase, but got a boost, nevertheless, from their cheering contingent.

“I have to say thank you for the fans for coming here and supporting us,” China’s Qian Wu said. “For the mentality part, it’s encouraging for us. Also the physical part, when we would play on the court. It’s a big motivator for us to push us to go forward.”

Team Canada didn’t play Thursday, when fans made their debuts. The host team takes the court for Saturday’s Semi-Finals and can expect a swarm of supporters.

“I’m super excited. It’s obviously an honor to wear this jersey, regardless of where it is, and compete for our country, but to be able to have support like that in our home country is something very special,” Canada’s Dwight Powell said. “I’ve had the opportunity to do it once before and I can say it’s a very unique feeling. So if it’s 10 fans, if its 1,000 fans or if its 20,000, regardless, it’s a unique motivating factor that I think we’ll take well.”

Canada coach Nick Nurse has experienced Canadian basketball fever firsthand. The Toronto Raptors have ranked near the top of the NBA in home attendance since Nurse was hired as their head coach in 2018.

“The Canadian fans, the Raptor fans, are unbelievable. Amazing,” Nurse said. “So I’m happy that they’re going to be back in the building.”