FIBA World Cup

Echoes from the court: The 1978 World Basketball Championship in Manila

Jezreel Ines

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Echoes from the court: The 1978 World Basketball Championship in Manila
(3rd UPDATE) The world's biggest basketball championship returns to the Philippines after 45 years. Let's look back at this significant moment when the country welcomed the event in 1978.

MANILA, Philippines — The grandest basketball championship in the world makes a triumphant return to the Philippines, 45 years after its inaugural hosting in 1978.

This time, the spotlight will be shared with Japan and Indonesia, with the group stages taking place across all three Asian countries in four different arenas.

However, the final phase, spanning from the quarterfinals to the championship game, will be exclusively held in the Philippines.

Let’s revisit this historic moment when the country hosted the event.

First in Asia

The 1978 FIBA World Cup in Manila (known as the FIBA World Championship back then) was the eighth edition and the first to be hosted in Asia.

Spanning a duration of two weeks, from October 1 to 14, the matches unfolded across two prominent venues in Metro Manila: the Rizal Memorial Coliseum and the Araneta Coliseum.

Over the course of the FIBA World Cup’s history, the number of participating teams has experienced variations. In the inaugural World Championship, a mere 10 teams contended in the event.

However, during the 1978 edition, the Philippines exclusively welcomed 14 participating nations.

With just 14 teams, the tournament only had three groups:

  • Group A: Canada, South Korea, Senegal, Yugoslavia
  • Group B: Brazil, China, Italy, Puerto Rico
  • Group C: Australia, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, United States

During the initial years of the FIBA World Championship, a distinct privilege was accorded to the host country and the reigning champions. This privilege granted them automatic qualification for the semifinal round of the competition.

Consequently, the Philippines, as the host nation, and the Soviet Union, as the reigning champions, were exempted from participating in the group stage.

In terms of participation, NBA players were not allowed to play in FIBA events before 1989. FIBA had a rule that prohibited professionals from playing in their tournaments, and the NBA did not want to risk their players getting injured in international competitions.

However, in 1989, FIBA and the NBA signed a cooperation agreement that allowed NBA players to compete in FIBA events.

The first NBA players to play in a FIBA event were the United States team at the 1992 Summer Olympics. The “Dream Team” went on to win the gold medal, and their participation helped to raise the profile of international basketball.

The Philippines in the 1978 Basketball World Cup

The 1978 FIBA World Cup saw the Philippines fielding a 15-member roster. Among those proudly representing the host nation were players like Alex Clariño, Steve Watson, Edward Merced, Frederico Israel, Ramon Cruz, Frederico Lauchengco, Cesar Teodoro, Bernardo Carpio, Nathaniel Castillo, Gregorio Gozum, Leopoldo Herrera, and Cesar Yabut.

Ramon Cruz emerged as the top scorer for the Philippines throughout the tournament, maintaining an impressive average of 16.8 points per game. Following suit were Watson with 11.2 points and Carpio with 10.4.

Adhering to the traditional tournament structure, each advancing team from the group stage was pitted against one another. Consequently, with eight teams reaching the semifinal round, the Philippines saw action in a total of seven matches.

Unfortunately, the Filipinos dropped all seven matches, a performance that relegated them at the eighth spot.

In an attempt to secure a higher standing, the team contested a seventh-place playoff classification game against Australia. However, the Filipinos lost anew with a final score of 92-74.

Since then, the Philippines failed to qualify for the World Cup until 2014, a year in which the team concluded its campaign in the 21st position.

Who won the 1978 World Basketball Championship?

Securing a perfect record, Yugoslavia ruled the 1978 FIBA World Championship, marking its second triumph on the international stage.

The Yugoslavian team, guided by powerhouse players like Dalipagic and Kicanovic, both of whom earned spots on the All-Tournament Team, alongside Ratko Radovanovic, comfortably won all their initial-round matches against Senegal, Korea, and Canada.

Dražen Dalipagić, a name enshrined among FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1991 and an esteemed inductee into the FIBA Hall of Fame, earned the distinguished title of the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Meanwhile, the reigning champions Soviet Union, settled for the second place, while Brazil secured a third-place finish.

Among the big names on the Soviet team were future FIBA Hall of Famers Sergie Belov and Vladimir Tkachenko.

Emerging as a dominant force, Kamil Brabenec from Czechoslovakia dominated the scoring charts, boasting an impressive average of 26.9 points across seven games.

The 1978 edition also introduced a prospective worldwide basketball legend in the form of Oscar Schmidt from Brazil.

At the young age of 20, Schmidt’s outstanding performance made a significant impact. He began with an impressive showcase, scoring 21 points in his first game against China.

This was followed by impressive performances of 23 and 20 points against Italy and Puerto Rico, which helped Brazil advance to the Semi-Final Round of the competition.

Here are the final rankings of the 1978 World Basketball Championship:

  • Yugoslavia, 10-0
  • Soviet Union, 6-2
  • Brazil, 8-2
  • Italy, 6-4
  • United States of America, 6-4
  • Canada, 4-6
  • Australia, 4-6
  • Philippines, 0-8
  • Czechoslovakia, 5-2
  • Puerto Rico, 4-3
  • China, 2-5
  • Dominican Republic, 2-5
  • South Korea, 1-6
  • Senegal, 1-6
What’s next for 2023?

The highly anticipated start of the 2023 FIBA World Cup gets going on Friday, August 25. On this day, matches will kick off simultaneously in three different countries: the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia.

Taking on the role of the primary host, the Philippines introduces the world tournament with great excitement. The inaugural event and a pair of matches will take place at the expansive Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, which can accommodate over 50,000 spectators.

Additionally, the Mall of Asia Arena, where the final phase will be held, also gets going with its own double-header.

The Philippines unveiled a 12-man final lineup who will fight to defend our home courts:

  • Rhenz Abando
  • Japeth Aguilar
  • Jordan Clarkson
  • AJ Edu
  • June Mar Fajardo
  • Jamie Malonzo
  • CJ Perez
  • RR Pogoy
  • Dwight Ramos
  • Kiefer Ravena
  • Kai Sotto
  • Scottie Thompson

Armed with determination and skill, they stand poised to make their mark on the global stage. Backed by the unwavering support of an entire nation, their journey holds the promise of a triumphant story yet to be written.

Check Rappler Live Updates for game schedules and results on the 2023 FIBA World Cup. —

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Jezreel Ines

Jezreel is a researcher-writer at Rappler mainly focused on governance and social issues.