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MANILA, Philippines – The 2023 FIBA World Cup has come and gone in a proverbial blink of an eye, and the basketball-worshipping fans in the Philippines are now back to their regular habits of watching their favorite players from afar.
Looking back at FIBA’s premiere event gracing Manila’s shores, it was a three-week display of Filipinos’ rabid love for basketball and a celebration of the game’s international growth shared with new friends from all over the world.
It was, however, far from a perfect event, and lessons were learned just as core memories were made.
Co-hosting is the FIBA World Cup’s future
While the Philippines was the 2023 World Cup’s final phase host, it was assisted in the group stages by Japan and Indonesia, marking the first time in the event’s history that it was not held exclusively in one place.
Although this came with expected logistical challenges for fans and organizers alike, it also opens the doors for other developing nations to showcase their hosting potential and bring the magic of the World Cup closer to more deserving fans.
Ticket prices, though, remained a sore point as most Filipino fans packed the more affordable upper box and general admission areas, leaving mostly foreign fans and VIPs to occupy the prime seats.
Gilas Pilipinas fans are not afraid to voice out
The Philippine World Cup hosting leg started off with a deafening bang as Gilas Pilipinas fans broke the FIBA attendance record with a 38,115 tally in the national team’s debut game against the Dominican Republic.
Foreign media and fans in attendance were visibly surprised both at the sheer positive energy given to the Gilas players and the concerted jeers directed at longtime head coach Chot Reyes, who has since “stepped aside” after a one-win home campaign.
At basketball’s biggest stage, Filipino fans were fearless in letting their voices heard, for better or worse.
USA Basketball is still the best – if they send the best
USA Basketball was by default slid under the world’s microscope from start to finish, as fans and pundits scrutinized everything: its roster, its coaches, its defense or lack thereof, and of course, its eventual lack of a medal for the second straight World Cup.
As the once invincible program bowed to the likes of Lithuania and eventual bronze medalist Canada – still powerhouses in their own right – its failure to secure commitments from top NBA stars once again gained steam as head coach Steve Kerr praised the rest of the world for catching up to the US.
USA Basketball and its NBA players are still the world’s benchmarks of basketball, but their gap to the rest is getting closer by the day. As Kerr said, “this is not 1992.”
South Sudan is here to stay
South Sudan was the little team that could in 2023, as it took full advantage of its first-ever World Cup berth to quickly book a ticket to its first Olympics in 2024.
Powered by the vision of former NBA All-Star Luol Deng and NBA guard-turned-coach Royal Ivey, the neophyte national team leaned on naturalized star Carlik Jones to notch three World Cup wins – one each over China, the Philippines, and Angola.
Rising from flooded courts and political strife, South Sudan is a ray of hope bursting into the international basketball scene, and the World Cup was clearly only the beginning.
Basketball globalization will only get better
USA’s losses are the world’s gains, not because Americans are a negative presence in world basketball, but because the runners-up are continuously getting better, as coach Kerr previously said.
From the rise of Germany to the top following an all-Europe final with Serbia, to the breakthroughs of Canada, Latvia, and Slovenia, basketball talent is rapidly spreading away from the mighty US monopoly, and the world is all the better for it.
Aspiring ballers today don’t always have to be “Like Mike.” The likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Luka Doncic, and Jordan Clarkson are now here on the world stage, and if they can do it for their country, so can you.