MANILA, Philippines – When Grant Hill and his father, Calvin, visited the Philippines for the first time in 1996, never in their wildest dreams did they imagine to receive the kind of encompassing reception which the former NBA superstar now compares to a “state dinner.”
While cameras shuttered and eyes lingered during a prominent visit to a high-ranked government official, Grant found himself in conversation with a former Philippine president who just so happened to be an avid basketball fan, aware of the NBA franchise he suited up for.
Meanwhile, Calvin wondered about his 23-year-old son: “What could he be saying to Cory Aquino?”
Whether that was out of anxiety or curiosity, what’s certain is Manila left a resounding impact on the Hills, with Grant returning four years later for another promotional tour after previously visiting for apparel brand Fila. Getting to meet the country’s leader was just one of this land’s lasting traits.
When the seven-time NBA All-Star makes his third trip this August, it will be for his new role as the managing director – previously held by Jerry Colangelo – of Team USA basketball in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, which will have Manila as one of the tournament’s host cities along with Okinawa and Jakarta.
The Americans – usually considered the favorites because of their superiority of the game – will stay in the Philippines for the entirety of their visit, providing a basketball-loving nation the rare opportunity to watch the best of the sport perform at the highest level of international competition.
And the opportunity for these world-class talents to experience the culture of Manila – basketball and beyond – excites the former Olympic gold medalist just as much as the action on the court can possibly do so.
“I was absolutely blown away in Manila,” Hill reminisced during a media conference call. “I went to games – I think it was the Astrodome – the PBA, it felt like I was in the NBA. The in-game entertainment was identical to what we did at that time at the NBA.”
Hill, who by then was three years removed from winning the NBA Rookie of the Year and was in the middle of his career tenure as a Piston, later added:
“Obviously we want our players to see Manila in the Philippines and be able to be there not just to play basketball but to learn something about the country, its history, [and] its culture.”
But the United States, which uncharacteristically placed seventh in the 2019 World Cup, also has a job to do. Hill, who at one point in his career was considered a suitable successor to Michael Jordan as the NBA’s next superstar, explained it best by acknowledging the expectation that anything short of winning gold in the tournament will be considered a failure for the Americans.
Hill did not reveal which players will wear the USA’s colors for the World Cup – their schedule will become clear following the draw in late April – but explained there’s been recent progress in discussions with NBA standouts to take on the task of leading USA back to the gold while also qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
As Team USA progresses towards adapting to the mindset of current-generation NBA players under Hill’s leadership, multi-year commitments for multiple summer tournaments will no longer be a prerequisite to join the national squad.
“Players have been very, very receptive,” Hill said about the recruitment. “I think in recent weeks we’ve started to intensify that and [are] looking to really get some momentum there and some commitments, possibly, here in the stretch run going into the playoffs.”
He also added that there will no longer be a tryout period to compete for roster spots so that the extra time may be used to build team camaraderie on and off the court.
There will still be a select team for competition purposes, the value of which is something Hill is well-aware of given his role for the select squad which experienced brief success before getting pummeled by the famous 1992 Olympic Dream Team led by the likes of Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and other NBA legends.
Another area of interest for Filipinos will be the visit of Filipino-American Erik Spoelstra, the head coach of the Miami Heat and an assistant coach under Steve Kerr for Team USA. The two-time NBA champion previously stated his excitement for the trip during the 2022 NBA All-Star Weekend.
The World Cup will be Team USA’s first major international competition since winning the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021.
The Americans will hold training camp and have a showcase game in Las Vegas before competing against respectable European foes Spain and Slovenia, the home of rising NBA star Luka Doncic, in Malaga, Spain.
They will then visit Abu Dhabi for tune-ups against Greece, the home country of two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Germany.
It’s a ticket to Manila from there.
“I just think the fans and the passion and the love of the game will be on full display this upcoming summer,” Hill said. – Rappler.com
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