Manila was the first stop in Asia for the NBA Global Games, with the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers slugging it out in the October 10 playoff at the Mall of Asia Arena.
For the basketball-crazed Filipinos, nothing was more exciting than seeing court heroes in the flesh, whom they have been following either on live broadcast, live streaming, videos or articles written about the players and the teams.
Basketball was introduced in the country by YMCA during the American colonial period, and the Philippines was among the best teams in the world when it won two consecutive gold medals in the Asian Games in 1951 and 1954. It captured the bronze medal in the 1954 FIBA World Championship in Brazil edging out the United States.
To this day, basketball is the favorite sport of Filipinos. Just this year, it hosted the FIBA Asia Games and the Gilas Pilipinas team placed second to Iran, making it one of three teams qualified for the FIBA World Championship in Spain next year. The other team is South Korea. In the youth sector, the U18 and U16 teams are also going to the World Games.
Recently, in the FIBA 3×3 U18 World Championships held in Jakarta, Indonesia, 16-year-old Kobe Paras, son of former PBA stalwart Benjie Paras was declared champion in the Honda Dunk Contest. Second was Antonio Morales of Spain and Demonte Flannigan of the United States.
Adding luster to the popularity of NBA in the Philippines is Erik Spoelstra, the coach of two-consecutive champion Miami Heat. He is half-Filipino and regularly visits Manila.
The Pacers and the Rockets held separate basketball clinics around the metropolis and the players were overwhelmed by the people’s love for the sport, notwithstanding the hospitality accorded to them.
Paul George, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, David West, James Harden, Kevin McHale and Dwight Howard are the more popular players, but Chandler Parsons got extra mileage as the ladies’ crush and for having dinner date with online friend actress-singer KC Concepcion.
Clearly, though, the most loved is Jeremy Lin, the Taiwanese-American who commanded heavy following when he played for the New York Nicks, thus bringing about the term Linsanity.
Twitterkingdom burned lines when he said he had gone around the Mall of Asia and asked for suggestions where to eat dinner. His bio-film “Linsanity” is currently shown in mall theaters nationwide.
He was quoted as saying, “I’ve walked around the mall where people are so polite and respectful… I’ve been blown away.”
It was not the first time that an entire NBA team has played in the land. Back in 1979, the Washington Bullets played against the PBA All-Stars in an exhibition match. But this was the first time in Southeast Asia that two NBA teams played against each other. Their next stop is Taipei, Taiwan on October 13.
The Global Games have eight teams playing against one another in eight cities and six countries.
Highly esteemed and still considered a superstar and now the president of Indiana Pacers, Larry Bird was intently listened to for his tips on playing great basketball .
Miss World 2013 Megan Young arrived in time to do the ceremonial toss for the game.
The Houston team rocketed past the Indiana Pacers 116-96.