Players, coaches, and executives had glowing comments about the Philippines’ passion for basketball and the success of the FIBA World Cup.
Over the past two weeks, basketball players from all over the world have traveled to the Philippines to compete at the biggest international basketball tournament, the 2023 FIBA World Cup. And while every player was tunnel-visioned on their main goal (to win, no doubt), there was one thing that could not be ignored: the Filipinos’ love for basketball.
Throughout the entire tournament, from the group stage to the thrilling final between Germany and Serbia, Filipino basketball fans flocked to wherever the games were being held to watch their favorite players — and not just those representing the Philippines, but all those from other countries as well.
As hosts of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the Philippines’ has received rave reviews from players, coaches, and FIBA executives about the fans, the hospitality, and the entire tournament as a whole. Here’s what they had to say.
Let’s start off with the international player who may have received the warmest welcome from the Filipino fans at the FIBA World Cup: Austin Reaves.
As he came onto the court for his first game for Team USA in the tournament, the fans cheered the loudest for the 25-year-old, and this definitely meant a lot to him.
“It’s special for me,” Reaves said in the post-game press conference. “I’m from a super small town. Not a lot of people expected me to be here to represent our country. So for them to accept me the way they accept me, that means a lot to me.”
Slovenia competed in Japan for the group stage of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, but thankfully, they advanced to the finals phase of the tournament and booked their ticket to Manila. As stoked as the Slovenians must have been to make it to the quarterfinals, the Filipino basketball fans were undoubtedly just as excited to see one of the best NBA players: Luka Doncic.
“It’s been amazing, so many fans, they support me,” Doncic said after playing on the Filipinos’ home court. “Tomorrow we have another game so hopefully, we can get them the win.”
“It has been really, really amazing. I appreciate the love.”
Competing in the same group as Gilas Pilipinas for the group stage of the World Cup, the head coach of Italy, Gianmarco Pozzecco, had only good things to say about the Philippines in terms of both the team and the hospitality of the fans and event organizers.
“People from the Philippines, they are so lovely,” he told the press. “They love basketball and we feel that they treat us so good. But please, from today, try to stay home and don’t go out [with a] car, so we will not have too much traffic. If you need to go out, go to work. Don’t go out just for fun, please.”
It seems Pozzecco now understands Filipino culture a little bit better, from our warm hospitality to the dreaded Manila traffic.
Filipino-American NBA head coach Erik Spoelstra has been to the Philippines numerous times before, so he is no stranger to the passion for basketball in the country. But this time, coming to the country as Team USA’s assistant coach brought a new excitement for him, as he looked forward to sharing the experience with his entire team.
“I’m excited for our program to see the enthusiasm for basketball and our team here in Manila. I’ve tried to explain it to everybody, but unless you actually come to Manila and really experience it, it’s tough to articulate that. We’ve only been here for 24 hours and all the players now understand what I was talking about,” Spoelstra shared just a day after arriving in his mother’s home country.
Spoelstra was right — being in Manila is the only way to fully experience the Philippines’ famous love for basketball, and Team USA head coach Steve Kerr could attest to that.
“It’s fun to be here,” he said. “I’ve known about Filipinos’ passion for basketball for a long time… I’m very aware of the popularity of the game and it’s finally wonderful to come here for the first time.”
Another fan favorite in the Philippines was definitely Serbia’s star player, Bogdan Bogdanović. In the finals, Filipino fans joined the many Serbian fans in the Mall of Asia Arena to cheer him on, and despite their loss, they put up an incredible fight throughout the tournament. Bogdanović truly felt the support.
“I didn’t know they know us like this here. Wherever we go, ‘Oh can we take [a] picture?’ They all follow basketball, they know each and other players, they come in with their cards, ‘Can you sign this’, they’re pulling out of [their] pockets, random stuff from their idols or players. Unbelievable city,” he expressed.
Of course, Jordan Clarkson is definitely one of the players who received the biggest support from the Filipino crowds, as he represented Gilas Pilipinas. And though it was not his first time getting to experience playing in front of the home crowd, he still had much to say about the experience of getting to do so at the World Cup.
Despite losing their first game of the FIBA World Cup, he remained optimistic, saying, “It was definitely amazing, the turnout was great, the support always is there. Us being the host city and from here, it’s definitely felt. So I think a lot of our games are going to be loud, packed out, so we’re looking forward to those.”
Playing for the Dominican Republic, Karl Anthony-Towns got to experience the Philippines’ passion for basketball first-hand, especially when he competed directly against Gilas Pilipinas.
“Filipino fans are amazing. I really appreciate all the fans showing us so much love and generosity and graciousness in our welcome here,” he expressed.
“It’s amazing that we have such a chance to visit such a beautiful country and to meet such amazing people who are so loving to the game of basketball and celebrate their country and their team so hard. I respect fans who respect their people. Salamat, mabuhay!“
Team USA was definitely a favorite in the FIBA World Cup because even though the arenas weren’t packed with fans from the United States, it still felt like they might have been, with Filipino fans cheering hard for the all-NBA team.
“It’s been a very warm welcome. You can tell that the fans out here are very passionate. You can tell that people really love basketball,” Cameron Johnson said about playing in the Philippines. “I really appreciate that. We appreciate, you know, the love that you shown us.”
As an ambassador for the FIBA World Cup and a legend in the sport himself, Dirk Nowitzki only wanted success for the hosting of the tournament. And as early as the Official Draw, which took place in the Philippines, it seemed that he could already foresee that it would be a success.
“It’s been amazing,” Nowitzki said during the World Cup Draw. “The last few days have been a super warm welcome. It’s been busy but super good to see so many NBA fans. The knowledge of the game here is incredible so thank you guys for all the support.”
While many players and coaches had great things to say about the love and support they’ve received throughout the tournament, FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis praised the Philippines’ overall hosting of the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
“Manila has been an excellent host. I don’t think it’s easy to find anywhere else in the world this level of service to the visitors,” Zagklis commented.
“Always with a smile, always with kindness, always with a solution-oriented approach. I can only express how grateful FIBA is to the Philippines and the City of Manila. From the head of the State [President Bongbong Marcos] who came to the opening game to the volunteers that took care of us here in the venues and our hotels. We’re grateful to them.”
All in all, the 2023 FIBA World Cup has indeed been a success. Not only did the Philippines get to host such a historic event, but it also put the country on the map, as the fans surely gave all the teams a World Cup to remember.
Banner image from FIBA Basketball.