NBA-powered Team USA to play all Fiba World Cup games here | Inquirer Sports
‘RARE TREAT’

NBA-powered Team USA to play all Fiba World Cup games here

Brownlee naturalization breezes through Senate
/ 04:30 AM December 13, 2022
Justin Brownlee—PBA IMAGES

Justin Brownlee—PBA IMAGES

Given the power by the International Basketball Federation (Fiba) to seed a foreign country to play here during the World Cup next year, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) didn’t have to think twice.

And neither did the Senate, it seems, when it came down to Justin Brownlee’s naturalization bid.

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The SBP penciled Team USA as one of the teams that will see action here during the group stage of the Fiba World Cup that will also be hosted in part by Japan and Indonesia, a decision that is not only the best for a basketball-crazed population but is also the most commercially viable for an event whose organizers could end up coughing up about P1 billion in local expenses.

“If I’m not mistaken, we are the second largest NBA (National Basketball Association) market [in Asia] behind China,” SBP president Al Panlilio told the Inquirer on Monday.

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Team USA will play all of its matches in the Philippines starting in the classification round, putting the biggest draw of the 32-nation meet right in front of the Filipino audience.

And to maximize that, telecommunications giant Smart will feature every Team USA game in its Smart Livestream App to ensure that local basketball fans will have front-row seats—in person or virtually—to watch what could be a collection of NBA stars gun for World Cup glory.

With Fiba granting each host a pick of any country it would want to play in its arenas, Japan chose Slovenia, which will be bannered by the multitalented Luka Doncic. Indonesia selected Canada, which could field Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins.

“We are honored that the USA Team will play a minimum of five games or a maximum of eight games [here],” Panlilio said. “That will be a treat for Filipino fans. A once-in-a-lifetime [chance].”

Without a hitch

This development comes on the same day that the Senate approved Justin Brownlee’s naturalization without a hitch, practically making sure that the 34-year-old Barangay Ginebra import in the Philippine Basketball Association will be able to backstop Gilas Pilipinas in the final qualifying window in February.

“The SBP is grateful for this development,” Panlilio said. “We thank both the Senate and Congress—led by Senate President Migz Zubiri and House Speaker Martin Romualdez. And thank you to Sen. Sonny Angara and Deputy Speaker Robbie Puno, [with] special thanks to Senators Francis Tolentino, Joel Villanueva, Bong Go, Bato dela Rosa, Mark Villar, Congressman Mikee Romero, and Justice Juliet Ferrer in pushing [for] the naturalization process.”

Though Gilas is expected to be spearheaded by Jordan Clarkson in the main event, having Brownlee as its naturalized player in February creates another box-office draw.

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With the Senate’s quick approval of Brownlee’s citizenship, all that is needed to make things official is President Marcos’ signature.

“Your citizenship was given to you in a very quick manner because of the need to have a very good player in the Philippine team. But you are being given responsibility, sir, of having full civil and political rights as a Filipino. Please put that in heart,” Zubiri told Brownlee, who appeared before the Senators in a “barong” tagalog.

Brownlee unfurled a Philippine flag after the voting was concluded.

“The future of Philippine basketball is on the line, and this Chamber has the opportunity to take the winning shot. Do we take our chance at glory or do we pass? I say we go all in,” said Sen. Dela Rosa. “Never say die.”

The Philippines, as main host, will be placed in Pot 1 during the official draw, along with the best-ranked teams after the final qualifying window. That means the Filipinos won’t get to play Team USA unless they reach the knockout round.

The draw will be held in Manila on April 29.

Next year’s event will mark just the second time in World Cup history that 32 countries will be playing.

Two venues will host four groups in Manila during the classification round with the KO stages to be played at Philippine Arena in Bulacan province, which can seat 53,000 fans.

—With a report from Marlon Ramos INQ
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