FROM an ancient court encased in a wire cage 69 years ago, the World Basketball Championship (now FIBA World Cup) has thrived through the years and survived political and ideological disputes.
Now the dribble and shoot game is one of the most popular, if not the most popular, sport in the world.
The World Championship was first held in the Far East — in Manila, in 1978, 48 years following its inauguration in 1950 in Argentina — in what set the tone on how event of this magnitude should be held.
Venues of competitions were the air-conditioned Araneta Coliseum and the historic Rizal Coliseum inside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, the first of its kind in Asia, that gave premium on the comfort and convenience of the competing teams and the public as well.
A far cry from the old Luna Park Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a decrepit but revered wire encased court where the first championship was held; an open-air court in a football field in Santiago, Chile; and the famous “frigidaire” court in an old building swept by biting snow-winds from the Pole in Montevideo in Uruguay in 1967.
Even in the first year of its existence, the world tourney didn’t escape politics becoming the bane. Opponents of the Peron regime in Argentina, who had asylum in Uruguay, were using commercial radio stations in Montevideo to attack their political foes.
In retaliation, the government of Argentina refused to grant entry visas to Uruguayan reporters and radio commentators, leading Uruguay to withdraw its participation in the championship.
The issue of the Two-China erupted during the Chile tournament. The People’s Republic of China was a member of FIBA in 1936 but withdrew its membership in protest when Taiwan was recognized in 1952 as the basketball association of the Republic of China.
Sixteen years before the Manila tilt in 1978, another political issue arose when the administration of then-Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal refused to grant entry visas to players and officials coming from socialists countries.
FIBA withdrew the championship from the Philippines, excluded the country from the next world events and imposed fine of $2,000.
Despite these non-sport distractions, FIBA continued holding the World Championship which it later re-Christened FIBA World Cup, without interruption until this year, helping the sport of basketball’ popularity grow in an unprecedented fashion.
The Reader’s Digest in its 1978 issue, noted that after Manila’s hosting, of the World Championship, 40 million play the sport in Europe alone. It is played in the shadow of the Pyramids, on dirt clearings, above the Khyber Pass leading from Pakistan to Afghanistan, in bullfight rings in Andean villages in the jungles of Africa, in the Kibbutzim of Israel … in very tiny Philippine village south of Manila.
No less than 10 world championships were contested after Manila, four of them won by the United States, which, obviously, benefited most by the lifting of ban on professional players under the rein of two-time Filipino FIBA president Gonzalo “Lito” Puyat 2nd.
The 2010 FIBA Worlds reached a global TV audience of 800 million people, across 171 countries, with the official website having 30 million views during the tournament. Both numbers broke the previous records set at the 2006 FIBA World Championship and at the EuroBasket 2009.
Three of the games involving Lithuania were among the highest rated programs in that country. In China, 65 million watched the Chinese national team’s game against Greece, in the preliminary round. This was an improvement from the 2006 FIBA World Championship, which was held in Japan, and was shown in 150 countries.
At the most recent world championship in Spain in 2014, FIBA reported impressive ratings from nations which were participating in the tournament during the first week of the group phase. Most games involving European teams had a market share of at least 20 percent, including a 40 percent market share in Finland, for the Finnish national team’s game against the Dominican Republic.
The TV ratings in the US beat out the 2014 US Tennis Open, but some US sports media still described viewers in the US as not caring about the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
In the Philippines, the entire tournament had an average reach of 67.8 percent.