By JONAS TERRADO
The notion that a sparse crowd would witness the remaining matches of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament was broken last Saturday when Filipinos joined supporters of the four semifinalists in witnessing highly-quality basketball matches.
There were worries that the Mall of Asia Arena would turn into deserted island following the elimination of Gilas Pilipinas from the Rio Olympics qualifier after just two days of competition, with organizers praying that people would come.
And the people definitely came.
It began during the third gameday of the preliminary round last Thursday when a respectable crowd of 4,000 witnessed France erase a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to beat New Zealand, 66-59.
Saturday saw 13,000 spectators reacting in amazement in the semifinal games that resulted in Canada edging New Zealand, 78-72, and France routing Turkey, 75-63.
It has helped that some of the NBA players, namely France’s Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs and Boris Diaw of the Utah Jazz, and Canada’s Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Corey Joseph of the Toronto Raptors, and even the retired Steve Nash, Canada’s team manager, have enticed local fans to watch the games.
“May nakakwentuhan ako na gusto niyang manood para lang makita si Steve Nash,” said one fan.
Filipinos are also appreciating plays of non-NBA cagers such as France’s Nando de Colo and Thomas Heurtel and New Zealand’s Corey and Tai Webster and Isaac Fotu.