MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. witnessed on Friday the record crowd at the FIBA Basketball World Cup (FBWC) opening at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.

According to the international basketball federation (FIBA) data, a staggering 38,115 fans watched the Philippines-Dominican Republic match, beating the previous record of 32,616 spectators in an indoor arena during the 1994 World Championship (now the World Cup) finals in Toronto, Canada, where the USA beat Russia.

The event commenced with a series of performances by Filipino musicians, including Ben&Ben, The Dawn and Sarah Geronimo.

President Marcos arrived at the Philippine Arena just in time for tip-off.

The Philippines is represented by the Gilas Pilipinas team, led by Filipino-American Jordan Clarkson, who plays for the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Utah Jazz.

The country is the lead host for World Cup, with Japan and Indonesia as its co-hosts.

The President briefly met with the players of the Philippines and took a photo with them at the end of the second quarter.

Four groups, or 16 teams, will play their games in the Philippines at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City and at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, while Japan and Indonesia will each host two groups.

The top eight teams will converge in the Philippines for the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game on Sept. 5 to 10.

Among the government officials present during the opening were House of Representatives Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr., Senior Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos and Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Hubert Dominic Guevara.

FIBA president Hamane Niang and NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki were also seated in Marcos’ row.

Jordan Clarkson (PNA photo by Avito C. Dalan)

Gilas falters vs. Dominican Republic

However, despite the record-setting crowd mostly cheering fans for Gilas, the Philippine team faltered down the stretch and bowed to the Dominican Republic, 87-81.

The Dominican Republic kept their poise when the home side lost steam in the final six and a half minutes.

Gilas’ fate was sealed when Clarkson fouled out with 3:32 remaining.

“I really love the fight of the players. We competed hard. Unfortunately, the disqualification of Jordan was really a big blow to us,” coach Chot Reyes said after Gilas’ loss.

Karl-Anthony Towns made much of the damage to lead the Dominican Republic with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

Gilas’ efforts to contain Towns resulted in the Minnesota Timberwolves mainstay making 15-of-16 charity shots.

Victor Liz added 18 points, six rebounds, one assist and four steals.

Clarkson also got his rhythm from the free throw line, going 9-for-11 to make up for a sluggish 9-of-24 field goal shooting, including 1-for-6 from the three-point area. He finished with a game-high 28 points alongside seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one block.

However, he committed eight turnovers, including the offensive foul that kicked him out of the game.

Three-time World Cup veteran June Mar Fajardo went a perfect 5-for-5 from the field for 16 points with seven rebounds and one block.

FIBA Basketball World Cup opening-day crowd at Philippine Arena, Bulacan on Aug. 25, 2023 (PNA photo by Avito C. Dalan)

Start of something special

Despite Gilas fans heading home sad, officials said they should remain happy for becoming part of FIBA World Cup history.

For FIBA World Cup 2023 chair Richard Carrion, the historic moment alone makes this year’s edition special.

“We all knew the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 was going to be special and within the first day. We already have evidence of this, having witnessed this historic moment. Everyone inside the Philippine Arena will never forget the amazing levels of love for both basketball and the Philippines national team that was cascading around the venue,” Carrion said.

“This is just the start of what will be the most memorable event in FIBA’s history and we’re all excited for what lies ahead – both on and off the court. Not only in the Philippines but also in Japan and Indonesia.”

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas chair emeritus Manny Pangilinan said the record-breaking event further showed that Filipinos are the best basketball fans in the world.

“We often say we’re the best fans in the world, but beating the old FIBA attendance record has proven what we have believed all along,” he said. (With a report from Ivan Stewart Saldajeno/PNA)