MANILA, Philippines-Team USA, though lacking star power has names that Filipino NBA fans can easily be familiar with, finally arrived in Manila on Tuesday not only with business in mind, but a chance to experience a different side of the globe too.
As the 12 players and staff led by coach Steve Kerr, were welcomed at the tarmac by officials from the local organizing committee and volunteers giving out garlands to everyone who got out of their chartered plane, the Americans are hoping to not only regain their status as champions of the basketball world, but also to savor their time for the next couple of weeks in the country.
“I know everyone’s going to be focused on who wins, and obviously we are—we desperately want to win,” coach Steve Kerr said in an Associated Press report before the team left Abu Dhabi where it played a couple of warmup matches.
“But this is an incredible experience, too, for our players, our coaches, [and] our families to see the world, to really experience competition at the highest form all over the globe,” said the former Chicago Bulls sharpshooter and current Golden State Warriors mentor tasked to put Team USA back on top after placing seventh in the 2019 edition held in China.
“What an experience. I think our guys are loving it,” Kerr added.
What’s not to love?
Team USA members immediately hopped on three buses that were also parked at the tarmac, an arrangement that was different what other teams and stars like Minnesota Timberwolves standout Karl-Anthony Towns and Dominican Republic, for example, went through.
A video given to The Inquirer showed Team USA later arriving at a hotel in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig where they will be billeted during their stay.
Towns and his team had to go inside Terminal 3 before leaving by bus amid a crowd of media, airport employees and curious onlookers.
The Americans, five-time winners including in the 2010 and 2014 editions, came here minus some of the marquee figures that local hoop lovers had hoped to be around for the games at Mall of Asia Arena.
But those who’ll spend a fortune to witness the cage spectacle will likely be content watching Anthony Edwards, the Timberwolves standout whose stock is expected to rise in the next few years. Edwards appears keen on putting on an impressive show in the World Cup, as witnessed in Abu Dhabi.
Edwards delivered 34 points when the Americans came back from a huge deficit to beat Germany in the last tuneup match.
Also here are Austin Reaves, coming off a splendid NBA campaign for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that a lot of Filipinos root for, and NBA Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Erik Spoelstra, the Miami Heat coach who is part of Kerr’s staff, also made his return in almost a decade. The NBA champion mentor, who has Filipino roots, is not the only person on Team USA with some sort of Philippine connection.
New York Knicks mainstay Jalen Brunson’s dad Rick had a one-game stint with Ginebra in the 1998 PBA Governors’ Cup when the current NBA ace was still two years old while Orlando Magic’s Paolo Banchero is the cousin of Meralco guard Chris Banchero. However, the NBA Rookie of the Year has no Filipino lineage.
The Americans won’t be playing until Saturday when they face New Zealand at Mall of Asia Arena while their other games in Group C are against Greece on Aug. 28 and Jordan on Aug. 30. INQ
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