As always, there are some great storylines in the FIBA World Cup: France flames out. The Australians keep flirting with disaster. The young American team is coming together fast - but so are the Canadians. South Sudan has a rising star - a 16-year-old! And Japan knocked off a World Cup opponent for the first time in decades. And for the first time ever on Sunday, Japan knocked off a European team.
To be fair, Finland isn’t Spain or Greece or France (of course, lately France isn’t really France either).
But it’s a huge deal for the Japanese, who had not won a World Cup game in 17 years and that one was against Panama. And while Finland isn't exactly Spain, Panama is a long ways from being Finland too.
For the Japanese, this was a beautiful moment. They embraced and wept on the court. Fans wept in the stands. How can you not love that?
And it was a hell of a win. Japan was down by 18 before coming back to win by 10, 98-88. Any way you cut it, that’s a huge turnaround.
Japan has done well in Asia but not on a bigger stage. Why?
If you ask casually, a lot of people are going to make jokes about Japanese basketball that, we’re sorry to say, will have a racist tinge, with the basic idea being Asians can’t play high-level basketball.
Which is ridiculous.
Certainly there have been great Asian players but not great Asian teams yet.
First and foremost is that basketball hasn’t been a huge game for Asian kids until fairly recently. It takes time to build any sports culture and basketball didn’t really start to sweep the world until 1992 when the Dream Team caught the global imagination. European and South American teams have competed at the highest levels, but it took a while.
And culturally, Asians wisely put more emphasis on education than they do on sports. Kids are expected to focus on school first and foremost.
Add it all up and it’s a lot to overcome.
But it can be overcome, as the Japanese proved. It’s wonderful that they won and we hope they can build on this.
They won't be moving on though - the Japanese lost to the Aussies on Tuesday, which means they’re out. And it was by 20 - there was no stirring comeback this time.
Still, they had a major breakthrough Sunday and the biggest win in the history of Japanese basketball. They showed a lot of heart and improvement. We look forward to seeing where that program goes next.
Note - we thought they were done with pool play, but Japan played and defeated Venezuela Thursday, 86-77 so they may be moving on, which would be great.