FIBA Baltic World Cup 2023: “United as Brothers”

FIBA Baltic World Cup 2023: "United as Brothers"

Lithuania and Latvia may represent only 0.06 percent of the world’s population, but their basketball teams account for a whopping 25 percent of the top eight teams in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.

Lithuania, the bigger brother with 2.8 million residents, and Latvia, just under two million inhabitants on the shores of the Baltic Sea, share an undying passion for basketball. Both Lithuanian and Latvian fans have filled the stands in Asia, turning it into a basketball spectacle.

The yellow-green Lithuanian supporters have turned the Mall of Asia Arena into their home since the beginning of the competition in Manila. Now, they will be joined by the fervent Latvian fans, who are relocating from Jakarta to Manila for the Final Phase this week.

“Those are our talukas,”  Latvia’s Arturs Zagars, expressing his delight for his neighbors. “Those are our brothers, man! Country-wise, we have a similar population, which is not large, and now we’re both in the top eight. It’s a huge achievement for us. I’m very happy for them, and I believe they’re happy for us too. It’s a mutual feeling until we face each other.”

However, just like any siblings, Lithuania and Latvia share a healthy dose of rivalry. Similar to the playful sibling squabbles over toys or board games, their basketball matchups are fierce and competitive, even in friendly games.

“No matter how intense our friendly games got during preparations, we still supported them. We have friends and acquaintances there. When you’re watching, you’re always backing the underdog,” noted Lithuania’s Mindaugas Kuzminskas.

Lithuania created a buzz with their victory over the United States, while Latvia turned heads with their wins over France in the First Round and subsequent victories against Brazil and Spain in the Second Round. It was around this time when Jonas Valanciunas was asked about the biggest surprise of the tournament.

“Probably our brothers (Latvia). They’re playing excellent basketball with confidence. They’ve defeated teams like France and Spain; the basketball they’re playing is impressive.”

Latvia holds a historical place in European basketball, having won the very first FIBA EuroBasket in 1935 and finishing as runners-up in 1939. Rigas ASK was the dominant club in all of Europe during the 1950s, clinching three consecutive European Champions Cups from 1958 to 1960— an accomplishment only matched by Jugoplastika Split from 1989 to 1991.

Meanwhile, Lithuania has been a major force in basketball since the 1990s, winning multiple FIBA EuroBasket gold medals, as well as Olympic and FIBA Basketball World Cup medals.

However, Latvia’s achievement in reaching the top eight in their first-ever FIBA Basketball World Cup appearance, particularly in the challenging part of the draw, is the heartwarming story of 2023.

“This is incredible for us. We are like brother countries. To be in the top eight in the World Cup is something amazing,” beamed Rokas Jokubaitis.

The draw has placed them in different brackets. If Lithuania manages to overcome Serbia, Canada, or Slovenia, and Latvia achieves the same against Germany and then Italy or the USA, we could witness an all-Baltic Final in Manila.

While it may seem unlikely, if there’s even a 0.06 percent chance, they might just make it happen.


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