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MOA Arena gets huge makeover for FIBA World Cup

The SM Mall of Asia Arena gets a makeover ahead of the FIBA World Cup. Dennis Acosta (file photo)
By Dugout Philippines

MANILA—A virtual red carpet welcome and a glittering final day coronation await 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup teams that will set foot starting Aug. 25 on the floors of the sparkling, state-of-the-art entertainment and sports mecca known as SM Mall of Asia Arena (MOA Arena) at the Bay Area in Pasay City.

While the task of setting a new FIBA Basketball World Cup attendance record is reserved for the massive Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, and Gilas Pilipinas’ mission to secure a berth to the 2024 Paris Olympics will go full-blown at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the MOA Arena is where the day of reckoning will take place come September, with the hosting of the Final Phase of the event, including the championship game, where Spain hopes to defend the title.

“As far as preparedness is concerned at MOA Arena, we are ready,” says Mark Solano, the venue head designated by the FIBA Basketball World Cup Local Organizing Committee. 

A long-time follower of the legendary ‘Wizard of Westwood’, John Wooden, who coached the UCLA Bruins to 10 US NCAA Championships during a 12-year period, Solano has applied Wooden’s philosophy that “failure to prepare, is preparing to fail” to his method in helping the world-class 15,000-seater indoor arena make the most of a golden opportunity. 

This came about after FIBA decided to move the last six game days of the World Cup from the Philippine Arena to the MOA Arena last April over logistics concerns. 

“MOA Arena really intended to dress up the venue for the World Cup,” says Solano. “More so when it found out that it would host the Final Phase, preparation was really elevated to international standards.” 

With the sudden turn of events, the MOA Arena became the main hub of the 19th edition of the Basketball World Cup, adding now—to the original function of housing the first round of the Group Phase for teams in Groups C and D, the second round for Group J and the 17th-32nd classification — the quarterfinals, 5th-8th classification, battles for 5th and 7th, semi-finals, battle for 3rd place, and the Final. 

It is during the Final Phase that qualifiers from the Group Phase in Okinawa and Jakarta will fly in to compete for podium finishes.

The playing court’s perimeter has been spruced up like never before and the jumbo-sized cube high up at mid-court has been given an eye-catching makeover. 

Under the supervision of FIBA’s George Evangelista, a Filipino who once worked at the MOA Arena, a new players’ entrance has been constructed for faster access from the bus drop-off area to the changing rooms, seats were refurbished, walls repainted, and the dugouts dressed up. 

“All the toilets, cubicles, and even the tiles are new,” said Solano, who added that shower heads able to accommodate 7-footers underneath have been installed. 

On the second floor, a Naismith Lounge has been put up for VIPs, like former NBA stars and now FIBA World Cup ambassadors Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, and Pau Gasol, where they can leisurely hang out, the place all boarded up for comfort and privacy.  

A media tribune that can accommodate 328 foreign and local journalists has been built, with the actual working area ready to service 252 reporters and photographers. A spacious media catering area has also been put up. 

Numerous fun shops to purchase souvenirs will also be installed in designated areas at the concourse. Traffic going to and leaving the venue has been pre-coordinated with the Pasay LGU and police, the MOA Arena management, and the LOC’s own security and transport teams for smooth and hassle-free flow. 

All in all, Solano, who accompanied Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Executive Director Sonny Barrios and MOA Arena Senior Vice President and GM Arnel Gonzales in a walk-through recently, said, “It will be really exciting to see because it is the first time the whole place will be all dressed up like this.”

Debuting at the MOA Arena on Friday are Montenegro versus Mexico at 4:45 p.m., and Lithuania against Egypt at 8:30 p.m.

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