After home favorites Gilas Pilipinas, the Team USA games at FIBA World Cup 2023 have been the most watched, both in person and online, for fans across the Philippines.
The Americans hear cheers from the very moment they take the floor and continue to feed off the energy of the crowd clearly in their favor. Already among the tournament favorites, Team USA essentially also have homecourt advantage now in their title hunt.
Filipinos are cheering for Team USA even without a bonafide superstar like LeBron James or a Stephen Curry on the roster. The basketball-crazy country has fans anywhere and everywhere for the likes of Anthony Edwards and Brandon Ingram.
But it's not just that, though. This iteration of Team USA has roots that go deeper into Philippine soil. Here's our breakdown of the links that connect Team USA to the co-host country:
Erik Spoelstra, the champion coach with Filipino heritage
A dream scenario for Gilas may very well be for Spoelstra, who won back-to-back championships as shot-caller for the Miami Heat, to take the reins for the Philippine national team.
The brilliant tactician fondly called 'Spo' traces his roots to San Pablo, Laguna, and has always recognized his dual heritage. Spoelstra has said that his goal was to play in the PBA, had his coaching career not come calling.
Alas, Spoelstra is helping Team USA win the world championship for the first time in a decade. Still, his name -- among all Americans -- is what Filipinos hold dearest to their hearts.
Austin Reaves, the Los Angeles Laker in Laker-land
"And No. 15, Austin... REAVES!!!"
Most, if not all, of the arena erupts as the undrafted rising star of the Los Angeles Lakers joins his teammates already lined up pre-game. The noise level for Reaves is, by far, the loudest even compared to reigning Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr., Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, or superstar-in-waiting Edwards.
This is the Philippines, where the Lakers reign supreme, built upon legions and legions of believers in the "Mamba mentality." So whoever dresses like the late, great Kobe Bryant in purple and gold will always have a leg up when it comes to feeling the love from Filipinos.
Before Kobe and L.A., though, there was Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
'His Airness' had just as much of an impact on the Filipinos' view on basketball as the Kobe. As such, anybody who was in contact with Jordan in his prime years was also in contact with the Philippines' proverbial puso.
That's what Steve Kerr was: the knockdown shooter, the little-guy-that-could, the under-the-radar guard that earned the trust of the GOAT. It doesn't hurt him either that he's now the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, arguably Filipinos' second-favorite NBA team.
Chip Engelland, the one-time naturalized player
Team USA's "shot doctor" defines what a shooting coach should be. In his coaching career, he has been, as the L.A. Times put it, "credited with sharpening the strokes of Grant Hill, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard."
Chip Engelland is now a member of Mark Daigneault's staff in Oklahoma City, but long before, he averaged 27.5 points per game through 76 games in three PBA conferences. He was also the naturalized player for the Philippine national team that won the 1985 William Jones Cup.
Even now, and even in the United States, he's glad that he "gets recognized, considering I haven't shot a basketball here [in the Philippines] for almost 40 years."
Paolo Banchero, the insan that came to light
Most basketball fans got introduced to Paolo Banchero when he rose to stardom while playing for Duke in the U.S. NCAA. Most Filipino fans, however, were quick to recognize his surname before asking themselves, "Is he related to Chris?"
Yes, he is! The pair are cousins. Paolo's father and Chris' father are brothers. That's also why Chris has been a fixture during Team USA's games in the World Cup.
Jalen Brunson, the son of a former PBA import
Long before the New York Knicks' primetime playmaker donned the blue, red, and white at the Mall of Asia Arena, another Brunson played in the Philippines.
Jalen's father Rick saw action for crowd darling Ginebra in the 1998 PBA Governors' Cup. It was only for one game -- as the Gin Kings were eliminated after his first, and ultimately last, game -- but Rick, indeed, got to see action for Ginebra and then-playing coach Robert Jaworski.
Asked about it by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in the pre-tournament news conference, Jalen said he had no idea as he "was barely two years old" then. Even so, "Brunson" has long been a name known to Filipino fans.