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Philippine Arena: Hotbed of sports, entertainment

A record crowd of 54,589 fans watch Game 7 of the finals series between Ginebra and Bay Area last January. (PBA Media Bureau)

Since its establishment in 2014, the Philippine Arena has done a good job serving as a hotbed of sports and entertainment.

The cavernous, 55,000-seater stadium had already hosted some of the country’s biggest and most prestigious sports events, including the 30th Southeast Asian Games, previous windows of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, Philippine Basketball Association championship showdowns featuring Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and FIBA 3×3 World Cup.

The opening salvo of the 2014 PBA season drew 52,612 fans when Kia, then bannered by Sen. Manny Pacquiao as playing-coach, defeated Blackwater, 80-66, while the Kings beat TNT Tropang Giga, 101-81, in the main game.

Ginebra, the league’s most popular squad, would set three more records at the Philippine Arena, which was built during the centennial celebration of Iglesia ni Cristo.

The Kings attracted 53,642 spectators in Game 6 of their 2017 Governors’ Cup best-of-seven championship series against Meralco. But the Bolts spoiled the party, 98-91, to forge a Game 7 that drew a record-breaking 54,086 fans two days layer.

The Kings won, 101-96, off a heroic Justin Brownlee jumper to complete their first back-to-back titles in 38 years and 10th overall crown.

The same Ginebra magic was again in full display six years later when the Kings battled the visiting Bay Area Dragons in Game 7 of their Commissioner’s Cup best-of-seven finals series on 15 January.

The match, which was billed as the battle between the hometown hero and foreign invader, was witnessed by 54,589 fans, making it the most watched basketball game in Philippine history.

But the Philippine Arena hosted not just the good times.

It also witnessed one of the darkest chapters in Philippine sports history when some members of Gilas Pilipinas traded punches with the Australian basketball squad during the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifying Tournament on 2 July 2018.

The brawl, which was witnessed by more than 22,000 fans, was so ugly that practically the entire Gilas squad, including coaches Chot Reyes and Jong Uichico, got suspended with the federation being slapped with a P15-million fine.

The core of Gilas was also not allowed to see action in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China, prompting the federation to send a rag-tag squad led by coach Yeng Guiao.

This year, the Philippine Arena will be hosting another historic event anew.

The SBP had decided to hold the opening of the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the gigantic venue with no less than President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. being tasked to make the ceremonial jump ball in the featured encounter between Gilas Pilipinas and Dominican Republic.

With the way things are going, there’s a possibility that the Philippines can smash the FIBA World Cup all-time record of 32,616 held by Canada when Dream Team II bannered by National Basketball Association stars Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley demolished Russia, 137-91, in the gold medal match at the Sky Dome in Toronto.

Senator Sonny Angara, chairman of the SBP, is confident that the Philippines can easily surpass the all-time record and put the Philippine Arena in the world sporting map.

“This is a big event, the World Cup, and you have the presence of global superstars and a major production,” said Angara during a video interview with Daily Tribune.

“This is a very historic event because we have a chance to break the record for highest number of attendance in a World Cup game. The Philippine Arena can accommodate much more people than the previous record attendance.”

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