TOKUSHIMA (FIBA Asia Championship) - This south-eastern city in the land of Awa has witnessed history being created in Asian basketball. For the first time, a team outside of the East Asia and Philippines has bagged the FIBA Asia Championship. For the first time in history, two teams from West Asia contested the final.
This correspondent spoke to Hagop Khajirian, Secretary General of West Asian Basketball Association, a sub zone of FIBA Asia, on the causes, reasons and future of this ripple.
"Don't forget we have a third team, Jordan, in the top five," he beamed as I broached the topic during a chat moments before the final.
Tell us how it feels to have teams from WABA playing the final.
WABA teams are playing the final for the FIBA Asia Championship, no doubt it is very exciting. Words can't describe my feelings last night (Saturday). This was my personal dream when we started WABA in 1998 - a West Asian nation to win the Asian Championship.
And it is the effort of each and every individual at each and every level in each and every department that has brought us to this stage. It's definitely a huge achievement for the West Asian basketball community.
How did it this change happen?
Before 1998, West Asian participation itself in the then ABC was marginal.
It was when I led the Lebanese delegation to the 1999 Championship (in Fukuoka) did I realize that it was the 20th edition of the Championships. Which means the Championships had been going on for 40 years and we were not even there. Like I said teams would be playing on and off, but it was not organized at all.
So when we formed WABA we told ourselves that we have to leave behind for our next generation what they have actually inherited as their right - to play good basketball. We couldn't get a lot of things during our playing days because of a lot of reasons. And we didn't want the next generation to suffer the same absence.
It was not that basketball did not exist in our region before WABA. The pieces were already there. We just had to draw a frame and put the pieces together. It looked a big challenge initially.
How did you overcome the challenges?
As you are aware, a politically turbulent atmosphere is quite common in our region. But I think the perseverance of the people has paid off.
In this context, I must mention that the contribution made by each National federation, each official - technical, coaching or otherwise - in each federation of the sub zone is truly invaluable.
I can only congratulate my colleagues in WABA and the National federations in our sub zone for achieving what we have done today.
You think WABA is an example for a subzone to achieve…
Why not! We achieved all this merely because we were passionate and committed.
WABA has a strong junior program. Although the FIBA Asia Junior championships are held only once in two years, WABA conducts the sub zonal championships every year. Say for example, for next year's FIBA Asia U-18 Championships we will play the qualifying tournament this year as WABA U-17 tournament. Last year this was U-16. The cumulative points from both the tournaments are taken into account for qualification for the FIBA Asia tournament.
And all this happens under the supervision of very good coaches. There you have the secret for our success.
Is there something that has not happened?
I would be arrogant to say no.
We are the first sub-zone attempting to play a sub-zonal league cutting across national boundaries. We want 10 teams to play in two groups throughout the year. We want this league to act as the sub-zonal qualifiers for the FIBA Asia Club championship instead of having one single qualifying tournament just before the continental championship.
This has not happened, unfortunately, due to the political instability in the region. We are hoping we can start this very soon.
The future plans…
Personally, I think I have achieved what dreams I had for WABA. Now it's actually time for newer people to take over. I now have dreams for FIBA Asia. We all at FIBA Asia share the dream of an Asian team standing on the podium at the Olympics.
When we started in 1998, we dreamt of a WABA team winning the Asian title. Today that has been realized. I think it's a major station in my life. Not only my basketball career, but my life in entirety.