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The real competition

By admin Published: August 27, 2006

    Saitama, Japan -- Now, I get it.  I spent long hours at the Saitama Super Arena the last few days watching the round of 16 in the FIBA World Championship.  It reminds me of the NCAA Tournament, non-stop games with small pockets of fans pulling for their team with their own special traditions plus a mix of blowouts and tight games.
But after watching very closely, I've figured this out.  All this basketball is window dressing.  The sideshow.  The warmup act.  No, the main attraction the first few days of this event totally belongs to the dance teams.

    Am I serious?  Absolutely.  Am I a sexist? I don't think so.

    There are these two dance troupes performing at all the games at the arena, which by the way is one of the most interesting buildings I've ever been in.  It is about the size of the United Center now, but it actually can slide apart and more seating and be inserted and make it more like the RCA Dome.  It all moves on these tracks.  Quite fascinating, but I'm way off point here.

    Switching off games, both dance groups emerge every single timeout in a new outfit, most of them more outlandish than revealing like NBA dance teams.  The performances are ethnic, in fact every game they perform a routine in the traditional wear of the competing countries.  Every routine is different and they aren't afraid to come out in knee-high furry boots, hot pink emsembles, and with all kinds of props to twirl, toss, and pound.  When hit the floor, the crowd lights up and pulls out video and digital cameras and claps along to the music and really gets into it.  They do rhythmic gymnastics, ballet moves, irish dance and jazz steps.

    No, I'm not losing my mind, the wacky thing is the two troupes are competitive with each other.  Once, the Red Foxes, are from the Ukraine.  Other other, EuroDance, is from Lithuania.  And they are not friendly ex-Russian republics.

    While walking outside the arena in between games, travel confidant and ESPNer Chris Sheridan and I encountered a group of them.  "Hello Red Foxes!" Sheridan cooed.  Much to his surprise, he was quickly upbraided in old Soviet fashion.  We'd actually come across a Euro Dance faction.  Before we could comfortably procede, we had to swear allegiance to the Lithuanian entry. (Shhhhh, I think the Foxes might be better).

    Don't worry, I'll be covering this developing story.

    Oh, Team USA, they hammered Australia.  Get back to me when the games get serious, there's a timeout coming up...   

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