23 Sep 2013

First year for Nauru and FSM in Marshalls' basketball tournament

5:13 pm on 23 September 2013

Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia are taking part for the first time in the Marshall Islands' annual national basketball tournament, which began in the capital Majuro over the weekend.

It is the 13th year of the competition, which this year involves 13 Marshall Islands teams, three from Nauru and one from Pohnpei.

Our correspondent Giff Johnson says the competition is dominated by players from Majuro but they are organised into teams representing their home islands and people there follow the games live on radio.

He told Annell Husband the participation of two other countries this year is an indication of basketball's popularity in Micronesia.

GIFF JOHNSON: We have men's and women's teams competing, and in the Marshall Islands fanaticism about basketball borders on a religious fervour.

ANNELL HUSBAND: So where are the games played?

GJ: The games, because we don't have an indoor gymnasium anymore since the national gym was condemned over two years ago, the games are played at the college of the Marshall Islands outdoor court, although lately the US army came in and put up a roof, not walls, but a roof over the outdoor court, to recognise the one Marshall Islander who was killed in action in Iraq several years ago. So the roof provides some cover from sun and rain and that's where it will be played, at the college of the Marshall Islands.

AH: OK. And what sort of an audience does it attract, and where do they sit? Do they just pack in around the court, out in the open?

GJ: Pretty much. It's just an open area. It's always an issue for the people running the tournament to keep the kids away from the backboards and the end-lines, because they want to get right up where the action is, trying to prevent them from being in the way of players who are flying down the court at a break-neck speed. So that's pretty exciting. But the bigger games here will attract thousands in an audience. You get a little perspective on that. We have about 30,000 on Majuro, so you might get 5% or 10% of the population out for a big game here.

AH: Wow. And are there seats around the court, or how does everyone get a view of the action?

GJ: Yeah, it's just do your best. You try to keep the kids in the front sitting down and sometimes people will bring their hand-woven mats, island-style, and just sit down on the grass, and when it's really crowded people are climbing up trees, standing on rocks, getting any kind of view they can get to watch the basketball action.

AH: How long does the tournament go on?

GJ: It's scheduled for about two and half weeks, so there's three to five games played every day. And it all depends on the weather. If the weather is good, that's what it'll be, if the weather isn't helpful to the tournament, then it'll be longer.