3x3 Lions win in front of their own audience at the World Cup, but especially conquer hearts at Groenplaats: "This sport is ours"

© Joris Herregods

Antwerp

It was like it had to be. Just before the Belgians started their opening game against Slovenia at the 3×3 basketball World Cup, the sun completely broke through the Groenplaats. The ideal setting for Team Belgium to get their first win. “It was amazing. Thank you, everybody!” said captain and home player Nick Celis just after the first game.

Dante Bellon

It was an atmosphere to die for before, during and after the opening game of the 3×3 Lions. They enter the field to pumping beats, and crowd favorite Thibaut Vervoort got a little extra applause. When the first three-pointer of the same Vervoort went in, the arena exploded for the first time. Then followed a dunk of… indeed Thibaut ‘Pretty Boy’ Vervoort. Sure enough, he also finished it from the free-throw line. The evening got off to a perfect start in Antwerp.

A world championship like this in your own country – and for most in your own city – is always something special. Some fans of the Antwerp Giants can also confirm this. After a lesser season for their club, they will come to encourage their country on Tuesday, but also especially for Thibaut Vervoort. “It’s great to have such an event in our city. Especially because some Antwerpers are also participating. We enjoy it.”

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Some fans of the Antwerp Giants come to cheer on Team Belgium.

Some fans of the Antwerp Giants come to cheer on Team Belgium. © Joris Herregods

That is also the opinion of ex-Antwerp Giant Niels Van den Eynde. He will go to Liège, but will come to enjoy the World Cup for a while. “I played against or with those men. It’s a great advertisement for our sport to be able to continue in our own country and I am delighted that we can organize this. The Olympics did a good job of that. It can only benefit basketball in Belgium.”

Belgian basketball referee Nick Van den Broeck joins him in this. He will come together with his son Mattiz, who, like many in Antwerp, discovered the sport during the Olympic Games in Tokyo last summer. “I saw some matches then and really enjoyed it,” says little Mattiz. Young and old, it appeals to everyone. Victor, Gabriel and Lorenzo come especially from Brussels to watch the Lions’ matches. “It’s great that it’s so accessible. We were able to enjoy the first sessions for free.”

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Victor, Gabriel and Lorenzo from Brussels.

Victor, Gabriel and Lorenzo from Brussels. © Joris Herregods

And the three Antwerp students Kenza, Kiran and Lina are also happy about this. “The fact that it is just on the Groenplaats attracts everyone. You can either enter the stands for free, and a ticket costs little money. It’s a really fun event that attracts a very different audience. You see everyone coming here from Antwerp.” But initially the ladies also come for the men. “We don’t follow basketball, but we saw that some handsome men participate, that’s always a plus”, they all laugh.

Kenza, Kiran and Lina

Kenza, Kiran and Lina © Joris Herregods

Meanwhile, the Belgians win their first game against Slovenia 16-21 under the watchful eye of Peter Paul Rubens and the Groenplaats is on fire. When asked whether this ‘niche sport’ will now also conquer Antwerp, Antwerp alderman for Sport Peter Wouters (N-VA) reacts succinctly: “Square basketball has become big here. This sport is already ours.” The statement was met with loud applause.

Pieter Paul Rubens saw this ball fly in well.

Pieter Paul Rubens saw this ball fly in well. © BELGA

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