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New Zealand’s haka at the FIBA World Cup

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The New Zealand basketball team has received everything from praise to criticism over their unique haka before games at the FIBA World Cup. Is it really much ado about nothing?

The USA Basketball Team defeated New Zealand on Tuesday in another expected rout, 98-71, behind the efforts of Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried. It put the Americans at 3-0 in group play at the FIBA World Cup.

That, however, was not the story of the game. The real story, apparently, occurred before the game even started:

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In case you hadn’t already known, what you just witnessed was a New Zealand Haka, created specifically by the basketball team to perform before each game at the FIBA World Cup.

Surely, if you had been following the United States and their likely, if not expected, run to the World Cup title, you saw a number of news sites attempt to wax poetic about how bewildered Team USA looked when New Zealand took the court to perform the ceremonial war dance. James Harden’s look of utter confusion, for example …

[Courtesy Sportige.com]

[Courtesy Sportige.com]

… is now burned into the aether of the ever-changing internet news cycle. It seemed apparent that many of the players, unfamiliar with the Kiwis’ tradition, either stared blankly at the team, applauded the haka at its conclusion, or both. In any case, when it was over, Team USA went back to their warm-ups, almost as if nothing had happened.

They then proceeded to roll over the Tall Blacks (yes, that’s what they call themselves) by 27.

Their win was no different than the 106-71 beatdown they put on the Dominican Republic earlier today, or the 114-55 drubbing of Finland this past Saturday. But much ado was placed upon New Zealand’s unique haka. Reactions ranged from fascinating cultural boon of the Kiwis, to a Nationalist taunting that was not only seen as completely unwarranted, but as an epic backfire.

There was even stuff.co.nz sports writer Marc Hinton, who essentially was calling for a referendum on the haka in basketball, on the grounds that 1) people outside of New Zealand culture – in this case, the rest of the basketball world – simply don’t know about the haka or its significance, and 2) ergo, people outside of New Zealand culture – again, in this case, the rest of the basketball world – simply don’t care about the haka or its significance. With those in mind, what’s the point of even doing it?

I can understand those sentiments. After all, as Hinton argues, why perform something so unique to one’s own culture, if other cultures don’t do the same?

Turkish coach Ergin Ataman made a very valid point when he questioned why the New Zealanders should get to mark their “history” on the court, while other teams do not. He said his team’s priority was about getting ready for the game, not about acknowledging a pre-game “ceremony”.

He also mentioned, rather drolly, that on a day of massive significance for the Turks – the anniversary of their independence – they had not got to mark that special opportunity as they would have liked. In other words, one rule for one… etc, etc,.

It’s a valid point. However, forgive me for thinking it’s sort of moot when it did not seem like the Turks made such a request. In any case, I just don’t see why there is such a hoopla over the basketball team performing something like this at a sporting event.

Is it because the Americans didn’t know what to make of it? You can’t blame them for not knowing what that was. Odds are they’ve never seen it before. And it’s no wonder – the haka has been mainly performed in the much lesser-known sport (in Americana, at least) of rugby, for over a century. It is seen as a ritualistic challenge to their opponents before a battle.

According to New Zealand’s national website, the haka is “a fierce display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity.” It is deeply rooted in their culture, and, apparently, ignoring a haka’s inherent challenge is a huge insult. But, again, the Americans – as well as the rest of the World Cup participants – probably have no idea about any of that. Personally, I thought it was an awesome display of the Maori culture that I wanted to know more about.

Seriously, look at this, in what I would assume is the haka in one of its purest forms:

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That was awesome, right?

I mean, give these guys a break – the one reason I can think of that the basketball world isn’t familiar with the haka is that the basketball team doesn’t appear in the global stage very often: this is only their fourth appearance, overall, in the FIBA World Cup, and they’ve qualified for the Olympics only twice. Why not celebrate their culture, considering the rare opportunity for doing so?

Ultimately, it’s about the opportunity to present a form of national pride in front of the world, that’s actually pretty cool to watch. You might ask, “What’s the point of having this?”

I would respond, “What’s the point of stopping this?”

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