FIBA Asia Championships History: China, Iran, Philippines… and North Korea

Team China has dominated FIBA Asia

The 2015 FIBA Asia Championship is set to begin in just a couple days which is the 28th edition of the continental basketball championship organized by FIBA Asia.

With the tournament coming up, we thought it would be good to go in with a little primer on the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship history — the champions, the runner-ups, dynasties and some international basketball factoids along the way.

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History of Asia Basketball Dominance

Since the tournament’s inception in 1960, there hasn’t been much diversity in champions. Five countries share all of the 27 championship trophies.

For the most part, the history of the Asia Championships can be characterized by three dynasties: Philippines, China and Iran.

Philippines “Islanders” Hold Court

Through the first 15 years of the tournament, the Philippines won four of the first seven Asiabaskets (1960, 1963, 1967, 1973) giving up the title to Japan in 1965 and to South Korea 1969 in that span. In those seven tournaments, the championship game didn’t include Pilipinas just once — in 1971.

The “Islanders”, the nickname they were known by casually, added one more championship in 1985 for a total of five Asia Basketball Championships — the second most in tournament history.

Three Decades of Chinese Dominance and Dynasty

The country known most for their dynasties started wielding their regional control of the tournament in 1975.

After the Philippines gave up their throne to China that year, the Chinese would hold a firm grip the next thirty years of Asiabasket — giving up just two titles in 16 tournaments from 1975-2005 (Philippines in 1985 and South Korea in 1997).

In that span, China’s dynasties were broken into three winning streaks:

China's Asiabasket Mini-Dynasties
Consecutive Titles Years
5 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1983
5 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995
4 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005

Dynasties within a dynasty. In all of the tournament’s history, China has played 158 games, winning 146 of those games for a 92.6% winning percentage in Asiabasket. With more than half of the gold medals, China holds the most Asia Basketball Championship titles with 15.

Can Iran Continue Their Winning Ways?

Hamed Haddadi and Team Iran

How many championships in how many years is required to be considered a dynasty? As the defending champions going into 2015, Iran has taken three of the last four Asia titles and firmly cemented themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the region, but what if Iran fails to win the championship in 2015 and 2017 — can they be considered a dynasty?

The only blemish for Team Melli was in the 2011 tournament, but it shouldn’t take away from their dominance.

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Iran was steamrolling through the competition – winning six straight games with each win by at least 12 points including a 94-point blowout of Uzbekistan, an 85-point win over Malaysia and a 40-4 “mercy” win over Qatar.

Undefeated and heavily-favored, Iran was surprised by Jordan 88-84 in the quarterfinals of the 2011 tournament and they wouldn’t medal. Still, it wasn’t just blowouts, quality wins over South Korea, Taipei and Lebanon cemented Iran basketball as the team to beat.

Our take is that Iran isn’t just a flash in the pan — since the 2007 tournament, the country has boasted a 33-2 record bringing home three championships for their country including going undefeated in 2009 and 2013. And more importantly, Hamed Haddadi is only 30 years old.

With three golds total, Iran has the third most titles in the FIBA Asia Basketball Championships… and they’re looking to build on it in 2015.

Competitive South Korea

Though they *only* have two gold medals, South Korea has been the most consistently competitive country in the history of the FIBA Asia Championships. No other country has more “places”; finishing in the top four at EVERY SINGLE Asiabasket except one.

Going into the 2009 tournament, South Korea finished in the top four in all 24 FIBA Asia Championships up until that point. The streak would end as South Korea would place 7th in the Tianjin tournament.

South Korea may not have dynasty, but with 2 fourth place finishes, 11 bronzes, 11 silvers and two championships — that’s placement in 26/27 tournaments — South Korea is easily the country with the most medals.

North Korea Plays Basketball?

Despite their rejection of outside influence, North Korea controversial leaders (Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un) hold a special place in their hearts for basketball.

North Korea’s most recent exposure to basketball saw Dennis Rodman and other former NBA players visiting the country for a politically-questionable basketball game to celebrate Kim Jong-Un’s birthday. Joining Rodman were former NBA All-Stars in Cliff Robinson, Kenny Anderson and Vin Baker. The team of former stars played against the North Korean National Team.

North Korean National Team for basketball

Yes, North Korea has a basketball national team and they’ve participated in the Asia Championships before. In fact, Asiabasket that has twice counted North Korea as a willing participant. Specifically the 1991 and 1993 tournaments and the country performed really well; posting a 71% winning percentage (10-4). Though they never won a championship, the country did win the silver in 1993 (South Korea won the bronze that year).

Not bad for a country that didn’t show up competitively until the 1990s.

Asia Basketball Still in Development

With the lack of diversity in countries that have won championships, 60-70 point blowouts common in modern competition, spotty participation, forfeits and teams that haven’t won a game (Sri Lanka 0-46 and Bangladesh is 0-25), it’s clear that basketball in Asia isn’t as developed as in the Americas or Europe.

For many countries, basketball is still in the very early stages of development impacted negatively by political unrest and/or lack of interest and resources for basketball.

Basketball is growing in Asia evidenced by Iran’s traction and significantly-improved basketball programs from Jordan, Chinese-Taipei and Lebanon.

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