By Fernando Martín @fmartinBasket
The New Zealand rugby team first performed a haka as their pre-match ritual in 1888. In the last decades, the All Blacks increasing popularity -and the Internet, of course- have turned this Maori war dance into a big hit. I love it and everyone I know loves it, despite we Europeans certainly don’t grasp the essence of the thing.
When the New Zealand basketball national team started performing the dance as well, it was seen as some kind of antic, something only a few understood and even fewer people paid attention to. But the Tall Blacks kept doing it before every international match. Sometimes the other team looked at them, sometimes didn’t. The main purpose of the dance, as the players often say, is to fire them up, to get them ready for the game. So, despite being frequently ignored by opposing teams, they went on with it.
I first saw the Tall Blacks performing the haka live in Izmir, Turkey, during the 2010 FIBA World Championship. It was great. But it was even greater that New Zealand, an undersized, underdog team, advanced to the last 16 round after defeating France, Lebanon and Canada.
With wins, comes respect.
Prior to this edition, New Zealand had advanced to the second round in all of their three previous World Championship appearances. In 2002 they even reached the semifinals. They are fierce competitors and that’s what makes their haka so meaningful and cool.
In the current FIBA World Cup the Tall Blacks are performing a different haka than in 2010. It is called ‘Tu Kaha o Pango Te Kahikatea’ and it was specifically created for them by a former tall black, Paora Winitana. Their own haka, their own identity.
“The haka we did four years ago was the ‘Ka Mate’, the mainstream haka. The one we are doing here, ‘Te Kahikatea’, was composed specifically for us. It states that we have to be like the ‘Te Kahikatea’ tree (the tallest tree in New Zealand), with its roots growing deep down in the ground so it can stand strong against the wind”, Tall Blacks captain Mika Vukona explained to me.
I like the ‘Te Kahikatea’ haka even more than the ‘Ka Mate’. The sound they make when they slap the hardwood gives me chills.
Last Saturday, when they were unleashing the new haka, the rival team, Turkey, walked off the court (and was booed by the crowd for it). On Sunday, the Dominican team faced them up, albeit from their own bench. Finally, on Tuesday, the US Team paid due respect to the Tall Blacks new haka.
In this video I shot from the press tribune you can see how Mike Krzyzewski himself asks his players several times to stop shooting and look at them.
“We talked about it before the game”, Coach K said at the press conference. “It is a gesture of respect and we had to do the same. It’s part of their tradition”.
“They did a great job”, said a grateful Vukona.
After the dance was over, the 14.000 fans who packed the Bizkaia Arena exploded in a standing ovation. The ultimate sign of respect.