Another basketball World Cup, another Tall Blacks haka controversy.
The latest incident involving the Tall Blacks' now traditional pre-game challenge came in Sunday morning's gut-wrenching 76-73 defeat to world No 7 Turkey as the New Zealanders opened Group C play here by blowing a 12-point fourth-quarter lead, as well as their composure in a dramatic and tight finish.
By walking off the court right when their opponents were about to unleash their newly reintroduced Tu Kaha O Pango Te Kahikatia haka, the Turks produced a move of disrespect that would have had the rugby world in a fit of apoplexy. The All Blacks would still be wringing their hands in dismay.
The New Zealanders were forced to effectively shift on the hoof and turn and face the Turks as they assembled around their bench to receive last-minute instructions from coach Ergin Ataman. In short, they turned their backs on the challenge which, as we know, is a big no-no.
But in the global game of basketball the haka is not such a sacred beast. Many teams are ignorant, or at least indifferent, to the supposed protocols around it. The Turks are clearly among them.
Later they defended their action, saying it had not been a sign of disrespect, but merely that they had a job to do and they didn't see why they should stand around and watch the New Zealanders go through their motions.
"I respect the New Zealand team, but I thought that if everybody makes his history on the court, we will not play to our concentration," Ataman said rather quaintly afterwards.
"Also, today we have a very important historical day (Victory Day) for the republic. We can make also ceremony for two minutes but I think it's not correct.
"I respect a very good haka for the New Zealand team but I need to concentrate my team before the game."
The New Zealanders were marginally miffed by their opponents' treatment of their haka which they have personalised and put a lot of time and effort into.
But they were not keen to make too big a deal over an incident that had similar overtones to Venezuela's actions at the 2002 world championships when they laughed and gesticulated at the Tall Blacks while they were performing their haka.
"It's something that we can't really control -- it is what it is," shrugged Tall Blacks star Corey Webster. "We're still going to do it to the best of our ability and go hard. I guess maybe they didn't understand but, whatever, we're going to keep doing it."
Centre Casey Frank uttered an expletive when asked what he made of the Turks' response.
"F*** 'em. If they don't want to respect it, then we're still going to do it. It's our challenge to them and they didn't want to accept that challenge."
Frank felt the incident had helped stoke the emotions early for the Tall Blacks. "The haka always fires us up -- more so when they do that."
Coach Nenad Vucinic said it was nothing he hadn't seen before.
"The boys are used to things like that. It happens quite a lot. If that's the way they want to do it, that's fine."
Given the Tall Blacks' fourth quarter horrors, when they missed nine consecutive shots to allow the Turks to go on a game-winning 15-0 run, it's not the start of the game they should be jumping up and down about.
They've got their worries, and it's fair to say how teams respond to their haka is not one of them.
Marc Hinton travelled to Spain with the assistance of Basketball New Zealand.
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