Opening Ceremonies

Opening Ceremony of FIMBA 2015 World Championship Games in Orlando’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

“Sport has the power to change the world.” ~ Nelson Mandela 

The FIMBA basketball brotherhood from across the globe recently gathered in Orlando, Florida’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for FIMBA’s 13th bi-annual World Masters Basketball Championships.

For them, it was an anticipated masters athletic competition comprised of 215 teams representing 36 countries. For me, finding happiness at the FIMBA World Masters Basketball Championship spoke of a better world.

It’s no secret that I’ve never played sports. I recoil from negative competition and want to see everyone win. But joining my husband at the latest masters basketball love fest gave me a unique opportunity to see happiness literally “played out” on the courts of this global athletic event.

I made several key observations that can be replicated. May they add to the happiness quotient in your sphere of life, too. 

1. A Colorful World on Parade

A Columbian Women's Team in Cultural Attire Readies for Opening Night Festivities

A Columbian Women’s Team in Cultural Attire Readies for Opening Night Festivities

These smiling faces from Columbia sporting sombreros and national flag were one of dozens of teams promoting their heritage during FIMBA’s opening night parade. They were joined by other creative teams who took joy in celebrating their unique cultural colors through costume, dance and even song.

2. Unexpected Friends 

Joining unexpected friends from Ukraine, Greece, Russia and Croatia at a FIMBA member dinner

Joining unexpected friends from Ukraine, Greece, Russia and Croatia at a FIMBA member dinner

Countries like Russia, Ukraine, Greece and others have recently experienced trying times as represented by global news. But in an environment that fosters play around the game of basketball, only the finest feelings arise. People from differing nations become familiar and fond when cultivated in a week-long setting nurtured over flavorful food and fun.

3. Making Age Count 

60+ Gold Medal Championship Team

60+ Gold Medal Championship Team

We often equate growing older with growing insignificant. Here, FIMBA teams start at age 30 for women and 35 for men, including masters level players through the 75+ bracket. Pictured above are some 60+ USA team members sporting their generation’s familiar tie-dyed tee shirts with an American flag. Hardly senior citizens in the traditional sense, these players stay vibrant in business, culture, fitness and fun.

4. Everyone “Plays” 

Everyone Plays a Significant Role

Everyone Plays a Significant Role

This might be a convocation of masters basketball players but it welcomes all. The photo above depicts avid master Damon Ellison (center) who, due to health reasons, couldn’t play in these games. Because his spirit adds so much to the sport, he was chosen as flag bearer to introduce all teams from his home country.

5. Universal Gift Exchange

My New Mirror from Egypt

My New Mirror from Egypt

The FIMBA World Masters Basketball Championship tradition encourages the exchange of token gifts as a global, goodwill gesture. Everything from team jerseys to souvenir pins and cultural handiwork to chocolates make their way from one country to another. Pictured above is the bronze cosmetic mirror I received from Ossama El Dabbagh, a veteran FIMBA referee hailing from Egypt.

6. Great Memories Come Full Circle 

Jim Sweeney and Eric Fleat faced off as college players in the 1970s today are teammates on FIMBA's 2015 USA 55 team

In the late 70s, Eric Fleat and Jim Sweeney faced off as college players but here as teammates on FIMBA’s 2015 USA 55 masters squad

As players contemplated their next game, my thoughts were fixed on the more ethereal and transcendent. I captured the above photo of my husband Jim Sweeney (pictured above) with his teammate Eric Fleat. The two squared off during the late 1970s when Jimmy played for Boston College and Eric hooped for Biscayne College. Basketball reunited them when we moved to Florida in the 1980s and here they appear in 2015, playing on the same USA 55+ squad.

A reflective player remarked how FIMBA basketball brought life full circle for him, too. Decades ago, businessman Arnie Whitman played his beloved sport for Northeastern University, but life circumstances curtailed him from completing his varsity years. Competing again on the USA 60+ Gold FIMBA basketball team turned his previous loss into an unexpectedly joyful — if not ironic — lifetime gain.

7. Women in the Game 

Loving the Sport - Slovenian Women's 45+ National Team

Loving the Sport – Estonia Women’s 45+ National Team

FIMBA’s world of masters basketball isn’t “just for men.” Women’s teams from Russia, Brazil, Slovenia, Argentina, Slovakia, Peru, Columbia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Estonia (pictured above) and elsewhere compete and grow on this international circuit. A love of the sport, a passion for travel and the desire to face off against their finest international counterparts brings them back to FIMBA again and again. Their integration includes play with — and against — men on international exhibition matches, too. 

8. Losses Invite Welcome Rematches 

After playing their best, competitors gather for a "team" photo

After playing their best, competitors gather for a “team” photo

When the final buzzer goes off and the winning team is cast, there’s always a photo to memorialize the game. There remains a grateful spirit for the competitive fellow players who challenged the “losers” to their best. A curious air of appreciation pervades, maintaining the delicate balance between facing quality competition and regarding them as off-court friends they look forward to playing against again. 

This year, my husband’s USA 55 team lost by a single — crushing — point to Chile in the final moment of the semi-finals. The players are already planning their next face-off when FIMBA hosts the Pan American games in Costa Rica next April. The rematch will be welcomed with pleasure and gusto by their Chilean basketball buddies.

You may find yourself today in any kind competitive arena: academics, industry, politics or — as in the case of FIMBA — sports.

Wherever you are, may you find ways to transform your competitive world into a happy one, too! 

Thessaloniki Summer and FIMBA  copy

Maura Sweeney is a Podcaster, Author and Speaker

Her mantra is “Living Happy – Inside Out!”

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