Source AP ©

FIBA opener lacks fans

Where were all NBA star Kobe Bryant's fans on opening night of the Americas championship?

Not at the Thomas & Mack Center, where the Americans debuted before a crowd that was less than half what they drew last month for a practice.

The United States was back on the court on Thursday against the U.S. Virgin Islands, hoping to see a few more faces in an arena that was roughly two-thirds empty for the opener.

"I think as the scene picks up a little bit, maybe the crowds will start picking up a little bit, too," Bryant said.

The Americans beat Venezuela 112-69 on Wednesday before an announced crowd of 6,537. That couldn't have been the home-court advantage USA Basketball was hoping for when it won the right to bring the regional Olympic qualifier to the States.

"I thought it was going to be more packed," Carmelo Anthony said. "I thought it was going to be a sellout crowd, but I'm pretty sure they'll get that throughout the tournament."

Venezuela was originally slated to be the home team as the host country but it missed its payment deadline. The United States, by then having been forced to qualify for the Beijing Olympics after not winning the world championship, decided to bid and beat San Juan, Puerto Rico by committing to pay FIBA Americas more than $3 million (2.2 million EUR).

And yet, it still felt a bit like another country.

"I almost forgot we were in the United States for a minute, we're so used to playing overseas in these kinds of tournaments," Anthony said.

Perhaps fans just didn't feel the need to rush to see the U.S. team, knowing they have plenty of time thanks to the longer-than-necessary tournament format. Assuming the Americans reach the final, they will have played 10 games in 12 days.

Crowds were tiny at the other three games on opening day, with few seats in the top level of the 18,000-seat arena being occupied.