It is just a game. But when Koreans and Japanese square up against each other, it is something more.
South Korean TV fans on Tuesday watched with anticipation as the celebrity basketball team of KBS program “Our Neighborhood Arts and Physical Education” defeated a Japanese amateur team 58-55 in a tightly contested match.
Despite the game being played days earlier and the result being out in the open for some time, many viewers were keenly interested in the game. According to data by market research firm Nielsen Korea, the ratings for the episode were 6.8 percent, a considerable jump from the previous episode’s 5.9 percent.
The high interest seems to have come from the fact that the opponent “Slam Dunk” team was from Japan. Many Koreans consider Japan a key rival due to the tumultuous history between the two countries,
Over the years, Korea has dominated Japan in basketball matches. Although it was essentially just a game between two amateur teams, the “Our Neighborhood” team showed no signs of a letup.
In the past head coach Choi In-sun of the team had always said that win-loss records do not matter “since we are not pros.” Prior to the game against the Japanese team, however, Choi stressed that Korean basketball has never been “inferior” to Japan. “If we lose to Japan, it’s a real embarrassment,” he said.
“Neither the head coach (Choi) nor the assistant coach (Woo Ji-won) had ever lost a match against Japan,” said Kim Hyuk of the “Our Neighborhood” team. “So I wanted to win. I just wanted to help my teammates and win.”
Kim backed up his bold words with a solid performance, despite rolling his ankle during the match.