U.S.-Puerto Rico Basketball Game to Be Moved Because of Hurricane Damage
The devastation wreaked by Hurricane Maria will force Puerto Rico to move its World Cup basketball qualifying game next month against the United States, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
Talks between the Puerto Rican national basketball federation and U.S.A. Basketball to move the game to Orlando, Fla., were continuing as of Monday afternoon, said the people, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly before a resolution was complete.
Central Florida is home to an estimated 350,000 Puerto Ricans, which makes Orlando an inviting venue. Puerto Rico was scheduled to face the Americans at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan on Nov. 23 — Thanksgiving Day — but that facility is now being used as a command center for volunteer and municipality relief efforts.
Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló of Puerto Rico said last week that 91 percent of the island was without power and projected that 75 percent would still be without power in a month.
Puerto Rico’s game against the United States will be the first for both countries under the sport’s new World Cup qualifying format. Based on the soccer-style qualifying structure adopted by the sport’s international governing body, known as FIBA, for the 2019 World Cup, countries will participate in six windows of two qualifiers each in their geographic region from November through February 2019. Via those 12 games, which are divided into two rounds, 31 nations will qualify for the World Cup in 2019 alongside host China.
But in basketball, unlike soccer, top players will not be released by their teams for national-team duty on so-called international breaks, meaning that every country in the competition with N.B.A. players will be forced to try to qualify without the use of its best athletes.
The United States, coached by the TV analyst and former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, is expected to rely on a roster filled with N.B.A. development league players. It will host Mexico on Nov. 26 in Greensboro, N.C., after the Puerto Rico game, to complete the first qualifying window.
After its November date against the United States, Puerto Rico is not scheduled to play at home again until late June 2018, with qualifiers scheduled against Cuba (June 28) and Mexico (July 1) after two games on the road in February. But it is not yet known how soon the Puerto Ricans can realistically expect to stage a home game.