RARE are the times when Syrian nationals watch the PBA games on television, much less live.
But there they were in hordes - both men and women - at the lower box section of the Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday night, cheering lustily and dancing animatedly as they shout themselves hoarse.
They came to watch TnT Katropa play Rain or Shine in the PBA Governors Cup, specifically compatriot Michael Madanly.
"We thought they were just Americans who went there and watched the game. But they were cheering us. Sumasayaw pa," said TnT Katropa alternate board of governor Patrick Gregorio, who was at ringside of the Big Dome.
"But to our surprise, they were Syrian nationals and wanted to see Mike play."
Madanly didn't disappoint. He fired 17 points including nine in the payoff period when the Texters made a huge run in the stretch to hack out a come-from-behind 101-98 win over the Elasto Painters.
Gregorio said this is among the rationale why he thought about tapping the services of Asian players as imports during his stint as chairman of the PBA board, in the hopes of attracting foreign viewers - especially those with countrymen to support - to come and watch the games live especially at this time when live gate attendance is admittedly down.
The Syrians were among the latest foreign nationalities who dropped by the venue to watch action in the season-ending conference a week after it kicked off.
A small Iranian contingent showed up on opening day for the featured doubleheader where two members of its national team saw action.
Mohammad Jamshidi suited up for Meralco barely 48 hours after arriving here, while Mashady Iman Zandi, an ex-national team member, played for Mahindra. Both teams emerged victorious as the Bolts survived the Phoenix Fuel Masters, 108-103, while the Enforcers outlasted Star Hotshots in overtime, 100-92.
"We hope to see more of these foreigners watching the games live especially with most of the Asian imports really playing well," added Gregorio.
Other teams which availed the services of Asian players to reinforce their respective campaigns are Phoenix (Lee Gwan Hee), NLEX (Rodrigue Akl), and Blackwater (Imad Qahwash).