Ice basketball aims to woo Lithuanians to hockey

Thu Jan 29, 2009 7:52am EST
 
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VILNIUS (Reuters Life!) - One of the world's strangest sporting events took place in the small Baltic state of Lithuania this week: basketball on ice.

In almost full gear of helmets, pads and skates, but without the heavy gloves, Lithuania's national ice hockey team took to the rink on Wednesday evening to dribble the big orange ball instead of smash the small black puck.

Their motive was to draw attention to their own sport in a country where basketball is like a religion.

"Since the Lithuanian state cares only about basketball and completely ignores other sports, we decided to challenge this and to try playing basketball ourselves to get attention," said Martynas Slikas, 31, a forward in the national team.

He and his men played against hockey enthusiasts from the Hockey Punks club over four periods of 7 minutes.

Despite the slippery ice, the players managed to bounce the ball like during a normal basket ball match, although unusually for basketball, they also fought from time to time.

The game, which ended in the national team scoring a 13-11 victory, attracted a crowd of about 600 people.

"It is quite interesting to see such a mixture of basketball and ice hockey for the first time in Lithuania," said Mantas Zydelis, 19. "I think we should have more of it."

Despite the event, basketball looks set to keep its crown in Lithuania as the national basketball team which won a bronze medal in the Olympics, took third place in the European championships and is ranked sixth in the world. The ice hockey team is 23rd in the world.

(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis and Eugenijus Kryzanovskis, editing by Paul Casciato)