The haka will always have a place in world basketball, says former Tall Black Paora Winitana.
"People who say there's no place for it don't know what the haka is so they should do their homework," says the IMS Payroll Hawks captain amid media reports two opposition teams, Turkey and the Dominican Republic didn't face the Tall Blacks before their games at the World Cup in Bilbao, Spain.
"To say there's no place for the haka in world basketball ... well, the world is not the same, if you look around.
"That's [the haka] is what separates us from the world and makes us beautiful and unique as a people," Winitana says.
The 37-year-old from Hawke's Bay was instrumental in performing the Tu Kaha o Pango Te Kahikatea (Tallest Tree or White Pine) in Hastings last Thursday.
He led 50 intermediate and high school students at the Hastings Intermediate School grounds at 1pm in a rendition of the haka which Maori TV filmed before sending a copy of it to the Nenad Vucinic-coached Kiwis in Spain to inspire them.
Tamatea Rugby Club stalwart Don Hutana engineered the blueprint in 2006, which they performed for the first time at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, in their test match against Venezuela.
Winitana and Tall Blacks assistant coaches Paul Henare and Pero Cameron were players then and Vucinic had taken the coaching reins from Hawks coach Tab Baldwin.
Bay-born Henare had approached Winitana to help the Tall Blacks in Auckland polish their haka before they jetted off to the pre-cup tour of Europe and Asia on their way to Spain.
Winitana says it personifies the propensity of smaller communities to overcome hurdles in the face of adversity and has nothing to do with basketball.
"Like Paulie [Henare] said, it's not about how the others respond to it.
"It's there for the benefit of our team because that's one way for us to communicate with each other," he says.
Turkey, he says, have faced the haka before and are aware of its significance.
Winitana suspects they opted not to face it because they didn't want to give the Tall Blacks any psychological advantage.
He feels the Kiwis did gain an advantage for a lion's share of the game against Turkey despite blowing it in the last quarter.
"Just because some teams don't want to face it, does that mean it'll have to go out of the window?
"Should we just bow out because it's not fitting or they don't understand it?"
Winitana says during his international career it was protocol to brief teams before a match on the haka.
"PC [Cameron], myself and [a few other senior players] would approach them and tell them how it's part of the team's culture."
He says the Americans paid homage to the haka in their game early yesterday morning (NZ time).
US coach Mike Krzyzewski, who spoke with guard Kirk Penney to get a grasp of the haka, suggested the Kiwis should hand out a circular outlining its cultural significance.
Says Winitana: "They are patriotic people and they understand what it takes to be respectful."
He says the haka is a parochial ritual and those who perform it for their country are privileged because only a select few have that opportunity.
It isn't just something exclusive to the All Blacks.
"Whether it's netball, rugby league, soccer or basketball people will always have differing views."
Winitana says while the Kiwis lost 98-71 to the Americans yesterday they hadn't disgraced themselves.
"People have to realise it's a big sport and it was a big game so even though they lost by 27 points it wasn't bad," he says as the Mika Vukona-captained Tall Blacks were playing their penultimate match against Ukraine this morning for their first cup victory.
"Their [US] players have $200 million shoe contracts and they earn $24 million a year for a reason so they are phenomenal at the game."
Hawks point guard Jarrod Kenny got his first minutes on the court, forming a rapport with fellow Bay shooting guard Everard Bartlett who dropped two baskets from downtown.
Winitana held a camp yesterday at 5.30am with a dozen academy players from the age of 12 to18.
"I made a call to Paulie and he passed on a message to our athletes in Hawke's Bay," he says of the academy he and Henare set up three years ago.
The youngsters, he says, realise good things come to those who put the time and effort into their passion.