Japan's success at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Okinawa could trigger a leap in the sport's domestic popularity, as it edges upward behind baseball and football in recognition from the wider public as a game to view via live broadcasts.

The final matches scheduled in Okinawa Arena ended Sunday, and the co-host's qualification for the Paris Olympics, coupled with the festive atmosphere generated by fans flocking from across the country and abroad, has left many buzzing.

Japan players wave to the crowd after qualifying for the Paris Olympics following a win over Cape Verde in a FIBA Basketball World Cup match at Okinawa Arena on Sept. 2, 2023. (Kyodo)

"It's been a tournament we can build on to make basketball's popularity explode. It's been a massive success," said Teruhisa Nakamura, the tournament's executive director in Japan.

Media attention remained high through Akatsuki Japan's run in the tournament, even in the absence of its best player, Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura.

On Saturday, Japan advanced to the Olympics through qualifying for the first time since the 1976 Montreal Games in its final match against Cape Verde. The game's viewership in Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures on TV Asahi earned a 22.9 percent share, according to marketing research company Video Research.

Fans queue up outside Okinawa Arena ahead of a FIBA Basketball World Cup match between Japan and Cape Verde on Sept. 2, 2023. (Kyodo)

It was not clear at the start that the event would be a hit. Blocks of seats at the 8,500-seat arena were vacant for Japan's opening game against Germany, drawing complaints from the host nation's players.

FIBA, however, stepped in and arranged to have those unused corporate tickets for future Japan games resold to the general public. This resulted in packed crowds and earned Okinawa Arena praise for an electric atmosphere as excitement enveloped the facility even in matches not involving Japan.

Local organizers said the ticket sales from the round in Okinawa, one of Japan's biggest basketball hotbeds and home to the reigning B-League champion Ryukyu Golden Kings, have eclipsed the targeted 1 billion yen ($6.8 million) and are expected to exceed 1.2 billion yen.

Okinawa, too, is reaping the benefits of hosting the tournament, with Koichi Nakamura, the deputy secretary general of an organization supporting the host city, figuring the economic windfall to the prefecture to be north of the provisional estimate of 6.3 billion yen.

Helped not least by the boom set off by the iconic manga "Slam Dunk" in the 1990s, Japan had around 560,000 registered basketball players across all categories in 2022. The latest World Cup success could prove to be a second turning point.

"I'm genuinely feeling that the whole of Japan's mood is getting a boost," said Yokohama B-Corsairs guard Yuki Kawamura, who scored 25 points off the bench in Japan's 98-88 win over Finland.

"It's been a tournament that made many people aware of basketball's enjoyment and allure."

Japan's FIBA Basketball World Cup players including Yuta Watanabe (front of the queue) are welcomed by fans at Haneda airport in Tokyo on Sept. 4, 2023. (Kyodo)

Related coverage:

Basketball: Co-host Japan fulfills Olympic goal at FIBA World Cup

Basketball: Japan beats Cape Verde at World Cup, earns Olympic berth