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As the FIBA World Cup ends, reminiscing I can still hear the roars of the hundreds of Filipinos at the Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo Sports Arena in Seville. The memory of former Mason Gabe Norwood rising and throwing down one of the most emphatic dunks of the tournament on the formidable Argentina. Not once but twice. Slow motion recollection of Captain Marvel Jimmy Alapag pulling up from way deep, only men with ice-cold confidence can do. Not to forget Double-Double machine Andray Blatche playing with the “Puso” of a Filipino, carrying the Filipino offense while in amounts of discomfort and pain. It gives me chills down my spine thinking about it.
“Norwooooood!!! Smile for the poster Luis. Your on worldwide.”
I was amazingly blessed and lucky to have witnessed my home country compete on the world stage of basketball. In exception of gifted boxer and worldwide icon Manny Pacquiao, The Philippines struggles in the world of sports. So when The Philippines emotionally qualified for the World Cup by finishing runners-up in the FIBA Asia Championships in 2013, it was a no brainer for me to purchase tickets to Spain.
Me supporting The Philippines
at Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo Sports Arena in Seville
“Puso”; the Tagalog word for “Heart”, was what was ringing around the city of Seville. That is exactly what the Filipino’s brought to the court. What they lacked in height, athleticism and experience they fought with passion, heart and pride.
The unorthodox style of Filipino basketball left Argentina coach Julio Lamas “baffled”. Not only did he say that in the post-interview, he hailed the 85-81 thriller as “the most uncomfortable game he’s ever coached.”
What makes me smile was not just the admiration shown by the two nations, but by the fans. The Argentinians chanted like football hooligans in celebration as the 4th quarter buzzer sounded, but in the midst of the crowd you can see jerseys being exchanged by fans. Someone I know personally, his son swapped his Jimmy Alapag Pilipinas jersey for a kid’s Argentine Manu Ginobili jersey. It’s not about global household names. That’s just respect.
Pundits and broadcasters expected The Philippines, whose team is averaged at a height of 5’8, to just compete and survive the storm that the Argentinians, Greeks and Croatians were expected to bring. They were wrong. The Philippines were the hot tickets of the tournament if you wanted your moneys worth, each of their games came down to the last plays of the 4th quarter. The FIBA commentator quoted whilst versus Senegal;
“I don’t care which team The Philippines play, I want to watch them play.”
The words “Gilas” and “Puso” was even trending around the world. For that week, few days and those little hours. We made the world take notice.
Everyone loves an underdog. Exhilarating, passionate and zealous basketball mixed with infuriating and inexperience on the world stage. It’s a blend of really good and really bad but it’s addictive. That’s Pilipinas basketball.
Although millions of Filipinos around the world were left frustrated and sad, I think we are missing the emphasis of history. That is what our men have accomplished, history.
The year 1974 was the last time The Philippines has appeared in the Basketball World Cup, so featuring in Spain was truly an achievement in itself. Not to forget our win against Senegal in our concluding group match was our first national victory on the world stage in over 30 years.
The seeds for basketball growth has been laid generations ago and now it’s starting to finally blossom for The Philippines. The PBA (Professional Basketball Association) is the second oldest professional league in the world and have attracted distinguishable NBA names such as Renaldo Balkman and Bobby Parks. American basketball players who have travelled the world in search of an employment usually find themselves in The Philippines, that’s the reputation the PBA has. But credit to the PBA committee, who has done a remarkable job limiting the amount of imports allowed into the league. This is beneficial in the development of homegrown-based players who has the opportunity to play against bigger and more tough opposition. This will help them potentially to represent our national country one day.
Having a professional league as successful as the PBA is inadequate if we can’t develop a national team that can compete against the world. And ultimately after 30 years of near silence in the sport of basketball we are finally starting to. Basketball is the number 1 sport in The Philippines and it just makes sense that The Philippines is up there with the best. I believe it’s only a matter of time.
The well-known image of the Gilas team in the locker room was spread viral after the loss against Puerto Rico. The team knew they were out and I can imagine it was a definitive moment you could cut the silence with a knife. It was heartbreaking. Falling short to an experienced Puerto Rico team the Philippine nation assertively expected to beat. The end of game scenes of forward San Mig Super Coffee Mixers Marc Pingris plays over in my head, as he wept tears with a towel over his head on the bench. But little did they know, how proud they already made the Philippine nation.
The standard of Filipino basketball has risen especially in the past few years. Winning silver in the Asia Championships last year was an incredible accomplishment. Not only did it allow The Philippines to qualify for a World cup spot, but also to do it on home soil was something for the history books. However to think it’s been nearly 50 years since The Philippines use to dominate Asian basketball with an expected top 3 finish every tournament. Winning is expected in our history.
Not only did we challenge some of the toughest nations in this World Cup, but our FIBA record was the finest in terms of Asian countries. Iran, who have dominated Asian basketball in the past decade struggled against the powerhouses of Spain, France, Brazil and Serbia. Iran managed the same record as the Gilas team finishing 1-4 but with more points scored against. The other Asian representative Korea gave a valiant effort, but couldn’t fight a victory. In terms of The Philippines, our campaign was not bad for a country ranked 34th in the world (Iran is 20th).
This is finally an era to be excited about Filipino basketball. The standard has been set. Not only did The Philippines basketball team show the world we can play with the giants, the fans won the FIBA Most Valuable Fans award of the tournament. I was fortunate to sit with proud and ecstatic Filipino fans and to see the passion we all have to see our country succeed, it just puts a smile on my face. This global positive recognition will hopefully boost The Philippines bid in hopes of hosting the FIBA World Cup in 2019.
“Gilas! Gilas! Gilas! Gilas!”
I can still hear the thunderous chants of hundreds of Filipinos echoing around the arena. The feeling is indescribable.
The meaning of Gilas in English can be translated into the words elegance and gallantry. I think “Gallantry” is the perfect word to sum up the Philippines National Basketball Team of 2014. The meaning of Gallantry is; courageous behavior, especially in battle.
I will miss everything. The hundreds of Filipino’s queuing up in the blazing sun of Seville, waiting to get into the arena. The intense pre-game build up. High fiving the Gilas players as they make their way out of the tunnel (I was lucky). The sense of nervousness as the clock ticks in the 4th quarter as every play is a crucial one. Off the court, meeting and greeting Filipinos all around the streets of Seville, knowing everyone came from near and far to support The Philippines. The chances of bumping into PBA & Gilas stars in the small city of Seville. What a experience.
As fans we see professional basketball players as inhuman, Superheroes in a way. They can do things on the court that we wish we can do. It’s truly inspiring. But the expectation levels of an athlete is beyond measurable, especially when you have the hopes of a nation on every rebound, every pass and every shot. It’s a lot of pressure. That’s why it saddens me when I read articles and comments analysing the team, playing the “blame game”. It’s not necessary. While there will always be those people who will criticize and say we should’ve done better, I witnessed first hand the passion and the heart Team Pilipinas had in that tournament, and in my eyes they left it all on the floor.
We may not have been good enough this time. But enormous credit to this Gilas team who have raised the bar, because of them in the near future I believe one day we will be.
Head up real high guys. You’ve done your nation proud.
Filipino fans from London, England (UK)
The World Cup brings nations together.
Ran into Senegal’s towering Centre Djibril Thiam outside the arena.
Was lucky to bump into some of my PBA Idols.
Big Game James Yap and Daredevil Jared Dillinger.
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Not to be edited or used without permission.