I’ve been reading some reactions about the Gilas-Puerto Rico game and I cannot let it slide that there are kababayans who are badmouthing, blaming, and being plain rude to our national team for losing their past 4 games at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. I cannot let it slide that some are saying there is no use in watching tonight’s Senegal game, and that they have had it with the multiple losses.
I watched our first game, the one against Croatia, without thinking we’d come out winning. I wanted to follow our FIBA matches because I felt mighty proud that after several decades, we finally managed to make it back to the world stage. Our Gilas Pilipinas team was heading for Seville, Spain to compete with the best of the best in basketball, carrying with them the heart and pride of a nation completely obsessed with the sport.
The fact that they were there was my reason to watch. That was it. I didn’t care about the outcome because honestly, I was expecting we’d be blown out by the competition. I was ready for 20, 30 point disparities not because I didn’t have faith in our team but because the odds were stacked greatly against us. First trip to FIBA in 36 years. Major height disadvantage. Inexperience. And then there’s the fact that we were ranked no. 34 set to play in a very difficult group—strong teams who topped the Eurobasket, have appeared several times at the World Cup, and had sharpshooting and shot-blocking NBA demigods. But watching Jeff Chan successfully pump fake and shoot treys, Blatche and Ping grab impossible rebounds and steals, and Mighty Mouse run up and down the court full throttle against Croats twice his size, made me believe that we actually had a chance at winning and advancing to the next round. It was that first game that made me realize what #puso was truly all about, and the rest of the world watching that night got some schooling about the serious damage that Pilipinas basketball could do. I went from a fan merely wanting to watch, into a fan badly wanting to win—because this team made me believe that we could.
I saw the next two games, and after each one felt even prouder for Gilas and for our country, but also felt more heartbroken than the last. It seemed like the boys and Chot kept improving their game, pouring everything into their plays, and we just couldn’t carry it on to a win. Which was why when it came to the Puerto Rico match last night, I was so sure we would finally get it. Croatia had their backs against the wall in the FIBA opener. We stood our ground with Greece. And Argentina’s coach humbly admitted the Gilas game was the most uncomfortable fight he ever had. We went head to head with the world’s no. 16, 5, and 3, and we very nearly emerged victorious against two of them. So I was convinced we could handle no. 17 with ease.
And we did, for most of the first half. It was like everything good that could happen, did. We led by as much as 14 points, had good ball movement, and very easily outplayed the Puerto Ricans. And then by the end of third, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The lead we built went up in smoke, the boys committed turnover after turnover, and it didn’t help at all that JJ Barea was on fire. About 30 seconds left and down by 4, I was preparing myself for yet another heartbreak, and it would be the biggest one I would ever experience for a basketball game at that. The match ended with me in tears, and friends with whom I was texting with throughout the game, as well as the entire nation watching, were going through that same devastation and gut-wrenching pain I was feeling.
Which brings me back to my point—the loss against Puerto Rico was terrible. Terrible because the boys fought so hard, we had come so far, and just when we could already taste victory, Barea and company snatched it away. That loss, along with the Croatia and Argentina games, were hard to accept. It still is. But it hurts only because during those games, they showed us that they were actually capable of beating the very guys we used to think couldn’t bleed. So why be mad at the team? Or the coach? It is so easy to blame bad plays, or poor rotation, or underutilizing this and that player, but at the end of the day, isn’t the fact that this team showed the entire world who we are and what we could do, enough to merit our pride for them? Why be so hard on this passionate bunch of guys who did nothing but bring our love for basketball onto a stage we thought we could never re-enter? Yes, a loss is still a loss. But representing your country amidst people who undermine your abilities, and then earning their complete respect and admiration–that in itself is a feat nothing short of amazing. I could go on and on but this blog is long enough as it is (it was supposed to be just an FB status 😉 ). AlI I pray for right now is that at 8PM later tonight, all our fellow Pinoys still root for Gilas Pilipinas against Senegal, if not for anything else but to give the same PUSO to the men who have given theirs to us completely.
Gilas Pilipinas, saludo ako sa inyo ano man ang mangyari.