This appears on pba.inquirer.net
Creating new and good memories
by rick olivares pic from fiba
In 1990, I was pretty excited about the first all-professional basketball team that the Philippines sent to the Asian Games.
Since FIBA opened its doors to professional basketball players, the national team featured the best from that crop of PBA hoopsters.
Included in the lineup of our own “Dream Team” were the Northern Consolidated Cement veterans Allan Caidic, Hector Calma, Yves Dignadice, and Samboy Lim; young stars like Rey Cuenco, Dante Gonzalgo, Ronnie Magsanoc, Alvin Patrimonio, Benjie Paras, and Zaldy Realubit, and long-time players Mon Fernandez and Chito Loyzaga.
Bracketed with Japan and Pakistan in Group C, the Philippines crushed the latter, 129-81, but had it tough against the former, an old nemesis, on the way to an 86-78 win.
In the second round, the nationals defeated North Korea, 98-82, in the lead up to the match everyone looked forward to – China. They wanted to test the mettle of our pro players and we were looking to topple the Chinese who had since become the class of Asian basketball.
Unfortunately, the Philippines was never in the game as China’s halftime lead of 28 was as many as the Filipinos scored. The second half was worse as the wards of then national coach Sonny Jaworski could only muster 32 points to the 69 of the Chinese for a 125-60 defeat. The 65-point margin of defeat made it even harder to swallow that our best wasn’t in the Chinese’s class.
That we barely scraped past an underwhelming United Arab Emirates team in the next match, 80-75, didn’t seem to give us much hope.
Once in the medal round, the nationals squeaked past Japan, 94-90, to set up a rematch with China for the gold medal.
Although the game was closer, a 16-point loss, 90-74, China had held us off all throughout.
Watching the PBA playdates after that, the Araneta Coliseum was like a morgue. It was a difficult pill to swallow as our best got their behinds whupped. Twice.
It took a while but the fans came back to the games. After all, Filipinos tend to forget and forgive things easily.
The road to redemption hasn’t been easy as there have been plenty more debacles. Every dyed-in-the-wool Philippine basketball fan knows these dates and places of infamy by heart.
However, in these past couple of years, since the Gilas program came to fruition, the Philippine national team has been kicking butt and taking names. Sure there have been some debilitating losses but the team has generally been doing well.
From the FIBA Asia Championship to the Asia Cup and now to the World Cup, the national team has given a good account of themselves.
In this FIBA World Cup in Spain, it was obvious that the biggest challenge of the nationals was closing out the games. They could have been easily, 4-1, had they more experience at this highest of basketball levels. Yet in spite of that, they national team had earned the respect of their rivals as well all viewers (save for the crabs back home). It is not mere lip service. The platitudes served upon them are well earned.
The win against Senegal (although the Senegalese aren’t as talented or skilled, their height and athleticism nevertheless made them tough foes) was huge. And that is an understatement. For the fourth time in five matches, the nationals -- as did everyone who rooted for them -- were put through an ulcer inducing and agonizing last five minutes. If you were a praying person then most likely you would have asked for divine intervention.
The nationals coughed up another double-digit lead, this time, even as Andray Blatche fouled out, they held on largely because of the heroics of Jimmy Alapag.
I don’t know about you but this World Cup, 1-4 record and all, was almost as good as that FIBA Asia run. “Almost” as we came away with a hard earned silver then. In the last FIBA Asia, our neighbors finally learned what we were all about. In this World Cup, even if eliminated after the first round, the rest of the planet caught up.
I have finally lain to rest the ghosts of 1990 (and those that came before and after). I’ve got good memories about Philippine basketball now to keep me company.
Additional reading: Post-Puerto Rico: Stand proud, Philippines.
The softcover version of 11 Days in August (the story of Gilas Pilipinas' FIBA Asia campaign) is now available for Php700. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.