We lost sleep. We cursed. We celebrated. Thank you, Gilas Pilipinas.
Gilas Pilipinas entered the world basketball stage and almost everyone became basketball analysts overnight.
“Bakit walang James Yap?”
“Bakaw ‘yung Blatche.”
“Foul dapat ‘yun eh.”
For four heartbreaking games, these were uttered many times, in many variations, in bars, living rooms, barbershops, on Facebook and Twitter, and in our heart-to-heart talks with Jesus before going to bed, often with expletives.
“Jeff Chan dapat nag-last shot.”
Sleepless nights were made of these.
That’s what basketball does to a fan. You grind it out, grit your teeth, and pump your fists at every basket.
You make statements like “Fuck you, Blatche” in one possession, and “I fucking love you, Blatche” in the next.
You end up praying again, and you rekindle your love for country.
“Laban Pilipinas” is a catchphrase we won’t soon forget.
Against Croatia, the Philippines made a simple statement: “We belong here.” They whispered it in the first half, but it was drowned out by booming, effortless triples from Bojan Bogdanovic.
In the second half, Gilas shouted it out in every Marc Pingris basket and in every Jeff Chan three.
By the time Andray Blatche tied the game at 64-all in the final quarter, all doubts have been erased. The point was made, regardless if Jayson Castro was fouled or not in the dying seconds of the game.
The Philippines, in its first FIBA appearance in 36 years, was three points short in defeating taller and stronger Croatia, a team ranked 16th in the world. That’s not describing a loss, that’s a compliment.
The story could have ended there, credits could have rolled, and Gilas players could have already went home as heroes. At that point, it was Mission: Accomplished—the Philippines has officially returned to the world basketball stage, and they’re not there to get blown out.
The world immediately took notice of the Philippine team’s exciting style of play. “Puso” was overly used during Gilas’ journey to Spain, but when they got there, what they showed was something more than “puso.”
What they showed was a better understanding of international play, great spacing, effective screens, and crisp passes to the open man. More than “puso,” Gilas knew how to play.
Heart is what pushes Jimmy Alapag to take the biggest shots time and time again. But how he made those big shots time and time again should be credited to something else.
Alapag’s dedication to the national team is unparalleled, and it showed on the court. It showed when he kept the team together, and it showed when he tried to take Argentina apart.
In Gilas’ final game against Senegal, it was again—unsurprisingly—Alapag who made the biggest shots.
The 36-year-old Alapag scored the final two points of the tournament for the Philippines, sealing its first win in the FIBA World Cup in 36 years. It was also his last game representing the country, a decision he made to let younger players take his place to continue what he has started.
A perfect ending for the team captain.
The Senegal win was also a fitting ending to the struggles of Philippine basketball for many years. Because despite being tagged as a “basketball-crazy” nation, the Philippines as a nation still has a lot of work to do in taking international competition seriously (but that’s another story altogether).
After the game, there was nothing left to say to the doubters—the point has already been made. We belong here. Basketball fans, critics, analysts, and players around the world should know that by now.
They now know who Chot Reyes is, the Kraken, the Blur, Tiniente, Gabe, Japeth, RDO, the Negros Sniper, Angas ng Tondo, Pinoy Sakuragi, El Granada, and the Mighty Mouse.
They now know how one Andray Blatche can help carry the scoring load of a team. They now know the meaning of “angas,” “buwis buhay,” and “puso.”
But Gilas Pilipinas did not end their FIBA World Cup campaign just by leaving their calling card, they also ended it with a promise: We will be back.
Now, we can all sleep soundly saying:
“Nag-tiwala kami hanggang dulo!”
“Simula pa lang ‘to!”
“Salamat, Gilas Plipinas!”