By JC AnsisI still can’t get over what happened in the last two days of the FIBA Asia Championship in 2013. I remember it vividly. I don’t think any basketball fan could forget it.
It seemed like everything fell into place. As if the universe conspired to make it happen. The Philippines only needed to place third for a right to play among the world’s best teams in Spain the following year, but we accomplished more.
It’s kind of hard to translate into words how blessed and fortunate I am to have been able to cover that tournament, because I don’t think I’ll ever witness anything more momentous.
Especially that night we won against Korea.
That night when we exorcised the ghost. That night when we finally gained redemption from the painful loss in the 2002 Asian Games. That night when we secured our place in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. How could I forget the 19,000-plus strangers in that crowd, cheering and shouting their lungs out? Everyone was unified.
How could I forget my fellow friends from the media who couldn’t hide their exuberance, swapping high-fives with one another? Some cried, some hugging others—all forgetting for a brief moment that we were still on the job.
“We finally made it!” The Philippines playing in the World Cup was playing over and over in my head. Every one of us was cloaked in emotion. That night, we were all beating one pulse.
When Gilas coach Chot Reyes entered the media room after the historic win against Korea, I remember the first words he uttered were: “I still don’t know how we did it.”
Neither did we, coach. But we all felt the same emotions that night. All felt the same passion and completeness, like each and every one in the arena had fulfilled their own destiny.
In the FIBA Asia Championship finals, Gilas went toe-to-toe with the heavily-favored Iranian team. The whole game, we fought. Not losing sight of what was within our grasp.
“DEFENSE!” chants rattled Iran, while each bang of the drums boosted ours. Each clap of our hands gave confidence to our squad. We hit shots, they hit shots. We rebounded, they rebounded. We dove for loose balls, they dove for loose balls. But they were just too strong. Too big. Too experienced.
Gilas Pilipinas tried desperately to hold on to the dream of winning the FIBA Asia title, but it was slowly slipping away from their hands. But they didn’t just fade to black. Up until the final buzzer sounded, we stood by our players who had sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears for the whole country.
In the end the scoreboard lit up numbers that weren’t in our favor. But even though we lost, we came out winners.
Back in February 2013 during the first practice of Gilas 2.0, Coach Chot told the boys the road to Spain wasn’t going to be easy. And he was right. It was tough. It was grueling. It was punishing. But it was all worth it.
And despite everything that went against us, our national team managed to accomplish their goal. Gilas played with a lot of passion and they never gave up, no matter what. It didn’t matter if the other teams were quicker, taller, and more formidable than us. We were Filipinos, and we had the bigger hearts.
What really stuck to me was how surreal it was to see everyone all on the same side. All rooting for the same team. All praying for the same goal. Shouting the same name, singing the same song.
Ang kislap ng watawat mo’y tagumpay na nagniningning
Ang bituin at araw niya’y kailanpama’y di magdidilim
It was magical. Even for us who weren’t donning the blue and white jerseys. In each of those last two days, there were over 19,000 people supporting Gilas in the arena, and thousands more cheering from their homes. And you know what? We were all beating one pulse.