(This column is being written hours before the semifinal knockout game between Japan and the Gilas Pilipinas national team, with the winner facing the winner of the Iran-China game in the finals.)
THE Philippine national basketball team, Gilas Pilipinas, has exceeded all expectations in its magnificent performance in the FIBA Asia Championships in China, scoring a stunning victory over defending champions Iran, routing the dangerous Indian squad and overcoming a fiercely competitive Lebanon side in the quarterfinals to set up a showdown against Japan for a finals berth.
The unbelievers gave this team hardly any chance after the some professional teams refused to release key players to the Gilas team, coached by Tab Baldwin, who has done an amazing job, win or lose, in the quest for a berth in the Olympic Games in Brazil next year.
This team has played way above expectations, putting to shame the players, who declined to wear the country’s colors, which surely must be considered an honor and a privilege and a couple of team owners, who apparently don’t value the long-standing call for country above club or in our native language the oft-repeated advocacy of the late two-time FIBA president Lito Puyat—“Para sa Bayan!”
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan, who spoke to us the other morning by telephone from Hong Kong, where he was shuttling back and forth between important business meetings there and the games in China, remarked with unadulterated pride that “this is a special team, comprising players who really want to be part of Gilas and who truly love this country by serving the best way they can.”
The passionate supporter of the Gilas program, who is obviously abreast of the flood of admiration for the historical epic Heneral Luna, suggested that “all of your PLDT PBA teams should wear a shirt quoting Heneral Luna—‘Bayan muna hindi Sarili.’
How telling a message to those who failed to respond to the call of our country.
But what mystified us even more was the gall of some PBA team officials to show up in China when they failed miserably to support the Gilas Pilipinas national team.
Indeed, what was the rationale for former Commissioner Chito Salud, who had committed to use his supposed persuasive powers to convince team owners to support our national team, but obviously failed miserably, for going to China?
While newly appointed Commissioner Chito Narvasa was there, in an effort to study the implementation of FIBA rules and the move by some supporters of the PBA to adapt these rules so as to make it easier in transition for PBA players chosen to compete in FIBA-approved international tournaments, which justified his trip along with deputy commissioner Ricky Santos, what in heaven’s name was media bureau chief and the reported special assistant to Salud, Willy Marcial doing?
Was it to try and influence the sportswriters in China to spare the PBA officials from criticism especially in the face of wholesale criticism in social media for their abject failure to support our national team and perhaps to claim, without an ounce of shame, that the PBA supports Gilas Pilipinas!
The only individuals, who had an inherent right to be in China were the son of Alaska Aces former PBA chairman Fred Uytengsu and the group of the Talk ‘N Text team, who gave so much and asked so little in return.
Measured against a couple of PBA officials, such hypocrisy rankles those of us who have, no matter what the seemingly insurmountable odds, kept the faith and supported our team, because IT IS OUR NATIONAL TEAM!
Tab Baldwin has built a team with what was given him and has turned individual mediocrity in some instances, into collective greatness anchored on typical Filipino skill, creative genius and innovation and indomitable courage .
For all of this, to God be the glory!