(First of three parts)
While I felt a sense of satisfaction over how the Gilas Pilipinas basketball team performed at the recent 2014 FIBA World championships in Spain, the reality is the outcome reflects the sad saga Philippine basketball.
I would rather call it a sad saga than a sad situation, because I believe that among the sports in the Philippines, it is basketball that gets the biggest spending. Just calculate how much is spent by teams in the Philippine Basketball Association and its development league, and by universities and colleges for their college teams. Then how much is spent for the national team? The overall figures can be mind-boggling.
But when it comes to garnering honors from the international field, basketball cannot compare to boxing, yet. Let’s face it—boxing has so far given the Philippines much to be proud of, particularly in the professional arena. Just look at how Pancho Villa, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, Luisito Espinosa, Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire, just to name a few, have brought pride to the Philippines with their world-conquering performances.
And in other sports like chess, Wesley So has demonstrated that Filipinos can compete in the international arena.
This is not to say that I am not proud of the performance of Gilas Pilipinas in the recent FIBA meet or that the Filipinos should stop patronizing basketball. The “close losses” of Gilas Pilipinas to Greece, Argentina and Croatia showed how gutsy and gallant our cagers are.
The overtime win over Senegal was also monumental, because that country has produced two players for the National Basketball Association who were also standouts in their college days.
But when the dust settled, it is very hard to fathom as to how the Philippines can win a gold or even silver in the international basketball arena which the Americans continue to dominate with impunity.
I was actually expecting the US team in the 2014 FIBA meet to get one or two close wins because of the absence of key stars like Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, among others. But they mowed down their opponents in the same way Achilles slaughtered hundreds of soldiers of Troy. The US team literally toyed with the competition and made the FIBA meet their “playground.”
The last time I saw a Philippine squad beat a team from the US is when the Northern Consolidated Corporation (NCC) squad won the Jones Cup in 1985. I watched that game from the start and was astounded as to how a selection of Filipinos and Americans were able to outplay an amateur squad made up of solid NCAA Division I players from the US.
Although the NCC squad had three Americans, they were not the type who would make it big in the NBA draft. And the locals who made up the squad were mostly not the type that PBA squads would madly scramble for.
In short, the NCC squad proved that a well-gelled team that was not necessarily made up of MVP players can bring home the gold. And the NCC squad even won a PBA championship at the expense of the Manila Beer.
But the ouster of the Marcos regime also saw the discontinuance of the country’s well-funded amateur basketball program. Also, professional basketball players in the late 1980s were allowed to represent their countries in international basketball competitions, which made me think then that the Philippines will have a very slim chance of winning a truly international gold. While the Philippine Centennial Team, which was bannered by PBA giants like Alvin Patrimonio and Allan Caidic won the 1988 Jones Cup, the US basketball team was tearing the competition elsewhere.
And the first win of the Philippine basketball team in the FIBA world tourney materialized only after more than 30 years. What went wrong despite basketball being the most-funded sport in the Philippines?