IN PHOTOS: In France setback, Gilas' 6th man still proves memorable
MANILA, Philippines — Gilas Pilipinas, the beloved Philippine national men's basketball team, absorbed a stinging setback to powerhouse France on Tuesday, July 5 to open the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Though frustratingly defeated, the throng of fans who came to see them offered little in the way of disappointment.
The crowd, clad in white by the encouragement of the local basketball federation, dutifully fulfilled the role they've been entrusted with since time immemorial.
From the time Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte entered the court, performed the ceremonial toss and all the way to the end of another so-close-yet-so-far match, local fans cheered and jeered as expected.
After ringing "Duterte!" chants, the gallery quickly turned its attention to veteran NBA champion Tony Parker the moment he first touched the rock and booed him to no end, giving the French the rude welcome coach Tab Baldwin hoped would happen months ago.
As fans pushed their lungs and vocal cords to the limit and proudly displayed their fandom through banners and face paint, Filipinos present at the game created such a hostile, cacophonous environment out of the brightly lit Mall of Asia Arena.
There were moments of uneasy silence as France chipped away at the 10-point lead or when momentum swung and the world number 5 squad imposed its will on a lesser experienced Gilas team.
To that end Gilas mainstay Ranidel De Ocampo had a message, on top of his appreciation for the fans: "Malaking bagay yung crowd. So sana kahit medyo nahahabol yung lamang natin o ano, tuloy pa rin yung pagsigaw nila. Malaking bagay pa rin yun. Nakakatulong yun, lalo kung unti-unting nakakain lamang natin. Sana ganoon ulit sila."
(The crowd is big for us. I hope even when the opponent is catching up to our lead, they will still keep cheering. It’s very important. It helps, especially in times when our lead is decreasing. I hope they’ll turn up again.)
In those stretches of worried intensity, Marc Pingris, another Gilas veteran, constantly egged the crowd on, raising his hands in the air from the bench and calling out to those in the stands.
Then, as the Philippines rallied to within 4 points late in the fourth, there was Calvin Abueva — sporting a blue Gilas jacket and watching from behind the bench together with LA Tenorio as the final two cuts for Gilas 4.0.
Though it pained him not to be on the court playing, Abueva did what he always does: making the best out of what he can do. This time it was all about calling out to the people around him to cheer louder and louder. And they responded.
Parker praised the team's resolve as well as the atmosphere he swimmingly weathered through to keep his team composed.
And in the end, that proved enough for France to triumph.
Though for a losing cause, Gilas Pilipinas' 6th man came through. They are expected to to do the same if not surpass that energy when the Philippines tries to salvage its Rio Olympics hopes against New Zealand on Wednesday, July 6 at 9 pm.
The only difference is, by encouragement again of the local basketball federation, they will be clad in blue.