Fight through the pain and cheer your hearts out one more time
MANILA, Philippines – It hurts.
It hurts because Gilas Pilipinas had that game in the bag. It hurts because the Philippines had a 14-point lead that turned into shambles in a blink of an eye, eventually resulting in a 77-73 defeat. It hurts because in the hearts of hearts of millions of Filipinos around the world they know that their country’s national basketball team is better than that of Puerto Rico’s.
Such an argument would likely hold no value outside the Philippines right now, save for maybe a few souls who were convinced by what Gilas has accomplished so far in the 2014 FIBA World Cup along with many more Filipinos living and working overseas.
It hurts because there was a huge chance Gilas could make it to the round of 16, even more now that Senegal was destroyed by Argentina, which could have made tomorrow’s matchup between the African club and the Philippines a knockout playoff for the ages. (RELATED: LA Tenorio: We needed more experience)
It hurts because instead of playing for a chance to advance to the next stage, potentially to face even better and fierce opponents, Gilas will have to play for consolation on Thursday night, September 4. Instead of possibly going up against Anthony Davis or Paul Gasol, Andray Blatche will have to counter Gorgui Dieng. Dieng is a tremendous young player, but he’s nowhere near the level of the two aforementioned players.
It hurts because instead of extending their stay in Spain, Gilas will have to soon come home and face questions of whether or not their naturalized player can play in the Asian Games, a tournament where it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say the Philippines is the favorite after their impressive showing in the World Cup compared to rivals Iran and Korea.
It hurts, yes. But regardless of how many Filipino hearts are broken right now and how many tears they shed before falling asleep on Wednesday night, there are 12 guys who are more devastated than we are right now, along with the rest of their coaching staff who are probably ditching a few hours of sleep that would help ease the pain in order to watch film and prepare to not make the same mistakes they did against Puerto Rico.
They’re the same 12 guys who will have to fight through the heartbreak – once again – and go back to battle tonight against Senegal with the hope of coming home to the showers of praise and love from the Philippine nation with at least one win to boast of.
Some of these guys may never ever come back to this same stage again. Jimmy Alapag has already said the 2014 World Cup will be his last international tournament. Some of the team’s older guys like Marc Pingris, Gary David, LA Tenorio, and a few others are getting up there in age. The next World Cup is five years from now.
And even if Gilas has shown the world they can compete with the best everyone else has to offer in Seville, can we be certain that we will see the Philippines back in the same tournament again in 2019? Signs point to a yes, but even China probably thought they would book a plane trip to Spain, though their disappointing play in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship halted that dream. Injuries can take place, lucky bounces for the other side could determine a win or loss in qualifying tournaments. Big leads, as Gilas knows by now, can vanish in a heartbeat.
The Asian Games and the FIBA Asia tourney are grand competitions as well, but nowhere close to the monumental stage of the World Cup. The 2016 Rio Olympics is around the corner, but to get there Gilas will have to either win the World Cup, which is no longer possible; beat out their continental rivals and win gold in the 2015 FIBA-Asia Championship, which isn’t a sure thing with or without Blatche, who’s currently signed under contract only until the 2014 Asian Games; or prevail in the qualifying tournament.
The 2014 roster of Gilas Pilipinas has built the foundation of what the basketball program could be years from now, if indeed they gather more international success abroad. But once again, nothing is certain. After their game versus Senegal, the next time the Philippines might be in the World Cup could be five years from now, or possibly maybe further than that, at a time when young adults of today could already be teaching their own children how to shoot a basketball.
Which is why tomorrow’s matchup is not just the last game of the tournament for the Philippines, or Gilas’ way of salvaging a lost campaign composed of blown leads, questionable late-game decision making (such as fouling while down two with still 34 seconds to go against Puerto Rico), and multiple moral victories.
Tomorrow, God-forbidding, could be the last time in a long time we see the boys that have made us so happy and so proud go up against the best the world has to offer. And when that time comes, forget about the sorry defeats, no mater how painful they might be. Forget that Gilas could have been playing in the Round of 16 if they beat Senegal; what’s done is done. On Thursday evening, cheer your hearts out for Gilas Pilipinas. Hold hands with your fellow countrymen if the game goes down the wire. Hug each other whenever Alapag hits another big 3-ball, or if Gabe Norwood adds another collection to his posterizations. Cry tears of sadness if the Philippines bows to their next opponents, but keep your heads high for the squad has made an entire nation so proud. And cry tears of joy if Gilas makes history and finally records a win that has flirted with us since the tournament started a few days ago.
The World Cup has given Pinoys around the globe so many heartbreaking moments. But at the same time, it has given Gilas Pilpinas the avenue to create moments that will never be forgotten in Philippine sports history. The entire team has sacrificed so much to make us happy, and tonight, it’s our turn to return the favor, as we cheer our lungs out until the very last second.
On Thursday evening, at least for the last time in a long time, against one of the best the world has to offer outside of Asia, let us all together chant: “LABAN PILIPINAS!” - Rappler.com