Our Gilas journey, as told by the best in sportswriting
It’s been an incredible journey for Gilas at the FIBA World Cup in Spain; we’ve had way more than our fair share of heartbreak. But despite not advancing, the team put on a gallant display of courage, skill, and teamwork in bringing home a much-deserved win. We may have come up short in our four previous tries, but our team made good on its word to Senegal: “We’ll go home after we beat you.”
Now that we’ve successfully completed our coming out party, it’s time to look back and relive the Gilas experience. The world was put on notice with our performances, and we’ve been fortunate to have some of the best sports coverage a Philippine team has ever received. From the top local sports reporters to foreign outlets like ESPN, the Gilas journey has been thoroughly documented. This is our story, as told by the world.
The crowd could smell it — people were already starting to hug and cry and squeeze each other’s shoulders hard enough to leave fingernail scratches behind. Korea got the ball to Kim one last time, and this time Gilas’s rangy stopper Gabe Norwood got a piece of Kim’s final attempt. The Bogeyman was stuffed, and seconds later, as the clock counted down to zero, the Philippine players and coaches rushed the court, embraced, and collapsed on the floor in utterly spent joy. The Philippines had finally beaten Korea.
— Rafe Bartholomew, Grantland. We Went There: South Korea vs. The Philippines in the FIBA Asia Semifinal. August 12, 2013
As uncontroversial as the legislative effort to naturalize Blatche proved to be, its numerous hearings, readings, and votes were still followed breathlessly by the local media and then published online for an international audience. NBA bloggers were drawn to the novelty of Blatche, who would be one of the highest-profile naturalized imports in FIBA, getting hitched with the Philippines, a basketball minnow compared to powerhouse nations like Spain, France, and Argentina.
Blatche provided further grist for the mill by joking with Joe Johnson and reporters in the Nets locker room about his nonexistent Filipino roots. Then, at the outset of his June Manila trip, Blatche tweeted a message in Tagalog for his Filipino fans: “Kumusta Manila #LabaPilipinasPuso!” It was a well-intentioned gesture — if only he had used the hashtag #LabanPilipinasPuso!, which means “Fight Philippines Heart!” instead of one that roughly translated as “Laundry Philippines Heart!
— Rafe Bartholomew, Grantland. Their Dinner With Andray. August 28, 2014.
Any attention this team generates in the States is bound to focus on (A) Andray Blatche playing for the Philippines as a naturalized citizen or (B) Blatche auditioning for a new contract in the NBA as an unsigned free agent reveling in some helpful September exposure.
Yet that’s the extremely narrow view. The more significant story here is that the hoops-mad Philippines — where roundball is religion just like it is in Lithuania — has qualified for its first major tournament since 1978. And that it did so by beating South Korea, which has dominated Asia for decades.
South Korea is ranked higher here largely because it resides in the cushier Group D with Angola and Mexico and thus has a chance to go farther in the tournament. But no matter. Whether or not Blatche & Co. even win a game in Group B along the way, Filipinos everywhere will rejoice in the fact that their Gilas are back where they’ve longed to be. Back at the adult table of world basketball.
— Marc Stein, ESPN. Power Rankings: 2014 World Cup Edition. August 29, 2014.
Pinoy basketball fans are a passionate bunch, and they’d rip your throats off if they think it’s warranted. Just check at the numerous insults traded during the NBA finals. Or, if you want something local, just check the local rivalries in the PBA or your school league.
But for the next couple of weeks, only one team matters for the basketball nation—Gilas Pilipinas.
I’ve been following the Philippine national basketball ever since I started reading the sports pages as a fifth-grader and I think no team has captured the heart of a nation such as Gilas Pilipinas.
— Mike T. Limpag, Sun Star Cebu. Country cheers as one for Gilas Pilipinas. August 29, 2014.
A Hollywood scriptwriter would be fired if he came up with Croatia’s 81-78 overtime victory over Philippines as an ending to Marc Pingris’ story. The Philippines power forward deserves a better ending – even though his just being at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup is already like an amazing Oscar Award winning tearjerker.
First of all, the undersized 1.98m power forward has to battle all game against opposing players who are all taller than him.
“I really just have to give my 100 percent. They’re big but I need to use my quickness and 100 percent heart,” said Pingris after collecting 10 points, four rebounds and one steal in Philippines loss in the Group B opener in Sevilla.
— FIBA.com. Heartbreaking loss can’t dampen Pingris’ Hollywood-like tale. August 30, 2014.
See, I’ve been told time and again by proponents of other sports that basketball is not for Filipinos. We’re small. Basketball is a big man’s game. We’ll never amount to anything good so we should just save our time, effort, and money for some other sport.
What those people do not understand is that even if we’re small, we’re smart. Sure, we play at a disadvantage every single time we step into the court but that adds to the fun. Seeing Jayson Castro outsmart his much taller defenders to get a shot up is a minor miracle yet it happened so many times. Watching Marc Pingris grab rebounds he had absolutely no business grabbing was nothing short of amazing.
— Carlo Pamintuan, Yahoo! Sports Philippines. Gilas loses game but reaffirms our love for basketball. August 30, 2014.
Such heroic stands, like Gilas’ tough showing in defeat to the much taller Greece on Sunday night, have made basketball so moving to the average Filipino that it’s become the national passion that it is. This is despite the tall odds the Philippines goes up against every time the Filipinos set foot on the world stage, and the many heartbreaks like this loss to Croatia that have actually marked their campaign in both regional and international competitions.
Perhaps this love affair with basketball, which in a way has taken away from other sports where analysts say the Filipinos have better chances of succeeding since they’re not handicapped in terms of height and heft against naturally bigger nations, can be attributed to the country’s own success on the same world stage it’s now competing.
— Bert A. Ramirez, Rappler. Gilas and the Filipinos’ love affair with basketball. September 1, 2014.
Well, the World Cup began this weekend, and the Philippines lost three games that answered all questions about whether they belong at this level: First, there was a 3-point overtime loss to Croatia, which the Philippines led in the last two minutes of both regulation and extra time; then, a cold-shooting meat grinder of a game with Greece where Gilas hung within 7 to 12 points throughout but never managed to close the gap; and finally, a four-point loss to Argentina on Monday. They’ve played so well that goals like “playing well,” inspiring Twitter plaudits from media personalities, and earning the respect of the NBA players and Olympic gold medalists among their group no longer feel suitable: The Philippines wants a win.
— Rafe Bartholomew, Grantland. Team Philippines at the FIBA World Cup: Always Bet on Blatche. September 2, 2014.
For the first three games, there were those of us passed blame. We’re some of the most passionate basketball fans in this planet so it’s understandable. Even if the pointing of fingers was present after the first three losses, most of it was still kind-hearted.
The dam broke after the loss to Puerto Rico. Some of the team’s biggest supporters turned into its biggest critics.
Sabi nga nila, quota na tayo sa moral victories. Champion na tayo dun. Kailangan natin nung totoong victory. Yung ililista nila.
We didn’t get it against Puerto Rico. This wasn’t a win, moral or otherwise. This was just a loss. A painful, heart-wrenching loss.
— Carlo Pamintuan, Yahoo! Sports Philippines. Now more than ever, Gilas needs the country’s support. September 3, 2014.
Gilas Pilipinas, down and out, won’t just fade away quietly in its FIBA World Cup return, smothering Senegal, 81-79, in overtime to gift the country its first win in 40 years in the global meet.
After heartbreaking losses, the Nationals took their turn to break a heart with a stirring triumph reminiscent of their brave, proud performance at home versus Korea that became their ticket for a first World Cup appearance in 36 years.
Like in Manila in the finest hour of their 2013 FIBA Asian Championship glorious ride, the Filipinos fought and won a battle in the crunch with their naturalized player helpless on the bench.
With Andray Blatche out on fouls in the last 1:55, the Filipinos defied the odds versus the tall, athletic and sweet-shooting Senegal side, giving the country their brightest moment in world basketball for ages.
— Nelson Beltran, Philippine Star. A win 40 years in the making: Gilas edges out Senegal in OT. September 4, 2014.
Gilas won’t be standing on any podiums in Spain, but they’ve accomplished much with their valor. They created memories that hoops fans will remember for many years, like when Alapag hit 5 three-pointers in the second half against Argentina to will his team back into the game, or when Gabe Norwood posterized Indiana Pacers veteran Luis Scola to become #2 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays list.
They’ve justified the basketball frenzy of a country that isn’t genetically predisposed to hoops aptitude. They’ve made sense of why a respected sports journalist would leave New York to write a book about Balling Beermen. They’ve proven that puso, or heart, is more than just a catch phrase to sell Max’s Chicken but rather an intangible that can keep you alive in a game you have no business winning.
What did Gilas win in Spain? They’ve won respect, and that’s why the game is played.
— Ryan Songalia, Rappler. Gilas Pilipinas makes a name for itself in Spain. September 5, 2014.