03 October 2015

2015 FIBA Asia: A Final China Could not Allow Gilas to Win

Terrence Romeo:  the joy, passion and artistry of Philippine basketball.

Imagine, just imagine, if Jayson Castro had shot as sweetly as he did against Japan. Or that Ranidel de Ocampo and Dondon Hontiveros brought their shooting hands to the game. Or that Terrence Romeo had penetrated as pluckily as he did in the earlier matches.

And that, despite China’s formidably taller players and home court advantage, our beloved Gilas had actually prevailed and won the gold in the 2015 FIBA Asia tournament and qualified for Rio de Janeiro despite the odds.

What would that have made China, the modern day bully of the West Philippine Sea, look to the rest of the world?

The Chinese have built structures on islands well within the Philippine Economic Zone; harassed Filipino fishermen inside our own territorial waters; poached sea turtles within these same waters; and had the utter gall and cheek to lay the blame on us for the diplomatic friction that it had started in the first place.

A shooting war? A bit of bravado, yes; a bit of diplomacy, yes. But to actually fire a bullet against China’s military might is, perhaps, an option best not even considered; and for the most obvious of reasons, too.

No, the only way we as a nation could get any sort of victory over China was by way of a basketball game, albeit a moral one. That said, history is replete with tales of how powerful moral victories can be as much as those won with guns and arrows.

Let us all admit it. Much as we wanted Gilas to win, what most of us probably wanted more was for China to eat shit for being the bully it has been of late in the West Philippine Sea. There was, whisper it quietly, always an understated political and diplomatic angle to the match.

And so thus, perhaps it comes as no surprise that China went to great lengths to ensure that we did not even get this moral victory that we craved. Not making it to the medal rounds of the last FIBA Asia in Manila was one thing; but losing to the Philippines of all countries in its own backyard must have been completely unthinkable to the Chinese.

Is it then far-fetched to imagine a member of the Chinese politburo whispering to a member of the Chinese Basketball Association to make sure – on pain of incarceration if not death – that the Philippines did not win the coveted gold in yesterday’s FIBA Asia 2015 final?

Sounds like the plot of a Jason Bourne movie? Or maybe not. Losing face, after all, is a mighty big thing to the Chinese, or so those who major in Asian Studies are taught in college courses.

Hence, we were hearing of none-too-subtle instances of Chinese gamesmanship before the match even started: our semi-final against Japan being put back half an hour later; the team bus for the final mysteriously not starting; one of the assistant coaches being denied entry into the arena; and an adjustment to the goal being made just as Gilas warmed up for the final.

A bit paranoid, were we? But then Gilas’ promising start was quickly subdued by match officials quite intent on turning the final into the worst ever episode of Chef Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen.

A hand to Gabe Norwood’s face right in front of one referee that went unpunished and an elbow into de Ocampo’s jaw as one Chinese player went for a lay-up were just two examples of the sort of officiating that went on all game long.

It annoyed me that the Brit-accented commentator on BT even explained the elbow as ‘inevitable’ given the height difference between de Ocampo and the Chinese player. Please! In the Premiership, that would have been a straight red card!

A few of the Gilas boys, to be fair, were having a bad day at the office. On the other hand, it was probably not easy to get into any sort of rhythm when the Chinese were being allowed to get away with man-rape while Gilas players were being called for the most innocuous of contacts.

When we all get over this disappointment, we will all albeit grudgingly admit that the real reason why China turned out to be our bridge too far was that Cherifer and Star Margarine both need to upgrade their formulae so that we can grow players as big as the Chinese.

That young Chinese centre, for instance, somehow creepily reminded me of the Espheni overlords of the Steven Spielberg series ‘Falling Skies.’ What do they feed them and are they even from this planet?

We Filipinos are nothing if not a resilient people, though. For all our faults as a nation, there is a spirit in us that enables us to ride natural and Chinese-made storms. Almost as soon as the match ended, for instance, Twitter was being inundated with the sort of delightful humour that in reality is our way of seeing things in perspective and picking ourselves up after a fall.

Among the topics that trended last night were ‘walang kakain’ (ng tikoy, pancit or anything Chinese), which naturally evolved into ‘Chowking’ and ‘Binondo.’ ‘Poor’ Henry Sy also trended, initially because of annoyance at NU winning the cheer-dance competition but spilling over into the Gilas game.

Come the morning and after we have all expunged the annoyance and disappointment with a good night’s sleep, there comes the realization that there is no shame finishing second. Gilas got to the final playing scintillating basketball; and particularly in Castro and young Romeo’s gusty performances showed to the rest of Asia the joy, passion and artistry of Filipino basketball.


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