Miracles do happen

Miracles indeed can happen. Several unbelievable miracles happened the last few weeks leading to the gold medal play of Gilas in the 19th Asian Games Men’s Basketball tournament after 61 years of luckless campaigning to reclaim the gold.

Our country had dominated the inaugural years of the Asian Games starting in 1951 with legends like Carlos Loyzaga, nicknamed the Big Difference because of his unstoppable dominance on the hardcourt; Lauro “The Fox” Mumar, a wily forward; Moro Lorenzo, a sharpshooting cager, and Rafael “Paing” Hechanova, a fellow Makati Rotarian I had the honor of associating with who went on to become a distinguished global Rotarian.

But starting in 1966, we ran into brick walls way above our league — Israel, China and South Korea — as we contented ourselves with two bronze medals in 1986 and 1998 and a silver medal in 1990 where we were routed 90-76 by, who else, but China.

Going into the 2023 edition of the Games, China had piled up 8 basketball gold medal finishes against our 4, which we had won during the first four conferences in the 1950s when our Asian neighbors were still bumbling hoopsters. Our other nemesis, South Korea, had racked up 4 golds, while Israel had only one mainly because they were eased out of the conference over political and security concerns.

Fresh from an embarrassing outing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023, which was arduously prepared for over several years and after spending tons of money to bring in Jordan Clarkson and Kai Sotto only to fall flat on our faces as the host country, Philippine basketball’s top honchos finally decided to ditch corporate rivalries and work together to provide some consoling salve to our country’s deeply wounded basketball psyche The first order of the day was to reassemble a tattered team which, because of key players’ professional commitments, hopefully could be a viable Gilas line-up, starting with a search for a new coach. Chot Reyes had tendered his resignation immediately after the morale-boosting rout of our perennial arch nemesis, China, courtesy of Clarkson’s 3-point explosion that left the Chinese in a daze.

But shortly after the widely popular and much-acclaimed selection of Tim Cone as head coach — who humbly acceded to the public’s clamor after he had openly proclaimed, “if Chot goes, I go” — with barely two weeks to prepare a new Gilas team, another snag surfaced.

Key selections of Tim were deemed ineligible, disrupting plays he had already designed around the disqualified recruits — Terrence Romeo, Calvin Abueva, Mo Tautuaa and Jason Perkins. Shrugging off those setbacks, Tim buckled down and created new plays. Tim Cone’s brilliance and quick ability to adjust was undoubtedly the first miracle to happen.

As the games started, Gilas steamrolled Bahrain, barely overcame stubborn Thailand, then ran into a brick wall, the Rondae Hollis-Jefferson powered Jordan which blasted Gilas 67-82, tossing again to cloud nine our aspirations. The loss meant Gilas had to hurdle, in knockout games, tough Iran and the Great Wall of China.

At that point surely  the Gilas fanatics felt the odds were against us and that another heartbreak was in the offing. But somehow, the improbable happened. Gilas pulled off not just one, not just two, but three miraculous games. After leading comfortably all throughout, Gilas barely scraped through with a solitary point win against Iran behind Justin Brownlee’s and June Mar Fajardo’s clutch lay-ups that overcame a furious Iranian pushback in the dying minutes. The razor-thin win over Iran was the second miracle.

Next came the much-waited encounter with the hometown team, China, which was itching to exact revenge for their face-shaming 21-point loss in the FIBA World Cup. And true to their mission, from the get go, China started out like a house on fire leading by as much as 20 points. Surely, this meant the end for the Gilas journey to redemption. I certainly thought so. But the next miracle unfolded. Justin incredibly led the Gilas comeback from a 20-point deficit to eke out a one-point win with a triple, 24 seconds to go. The third miracle.

Then came the final miracle. A balanced scoring and defense-minded Gilas came out strong against Jordan led by Chris Newsome’s suffocating guarding of Jefferson, Ange Kouame’s double-double, Scottie Thompson’s all around game and, of course, Justin’s heroics finally pulling off a Gilas gold medal win after 61 long years.

Yes, miracles do happen and this one is for the ages!

Until next week… OBF!



For comments, email bing_matoto@yahoo.com.


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