When every hashtag of #Puso comes at you to obligate yourself to pound your chest for whatever reason, in theory, we think of this action as if to help pump the blood—or simply to swag the heck out of the moment that got us jumping and pumping from the magic that unravels before our very eyes. From all walks of social networking, the agitation by which the hashtag has overwhelmed us with quite a mixture of emotions, from gutter hopelessness to somewhat borderline angst and the ever-prevailing quasi-critical mode of each one of us trying to put our every two-cents worth get counted on the hashtag fora. It was #Puso that comes after Laban and Pilipinas…three words that immortalized the brave Gilas team in capturing the imagination of a 100 million-strong nation in putting up a gallant showing at the world’s stage of basketball. Needless to be reminded that it is the month of September to be actually talking about #Puso in a week’s stretch, ergo, #Puso has gotten us with so much to love on a sports so endeared to us yet so elusive to place us on its pedestal.
When Gilas Pilipinas began their magical, breathtaking five-game run, no one was prepared that Jeff Chan, a second rounder pick from the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) would scorch the hoops against the towering presence of Croatian squad. Neither was a diminutive LA Tenorio, who’s smallest of small size, has executed the biggest blow (a nut blow at that) against monstrous Greek freaks. Who could dare forget him going toe-to-toe with JJ Barea? And then there was this Gabe Norwood, a legit division I player from George Mason University yet went off the radar from NBA scouts. Luis Scola has been in the NBA and the FIBA World competitions for almost half his life now but quite ironic that what most people would probably remember was that dunk over him in transition by Norwood.
Sometimes, it makes you wonder why Norwood was so impressive on international tilts yet always underperformed in the PBA—you always kind of wanting more and more from him because we know what he’s so much capable of. That dunk on Scola, and for all the defensive marvels he had shown in FIBA World had only added to that enigma.
The bigs combo of Andray Blatche and JuneMar Fajardo are making good use of their stint in Gilas Pilipinas. Both are outperforming quality bigs on the world stage, mostly has NBA creds stamped on their foreheads. Most observers cringe over Fajardo’s lack of playing time despite the efficiency of his contributions whenever called to play. This is mostly a credit to what The Krakken can do as a student of the game. Yet somehow, we can’t get rid of that image of him so alone while caught in the quagmire from his mother team of San Miguel for all the dramas it had endured almost costing him the MVP plum just a season ago. Fajardo is the future of Philippine basketball together with another giant in Greg Slaughter says multi-titled coach Tim Cone and he is proving every bit of it at this stage. Here’s hoping that he be spared from both the politics of sports and the lure of showbizness because this young giant has what it takes to lead Gilas in the future and perhaps knock on the doors of the NBA given the right exposure. Blatche for his part is having the time of his life. Leading the charge of the Gilas is no laughing matter especially being the key cog of the Gilas squad. Not even a slight scare of injury on his part is affordable, this is how important his presence is in Gilas. Yet after all the international competitions are done, his own reality will set in that at this very moment, no NBA team has taken him yet. With news of him being actually injured right now, one has to wonder what of this full force play level he is doing to scare away potential team that will take him in before NBA season starts? Of course you know I will reserve this at the end for Jimmy. Like he always do, Capt. Alapag would always reserve the heroics at the end game.
Time and time again, he lifted the hopes of our countrymen from its hopeless state. These are the times that whenever you watch newscast, you kind of want to get the headlines be done right away so we can have the sports news to hear anything about our modern day heroes. It stops us dead on our tracks, waiting to see the highlights of the Gilas games—win or lose. This is because regardless of the results, the Gilas team that Alapag leads will sure to have their moments. That evidently, win or lose, Gilas is finding multiple ways to shock the world. The irony is that Alapag is doing an Alapag for more than a decade now in his home turf. Now that he has this opportunity to exhibit his brand of basketball leadership, this might be the last we could see him play on world stage. For all the greatness of his, the world was left with no clue of his caliber, the politics that killed the Philippine team before obscured this wealth of talent our motherland has on its disposal.
So it was basically a band of somewhat underachieving players (at least on the world level), a group of guys with chip on their shoulders forged together to form the team that is Gilas Pilipinas. They are success stories on their own right individually, but the imagination their performance created lingers in a way that the Gilas Pilipinas conquest was at least eight years too late. That maybe, it could’ve opened up doors to former National Team stalwarts like Danny Seigle, or a solid-rock but young then Asi Taulava, or even a then-primed Mark Caguioa. Philippine basketball has always been world class. Imports coming here to and from could attest to that. But word of mouth doesn’t bring you to FIBA World. It only gives you legendary footnotes. It only gives you the distinctive and be a subject of foreign fascination, a documentary material for all the craziness of us towards basketball.
And as always, we have people that are hard to impress, eager to downplay what Philippine basketball has achieved on this ongoing FIBA tournament. Fondly based on the country’s statistical world ranking, number of wins, and the argument that basketball will never be Filipinos’ sports based on our natural physique; the cynics tried so hard to cast the dark clouds on this feat and spoil the euphoria.
I’m taking a broader historical perspective in assessing their run in Seville, Spain; this despite the moral and critical merits of their participation. The appreciation of this feat goes beyond world recognition. The impact of Gilas’ performance is more of a validation to giving justice of this innate passion towards basketball. We need to have the measuring stick to gauge the progress or our international program. Asan na ba tayo? That for the greater part of the last four decades, we got stuck to a level that was only appreciated locally because of its commercialized characteristics. This and politics had kept us stagnant while other Asian neighbors grew leaps and bounds.
The region where we use to impose our dominance was clearly a thing of the past. To see them on optimal performance in Spain, to see them scare the bejesus of teams that met them in Seville and left the others from different groupings in awe is victory in itself just because we have no business being that competitive at least at the world’s level. You can say that Gilas rode the coattails of element of surprise to come in as close as it can get to teams like Croatia, Greece and Argentina but you can’t say they were never scouted. They pulled off consecutive competitive games that would’ve gone the Gilas way.
These are basketball programs Team USA, the perennial number one basketball country in every aspect (except puso, hehe) has gotten them sleepless nights. To say that Pinoys has this penchant for mediocrity, celebrating a ludicrous one game win and never making it to the next round is a mentality that can be mused by people who has shallow understanding of the sports—its history in local hoops in particular. Beyond the solitary win, Gilas went on to thrust Philippine basketball back to respectability once again in an unprecedented way.
#Puso, or the heart, is always to blame when things go wrong because of the absence of logic it always goes through in acting on things that matter. And this may be the reason of the chant “Puso” fittingly describes the character of our brave Gilas soldiers. They leave it all out there. Besides, what logic to be used for a world cup returnee, whose absence of 36 years they no longer knew their peers at the world stage in going up against Argentina and Greece? Who would dare use logical thinking to say that Gilas has a fighting chance to keep these powerhouses within striking distance much less an opportunity to actually slaughter these giants? The term #Puso may have been an excuse but it sure fits the bill. They fight with all heart regardless of the insurmountable odds that are cast upon them.