After losing all five of their games in China, the Philippine men’s national basketball team has returned home, and to no parades. The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 finally ended for Gilas Pilipinas, with the squad suffering an average loss deficit of 29.4 – an embarrassing campaign for the bannermen of the self-proclaimed basketball capital of the world.
And yet, amidst the furor of criticism, here we are, looking for a silver lining. Oh, Filipinos, ever the optimists. Because as forgettable as this last tournament was, there’s always a lesson or two to be learned. Heck, we can even argue, that this may be the best thing to happen to our country’s floundering basketball program.
Failing to summon the ghosts of 2014
There is merit in making sense of all this through the lens of history. After nearly four decades of irrelevance on the big stage of world basketball, Gilas put on a gallant stand in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. It was a beautiful time for Philippine hoops. We held our heads high.
Fast forward to 2019, apart from sparky performances by CJ Perez and Robert Bolick, the fighting spirit we saw five years ago was largely absent this time around. Our movement and shot selection were dismal, we posed no single threat from beyond the arc, and our defense was flat-footed and clearly uninspired. Instead of providing leadership, our veterans became ball-stoppers. Everything we did right in 2014 was nowhere to be seen. So what happened?
The PBA problem
Truth is, this 2019 team was doomed from the start. Instead of getting full support from the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Gilas Pilipinas was left at the mercy of team owners. The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) is at fault here. Instead of wielding its influence, applying the necessary pressure to quell private interests, and putting the best team together with ample time to prepare – they blew it.
The SBP allowed the San Miguel-owned teams to hold out players, while the PBA board looked on. These are the gatekeepers to this chaos. They pushed Tab Baldwin out, crippled the program, and now they smirk from a distance, as the country stumbles anew on the world stage.
If the PBA refuses to adjust its tri-conference schedule, then compromises have to be made for players on the national team. How is this even a debate? If we want the best squad representing the country, let’s step on the toes we need to step on.
So what’s next for Philippine basketball? A reckoning. Let’s remember 2019 as the year it all went down the drain. In a few years, we’ll be hosting the 2023 World Cup. College leagues are now in full swing, showcasing the next crop of young talent. Children in flip-flops continue to run up and down dusty courts across the archipelago. The heartbeat of these islands continues its dribble. Basketball never stops in this hoops-crazy nation. But will it ever rise to the heights of glory? That is the big question. And it will take a nation of 100 million to answer it.
We can start by opening our eyes to the chokehold the PBA has on Gilas Pilipinas. Let our voices be heard. That we want the best players wearing the flag on their chests. And that they’ll be taken care of. That their talents won’t be held hostage. So that generation after generation of champions can be bred. Their mission, clear as island waters. Win.
We have four years. The shot clock is ticking.