Fair Play: Unforgettable night in Philippine sports

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Sept. 6 issue)
IF YOU were not in front of a TV last Wednesday, then you just missed one of the biggest nights in Philippine sports. It was the night Gilas Pilipinas faced Puerto Rico in the Fiba World Cup in Spain and the night that the Azkals took on Chinese Taipei in the Peace Cup.

If you were in front of the TV last Wednesday and on Thursday were shopping for a new one, then you must be a downtown Cebu resident. Gilas and Puerto Rico were tied at 70 when the cable signal was lost and throwing the remote at the TV is a justifiable act.

Of course, we all now know what happened in both games, but in that magical hour when both aired simultaneously--both games started 30 minutes apart—it was the greatest moment to be a sports fan.

Gilas Pilipinas seemed headed for a win against Puerto Rico, taking a comfortable lead, while on the other side of the world, the Azkals was safely ahead, 2-0, against a Chinese Taipei team they haven’t beaten.

Then of course, the sports gods have a funny sense of humor, or perhaps, they pitied the Pinoy sports fans, forcing them--albeit painfully--to watch just one game.

It started raining. The downpour was so heavy that even the artificial turf of the Rizal Memorial Sports Stadium couldn’t handle it and the Azkals vs. Chinese Taipei match had to be stopped, allowing thsoe who were channel surfing to concentrate on just one match.

It was painful. Watching the team try so hard to get that win. To get over that hump, only to fail, because of an NBA player who we could all identify with--JJ Barea--carried his country on his short 5’11 frame.

Gilas lost, and for basketball fans who are also football fans, the sting was somehow alleviated with the Azkals’ 5-1 rout of Chinese Taipei.

For the basketball fans, the sting was finally removed a day later, and since it is the Philippines, not after some drama. We had and lost a 14-point lead against Senegal, we lost Andray Blatche in overtime, and felt our hearts beat nervously as Jimmy Alapag missed a free throw. In the end, we won, and the supposedly neutral commentators of Basketball TV were all but willing us to win.

We deserved it. For the things we have to go through ever since that national team lost to a bunch of actors, for the thousands of fans who were in the arena, and the millions tuned in all over the world, for Gilas Pilipinas, and for our country’s love affair with the sport.

That we could have done better is something for the basketball experts to dissect but that one victory is one tale fans are going to share over and over again until the next Gilas campaign.

Gilas Pilipinas finally won and do you know what would be a fitting followup for sports fans?

Another victory by the Azkals tonight against Myanmar in the Peace Cup finals. It will be at the Rizal Memorial Stadium again, so don’t miss it.


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