The night was supposed to be a final opportunity to celebrate Gilas Pilipinas before they embark for international warfare. Coined as the Last Home Stand, the event instead left thousands of supporters inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum feeling stood up.
Before anything else, think about this reality for a moment. By no fault of their own, Gilas Pilipinas will indelibly remember one thing as they walked off the court that evening, hearing an avalanche of boos raining down from the patron seats to the nosebleed section as they headed into the dugout. They never wanted any of this bizarre sequence of events to take place. No one did. But they were collateral damage of an evening gone wrong for a myriad of reasons.
We can go on and on about the logistical and legal brouhahas that took place. But the sentimental side in me wonders how much of an emotional toll this will take on our players. Yes, they are grown men and professionals, but they are our national team, wearing our country’s colors with pride and honor. Deep down, feelings were hurt, and that might have a residual effect when they head off to Spain a month from now.
Now, you might be telling yourself, “Wait a minute! These guys just played side by side with some of the greatest athletes the sport has to offer! There’s no way they would be on the losing end of this farce! I’d give an arm and a leg (ok, maybe not that much) just to play with Kawhi Leonard and Damian Lillard! Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard!”
But that’s where our opinions part ways. See, that’s not the point. What I am trying to get at is that this was everyone’s last chance to scream ourselves hoarse for our team. That’s right. Our team. We are segregated by our UAAP and NCAA alma maters, as well as our PBA and NBA fandoms. But our national team bonds us as a unified whole. And we couldn’t overlook past the shortcomings beyond Gilas Pilipinas’ control to give them this one night.
Paul Lee deserved a lot more love, especially after his heroic bronze-sealing free throws against China in the FIBA Asia Cup. Marc Pingris, beloved by many for his unrelenting hustle against South Korea, could have used the morale boost. The same goes for Jimmy Alapag and Gary David, the elder statesmen on the squad who are out to prove that they are far from washed up.
It is easy to play the blame game. East West Private Holdings, the organizing body who failed to secure the necessary permits to sanction an actual basketball match from the NBA, deserves all the criticism hurled towards it. I know the boos last night were meant for the organizers. But for the players who are on the court, they do not have the luxury to differentiate who the heckling is directed towards. Heck, they have to spend so much focus just to keep their eye on the ball.
There is a tone of dismay towards the NBA guests who were raring to put on a show. On his third trip here in Manila, James Harden was definitely not expecting such a negative reaction after an outpouring of adulation in his first two visits. At least, you know the players tried to please the crowd even in their limited capacity. A special shoutout goes to 2013 Slam Dunk Contest Champion Terrence Ross, who was really testing the furthest limits of his collective bargaining agreement contract with all the high-wire acts he displayed out there.
Unlike many fair-weathered viewers who walked out right from the start, my friends and I soldiered on to the finish, even moving several rows forward to catch a better glimpse of the action. For the fans who stayed until the bitter end (and did not boo), know that your presence did not go to waste. For all intents and purposes, Gilas Pilipinas was expecting to get the road team treatment next month, not last night.
Yes, you spent a couple of hours that you will never get back. I can’t argue with that. But you will get a refund as promised. So you didn’t spend P23,300 to see the most expensive practice session drills that will soon be listed in the annals of the Guinness Records.
Unfortunately, some things cannot be taken back. Those jeers cannot be recalled into their owners’ voiceboxes. If we could only do it all over again, we should have given Gilas Pilipinas a standing ovation one more time. One last hurrah, before they head to the land of our conquerors.