By: Alex P. Vidal
“A basketball team is like the five fingers on your hand. If you can get them all together, you have a fist. That’s how I want you to play.” – Mike Krzyzewski
IT is not news if we lose a game in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
It is always expected since the tournament romped off in 1950.
Fans should refrain from bellyaching and finger-pointing.
We are not hypocrites to convince ourselves we can beat the logistically superior Goliaths of basketball from other continents.
What’s news is if we upset any team from Europe and America.
Another news – embarrassing it may seem – is if we lose by a mile or what the Italian pundits call as “massacro” or massacre like when Italy shamed the Philippines on Saturday, 108-62, in China.
It’s okay to lose, but, please, go down or get drowned with dignity by bringing their slippers to the deepest sea.
As they say in Italy, “Ridiamo per non piangere” or we laugh in order not to cry.
In the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Seville, Spain, Gilas Pilipinas did better despite suffering only hair-line defeats to Argentina, Croatia, and Puerto Rico
And, hurray, we beat Senegal.
Sports supremacy is always measured by the country’s economic standing.
If you’re an economically struggling country from the Third World but happens to qualify in the World Cup or the Olympic Games like the Philippines, chances are you will be blown away by countries considered as economic superpowers like Italy, Spain, USA, Russia, China, Serbia.
While poor countries have limited financial support for their athletes’ training, rich countries pamper their athletes and shower them with enormous financial and material assistance.
Even in the Olympic Games, the dominant countries are always those that dominate the world economy: USA, Russia, China, Japan, Germany, Great Britain, Canada.
Can we ever see again a Philippine basketball team in the World Cup where all cagers are pure Filipinos?
While we are happy for team Gilas Pilipinas, we really didn’t expect the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup third placer, the stage was different when the all-Filipino RP basketball team competed in the 1954 FIBA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and won the bronze medal.
In the 1954 FIBA World Cup (known at that time as the 2nd World Basketball Championship), the RP team did not have an Andray Blatche, center-forward of the Brooklyn Nets, recruited abroad to reinforce the Gilas Pilipinas.
We sent to Rio our best home-grown basketball players and we did not have to scout for naturalized reinforcements from the United States and Europe.
And we were so proud to see the brown cagers demolish Formosa (48-38), Israel (90-56), Canada (83-76), and Uruguay (67-63) through the heroics of Carlos “The Big Difference” M. Loyzaga.
We lost only to the eventual champion United States (43-56) and second placer Brazil (41-57) but it was our greatest moment in world basketball championship.
Loyzaga, who turned 84 last August 29, is widely regarded as the greatest Pinoy cager of his era, being the most dominant basketball star from the 1950s to the early 1960s.
A two-time Olympian (1952, 1956), Loyzaga helped the country become one of the best in the world at the time, winning four consecutive Asian Games gold medals (1951, 1954, 1958, 1962) and two consecutive FIBA Asia Championships (1960, 1963).
The country’s third place was the best finish by an Asian country and the Philippines have remained the only Asian medalist in the tournament until today.
To add prestige to our 1954 FIBA World Cup campaign, Loyzaga wound up as one of the tournament’s leading scorers with an average of 16.4 points-per-game.
The Filipino player was named in the tournament’s All-Star selection.
Nowadays it’s hard to duplicate Loyzaga’s achievements. We can produce a lot of promising cage stars from colleges and universities all over the country inspired by the performance of Gilas Pilipinas. But we can’t probably produce another Loyzaga in the next 50 years.
Truly, what happened in Rio did not happen in Seville and won’t happen in China. With basketball in other European, North and Central America improving by leaps and bounds, it will probably never happen again.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)