July 6, 2016. Here is the Philippine national basketball program, drowning.
In these last moments, it’s not a brilliant Tai Webster performance that has finally done it for Gilas. Instead, it is the cold, hard truth that the team, at this level, just was not good enough. With the outcome seemingly inescapable, Gilas stalwart Jayson Castro looks as if he has bled all the energy and skill from his body into poignant futility, no matter how much he fights to keep the Filipinos within striking distance. The man called “Best Point Guard in Asia” is still strong despite not getting any younger, just over thirty years old, but in the face of undaunted Tall Blacks who just keep on coming, each Kiwi basket more ominous than the last, Castro’s will is punished relentlessly and put to the ultimate test.
With every Gilas turnover and New Zealand score, our emotions are spun around, our spirits toppled all over, our morale forced deeper and deeper into the limbo. Even when we do make a basket or mount a semblance of a run for a few frantic seconds, coach Paul Henare’s wards simply manage to push back, and it’s these counter-punches that do us in until we’re down for the count.
As the buzzer sounds — the final buzzer of not just this game, of not just our Olympic hopes, but, perhaps, of this generation — we come to grip with the grim reality that, try as coach Tab Baldwin’s crew might, on this night, our team just was not up to the task. The cheers grow softer with each passing moment, the exits seemingly more consoling, and we feel a terrible yearning in our chests, waiting, maybe begging, for this wrenching pain to find its timely end.
It is too late for Gilas.
The sudden horror of knowing this elicits an eerie silence, the fans in the Mall of Asia Arena not daring to think that this might be the last time we see Gilas as we know it.
But the truth is much like an undercurrent that’s too strong. The truth allows us a sliver of sunshine before spinning us upside down and dragging us further into the abyss. The truth toys with us even as we try to fight it.
Even as we fail.
The game is over, even if to Filipinos, this was never just a game.
We brace ourselves because the thing from which we’ve been running away has caught up.
“Please,” is all we think as we give token applause.
No more time.
No more breath.
No more life.
The moments right after losing to New Zealand pass over our confused selves in a blur. We see in the eyes of Jeff Chan and Gabe Norwood a deep awareness of the pain, but also, mostly, we see their shoulders slouch under the weight of tremendous fatigue, as if they’ve been carrying layer upon layer of near-impossible-to-reach expectations.
As Gilas’s players file into their dugout, their minds are probably unclear. Perhaps creeping into their heads and hearts is a kind of terror for what has just transpired and what is to come.
In the very recesses of their souls, the Gilas players still struggle against the pain of loss. Maybe some of them are still caught up in the delusion that this is just like the monster in their nightmares they’ve always been able to outrun.
Only, this is one monster they cannot keep at bay.
For an instant, the world is still, and the players let themselves sink, be enveloped, and consumed by the moment. The team has no choice beyond letting oblivion take its course.
Quiet is the word behind closed doors. An urgency for sound, for whispers, for tears permeates.
The spoken lines will forever stay within the walls of Gilas’s dugout, but it stands to reason these will be memorable to the men who are, eventually, minutes after, feeling the coolness of the shower on their faces.
Andray Blatche is the first to go, with nary a word as he exits the room. The loss is not seen in his giant strides but in his sad scowl as this end marks the beginning of his long journey home, not forgetting a brief stop at what-could-have-been.
And then a knock. Gabe leaves, followed shortly by coach Tab, both braving the lights, cameras, and questions that surge forward without concern for winning or losing.
For us all, these are not mere players. These are our best. These are our warriors. As the night grows darker, the murk in their eyes changes. June Mar Fajardo and Marc Pingris begin to joke around. It is not in the character of these two to remain purgatorial and gray. Their light manner is not a revelation of their disconnectedness from the gravity of the situation. It is the way they cope best.
As for the rest of us, how have we coped, and how will we continue to cope?
It has been more than a week since the World won in our annual Gilas versus the World bout. We have taken to every platform to extrapolate whatever reasons we pretend can satisfy our desire to make sense of this mess.
But then, amidst the fog of confusion, our minds tremble as a herd of even more questions charges head-on.
More tune-up games?
More than this? Should Gilas be, can Gilas be, more than this? – By Enzo Flojo
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