The evening of August 10, 2013. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched the final seconds of the Philippines-Korea game tick by. This had been a long time coming, this triumph over Korea. Korea had been a perennial tormentor, frustrating our efforts for the last decade or so for a chance to join the Olympics or the FIBA World Championships.
That night, I am finally able to throw away all those pent-up frustrations and fears. Exorcised out of my body by a gutsy Smart-Gilas crew who would magically find answers to everything and more that the Koreans could dish out. A magnificent Gilas squad who refused to surrender despite losing their main man, Marcus Douthit, to a knee injury in the second quarter. This never-say-die squad that would find inspiration from a sea of cheering fans; defending and assaulting and scoring in creative ways that thankfully did not run dry.
Everything seemed lost when Gilas lost Marcus. I mean, who was going to man the middle now? Who was going to stand up to their stratospheric bullies? Who was going to put in those all-important points under the basket?
But there were enough heroes ready to take turns and take charge that night. There was the speedy Jason Castro with his daring drives and nifty assists. There too were Marc Pingris, Japeth Aguilar, Rani De Ocampo and Gabe Norwood ably manning the defensive barricades thrown up against the taller, more burly Koreans; and whipping up their own miracles on the offensive boards as well. There were the twins LA Tenorio and Jimmy Alapag, with more pesky drives and outside snipes that clearly bewildered the defenses of Korea. There was the sniper crew of Jeff Chan, Larry Fonacier and Gary David who never gave up and forced the Korean defenses to stay wide open.
And let’s not forget, there was the omnipresent sixth man, that huge hometown crowd, which willed our team on, even after Marcus went down. Add in Chot Reyes and his dynamic coaching staff. And most especially, the MVP Group of Companies, and of course, Mr Manny Pangilinan, without whose vision this tournament and this resurgence of Philippine Basketball would not have been realized. This was ‘No Guts, No Glory’ time. And the Smart Gilas Team clearly epitomized that on this particular night.
Which leads me to recall a similar night. This time in the cold, damp, hostile atmosphere in Seoul, South Korea. It is October 1967. The Philippines is playing for the Asian Basketball Conference (ABC) championship against the host, South Korea. Despite the presence of Korea’s prolific superstar, Shin Dong Pa; plus a highly partisan crowd egging the home team on, the Philippine team is still keeping their heads afloat. With barely 48 seconds left, Bobby Jaworski becomes the sixth Pinoy to foul out. He joins Ed Ocampo and Tembong Melencio (who took turns hounding the great Shin DP), Orly Bauzon, Jake Rojas and Ed Roque in the graduates’ row.
With half the team banished, a young Danny Florencio is sent in for the first time by coach Caloy Loyzaga. Showing nerves of steel, Florencio scores the team’s last 4 points on a long jumper and 2 free throws off a fouled drive. The boisterous hometown crowd is silenced. The Korean team – who thought that our squad was now running on empty – is totally stunned. Loyzaga’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ – battered, beleaguered, and bone-tired – win the game 83-80 and retain the title as Asian champions once again. ‘No Guts, No Glory’ indeed. That night, Danny Florencio and company showed us guts in abundance.
No guts, no glory. Both teams fought gallantly against seemingly insurmountable odds. Taking on separate uphill battles. Different circumstances perhaps, but still with trying obstacles just the same. And on both occasions, they chose to be unfazed and undeterred. Ready to face the challenge head-on. So they pushed on. Kapit-bisig. They fought together, these weary warriors with their backs against the walls. And they triumphed.
When all is said and done, what are the key ingredients that will spell success? Talent, of course, will be a basic requirement. But given that, there will be certain characteristics that I’d like to believe will differentiate the winners from the average people of the world. Persistence. Courage in the face of adversity. Confidence. Unity. Teamwork. And finally, heart. It is your heart, your desire, that will elevate your output in any kind of endeavor. It is your heart that will make you give that extra mile, that extra hour, that extra effort to make you reach that goal. It is that same heart that will make you stare danger right in the face. As today’s battle cry goes: “Laban Pilipinas! Puso!!!”
(Photos courtesy of smartgilaspilipinas.com, videoblogspot.com, pinoyexchange.com, yahoo.com, philstar.com, 4.bp.blogspot.com)