No matter what happens to the Gilas Pilipinas team in the remaining days of the Fiba Asia Championship, one thing’s for sure: Sports has again done its job of rekindling Filipino national passion.
Except perhaps for the wars and the 1986 Edsa Revolution, no other political event or upheaval can stir national passion like an international sporting contest.
Like a Manny Pacquiao fight or an Azkals duel, a basketball game involving the Philippine team arouses sentiments that usually take a backseat because of our ordeals with daily traffic, corruption and making ends meet.
It takes a tournament where the best of Asia are playing to uncork anew our bottled-up national feelings.
The crowd at Mall of Asia Arena is there but throughout the country, activity stops so that families and friends can take in the action.
The triumphs over Jordan, Japan, Qatar and Hong Kong will be remembered fervently while the stinging loss to Chinese-Taipei joins our list of basketball heartbreaks.
It doesn’t matter. For a week, we were able to become one cheering section for the gallant team that stared at Asia’s best in the eye and drew the line that our pride would be defended here at home.
Sporting events are not warfare, no matter how we in the sports fraternity use military metaphors to frame our games. In essence, no one really gets hurt even in a game full of contact like basketball. But the raw emotions that get spilled by both sides and by the crowd that watches surely make it feel like a war is playing out.
When Gilas starts piling up a lead, there is reckless joy in the stands and in homes throughout the archipelago. But when our lead diminishes, we nervously watch because the specter of defeat begins to rear its ugly head.
Traditional patriots will probably scoff at this because to them, displays at sports events smack of misplaced nationalism. Some well-intentioned scholars declare that sports are abnormal contexts where the nationalism displayed is fleeting.
But wouldn’t you rather relish seeing this than never at all? Children watching these games gain a sense of country, something they may never learn by just reading or discussing it in school.
Isn’t it great that sports allow us to unfurl flags and wear the national colors at games? Isn’t there exuberant pride when we sing the national anthem with the team just before tip off?
No local basketball league can draw out the patriotic sentiments like a tournament involving the country. More so, because it’s basketball: the national passion, the game of our youth and for all ages and the sport that helps define superiority of schools or companies over others.
It’s not going to be easy this weekend to make it to the top three and gain a ticket to the World Championships next year.
China, Iran, Chinese-Taipei and South Korea are very much in the hunt. But bring it on. It doesn’t matter who we play now because the flags are all out and Filipinos are ready to dive into the weekend battles with everything they’ve got for their team.