URGED on by the ringleader of the last team to use the Fiba Asia Championship as a stepping stone to the World Cup, Jimmy Alapag won some measure of payback for Philippine basketball.
Alapag nailed two crucial triples in the stretch as Gilas Pilipinas hammered out an inspiring 86-79 victory over long-time tormentor South Korea Saturday night.
It was a sweet victory for the Philippines, which finally got some measure of revenge over a country that had been the cause of basketball heartaches in the past. But for Alapag, payback was even bigger.
“It was payback for the Philippines in international basketball,” said the 35-year-old Gilas captain. “I think we continued to fight and fight and continued to keep knocking on the door of the upper echelon of Asian basketball.”
In the enormity of the accomplishment, Alapag managed to thank one person who was among those who inspired him in this moment of glory.
“I saw Sen. [Robert] Jaworski after the game and I just thanked him because it meant a lot for him to come to our practice before this tournament started,” he said.
Jaworski, the captain of the 1973 team that won the Fiba Asia Championship at home to make it to the Worlds, visited a Gilas Pilipinas practice a couple of days before the championship to give the team an inspirational message.
After that, Jaworski sought out Alapag and left him with a passing-of-the-torch moment that will be forever etched in the Talk ‘N Text star’s memory.
“You know Jimmy, it’s going to take the heart and soul of everybody on this team to win this tournament,” Jaworski told Alapag. “That’s what you’re known for. So lead these guys and get the job done.”
When the two captains crossed paths again, they shared a handshake.
“He just kept saying ‘I told you so’ with a big smile,” recounted Alapag.