MARC Pingris was in pain. It was so much pain that he had to sit down alone on the bench while players warmed up during the halftime break so he could pray. Pray that he wouldn’t feel the pain. Pray that he would have the strength to last two more quarters.
He heard his prayers answered. Quite literally, too.
The scream of over 18,000 fans fueled Pingris all night as he wound up with 16 points and 10 rebounds to help power Gilas Pilipinas to an 86-79 victory over South Korea in the Fiba Asia Championship Saturday night at Mall of Asia Arena.
“Nawala lahat ang sakit (The pain disappeared),” said Pingris. “Para silang gamot. May sakit man o pagod, ang sarap ng feeling na sumisigaw sila ng ‘puso’ at ‘laban’ (The crowd was like medicine. You may be tired or hurting but it feels good once they start shouting ‘heart’ and ‘fight’).”
Faced with the biggest adversity in his career, Jimmy Alapag found one last push inside him. Behind the scorching hands of Kim Min-goo, Korea looked set to deal another heartache for the Filipi-nos by taking the lead late in the game.
Alapag hit two triples after that, the last giving Gilas Pilipinas a five-point spread. His faith never wavered one bit—for one reason.
“We had the strength of a nation behind us,” said Alapag.
This was what Smart/PLDT chair Manny V. Pangilinan, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president, dreamed of when he fought to have the Fiba Asia Championship played here.
“I don’t think the 20,000-something people here was going to let Korea out with a win tonight,” said Alapag.
The crowd screamed, cheered, jeered, roared and electrified Gilas, its indomitable will refusing to let the Nationals surrender despite Marcus Douthit limping off the court early in the game.
And those were the people outside the coliseum.
“Pumipila sila kahit di nila alam kung makakakuha sila ng ticket. Yung iba, sa labas na lang nanood kasi wala ng mabiling ticket (They line up even if a ticket is an uncertainty. Some of them eventually didn’t get to buy a ticket at all and simply watched outside),” said Ranidel de Ocampo of Gilas Pilipinas’ loyal throng.
“We were inspired by them.”
Inside, the atmosphere went beyond electric.
“It was so much,” said Gabe Norwood. “You hear the crowd… the crowd was unbelievable. And you know you did it for them.”
Indeed, Gilas Pilipinas’ return to the Fiba World Cup wasn’t a journey undertaken by just a team.
“It wasn’t only our dream that was fulfilled but the dream of every Filipino,” said Japeth Aguilar.