THERE is no doubt every effort will be done to ensure that the Philippines hosts the Fiba-Asia World Qualifier Tournament this August with efficiency and tons of heartwarming Filipino hospitality.
It’s been 40 years since we hosted this tournament that was then known as the Asian Basketball Confederation championship. It’s a homecoming for these games that began here in 1960.
The real test is if we can make it to the podium at tournament’s end and qualify for the World Championship. It won’t be easy with China, South Korea, Japan, Lebanon and Iran around.
Coach Chot Reyes and the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas enter this tournament with eyes wide open and know that the task for the Gilas-Pilipinas team is Herculean with the added pressure of playing at home. Sure, we have homecourt advantage but that cuts both ways.
Let’s look at the bright side.
We can fill the competition venues with as many people as the tickets will allow. In 1973, the historic but diminutive Rizal Coliseum housed the ABC games and hundreds could not make it inside for the Philippines-South Korea finale. Only a few relished the Philippine victory at the venue.
But now we have access to bigger arenas that we can fill with passionate Pinoy hoop fans.
But let’s get organized. By this I mean let’s not just get some band from a school or barangay. We need organized cheering to support the team, complete with uniforms and synchronized chanting that can spread through out the venue. Think of UST’s joyful “Go Uste, Go Uste!” chant and you know that a simple cheer can be delightfully contagious.
Check how other Asian and Middle Eastern countries cheer for their teams in basketball games. Football traditions have obviously spilled over.
When Chino Trinidad and I did commentary for the Gilas cadets’ stint in the Dubai tournament, we spotted a lively Lebanese cheering section yelling itself hoarse. They even had a balding middle-aged man banging a bass drum to lead the coordinated vocal support.
This organized chanting also helped South Korea go all the way to the football World Cup semifinals in 2002. The Korean “Reds,” as they had dubbed themselves, had T-shirts, face paint, noisemakers and streamers to support the home squad that eventually finished fourth.
Former Ateneo center Danny Francisco once told me that the players do hear the cheering on the floor and does boost morale. We should therefore go to the games not just to watch listlessly or hurl invectives at clueless referees who will never understand what we’re saying.
Chino casually suggested we should bring an Ati-Atihan troop to the Philippine games. That’s a great idea. The color and vibrant spirit of that famous celebration will rev up every Philippine basket and defensive stop.
Chino says “Pinoy na Pinoy ang puso ng palo (The beat is so Filipino),” referring to the danceable and buoyant rhythm of the festival.
“Hala Bira!” is the Ati-Atihan signature chant and loosely translates to “Let’s Go” or “Rev it Up.”
If repeated often and in unison, it will definitely play a role in supporting our team. I don’t think we will offend anyone or break any protocol if we organize our crowd support and use “Hala Bira!”
In fact, “Hala Bira!” should also be the battlecry of Gilas-Pilipinas to overcome the odds of the tournament and carry them all the way to the podium.