Bookends to a sports sob story
Several years ago, I wrote in this space that basketball and boxing are bookends to our sports sob story.
Looking back, basketball, as I observed then, is still like politics; it remains our national pastime and yet the biggest source of frustration on the world stage.
Boxing on the other hand, is the national relief, and as I have written before, is still “the wellspring of pride nourished by the triumphs of iconic fighters, from Flash Elorde to Manny Pacquiao and Olympic fighters, from Anthony Villanueva to Mansueto Velasco.”
So when it comes to the 2019 Southeast Asian Games we are hosting later this year, the boxers should get the leading roles—not the basketeers—to spearhead our campaign to win the overall title in the multisports event of 11 nations.
It’s true that Gilas Pilipinas, ranged against tall and swift teams from Europe and Africa, again failed to gain traction in the Fiba World Cup in China.
But the 2019 SEA Games is an entirely different animal for a national team desperately clinging to the last vestige of our lost empire in Asian basketball.
Sure, our basketball stint at home won’t be a slam dunk, as new Gilas coach Tim Cone noted earlier this week because of vast improvements by our closest SEA Games rivals, Indonesia and Thailand.
Basketball-wise, the Indonesians and Thais may have grown by leaps and bounds, but the gulf between us and them for cage supremacy in the subcontinent is ever widening every two years.
We have won the SEA Games basketball crown 17 times out of 19, for crying out loud! We have demolished token opposition since the basketball team was rag-tag up to the A-squad made up of mostly pros today.
The men’s team, with one hand tied behind the back, retained the cage crown in lopsided fashion in the last three SEA Games.
If we have something to work on starting with the SEA Games, it would be a basketball program to cast the Quixotic silver bullet for our breakthrough stint in the next Fiba World Cup we are cohosting with Japan and Indonesia in 2023.
If we have something to guard against, it would be against an ill-prepared team that changes members as often as a traffic light changes color.
Meantime, the boxers, bankrolled by the same godfather to basketball, has traditionally given the country its best hopes for medals in international competitions.
Together with the Thais, our ring fighters have been perennial powerhouses and are likely to be our main rivals again in the SEA Games.
To be led probably by Eumir Marcial, silver medalist in the recent Aiba men’s elite championship in Russia, our fighters will see action in eight male and five female weight classes.
They will be selected from all 20 elite and overseas tested boxers 19 years old and above, said boxing secretary general Ed Picson.
“There’s no such thing as a cinch [to make the team],” Picson said. “We consider attitude, punctuality, over all behavior. Everyone is under the microscope until D-Day.”
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