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By Ronnie Nathanielsz

Mon, 05 Oct 2015

China who has used its economic and military power to grab territories in the West Philippine Sea that rightfully belong to the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries, extended their bullying tactics to the basketball court where they beat the Philippines to win the Fiba Asia Championship and earn a slot in the Olympic Games in Brazil next year.

Despite a towering frontline that included four seven-footers in a team that prepared for over a year compared to the Philippines who were left at the mercy of a PBA board of governors who undermined the efforts of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas headed by its president ? the eminent businessman-sportsman Manny Pangilinan ? who puts substance into his passionate love of the game and our country unlike the San Miguel Corporation and Rain Or Shine team owners who pay lip service to the national undertaking and fail miserably to match their words with deeds.

China not only had the might but resorted to underhand tactics to sabotage our team at every opportunity and created a hostile environment so unlike the Philippines who treated them so well during last year?s Fiba Asia Championship which was a qualifier for the World Cup in Spain.

To begin with they altered the schedule of the games to give Gilas Pilipinas less time to rest and practice.

They picked the referees who disadvantaged us at every turn with their calls and non-calls with the Lebanese and Kazakhstan referees making a mockery of the game.

The electric-powered bus which was to take the team to the venue didn?t move because the driver apparently - perhaps conveniently ? hadn?t charged the batteries so the players had to transfer to another bus.

When the players started warming up some jerk went onto the court to change the net at our end of the court stopping us for at least five minutes while the Chinese continued to warm-up at their end of the court and before we knew it, the referees called the teams to get the game underway.

Andray Blatche won the tip-off but the referee, for reasons known only to him, gave China the ball.

We started off handsomely until the Chinese began to impose their physical superiority and the referees simply refused to make the calls on some obvious fouls committed by the Chinese players.

No matter what, Jayson Castro was named to the Mythical Five for the second year in a row as Asia?s best point guard and appealed for unity confident that ?we can beat China and China knows that.?

Gabe Norwood was clearly poked in the eye and as a consequence lost the ball but the referees were too blind to make the call.
Blatche was fouled on more than one occasion but never got a call as did Calvin Abueva, Dondon Hontiveros and Terrence Romeo while Sonny Thoss was called for a non-existent infraction. It went on and on to the dismay of coach Tab Baldwin and the players.

We honestly believe that China didn?t have to resort to these shenanigans to win because they are a good team. But its not like China to play fair and square especially in their hometown.
Even the assistant coaches including Norman Black were denied tickets with Mr. Pangilinan forced to buy tickets from scalpers and while Black and Blatche?s companion were shouting at the refs and encouraging Blatche, the hostile Chinese crowd turned on them with vile and threatening gestures.

The seats behind the Philippine bench which was normally occupied by Black and the other SBP people, were denied them and instead given to Chinese fans who threatened our players, gave Abueva the dirty finger sign when he fouled out and walked back to the bench.

It was an utterly disgraceful showing by the Chinese fans.
When South Korea led China by some 20 points going into the final quarter, the refs got to work and assured China of victory. They did the same thing to the Iranian defending champions who were virtually crying over what was being done to them.

The referees tried their very best to help Japan beat the Philippines so China would have a chance to maul the Japanese with whom they have a long and lingering animosity, more so after the Japanese government joined the Philippines in its efforts to try and stand up to the might of China in the West Philippine Sea.

But no matter the odds, we came through in the end-game to beat Japan which was a team that played a decent game and accepted their defeat with grace.

We cannot understand how Fiba can continue to tolerate these acts of unsportsmanlike behavior by the Chinese which makes us wonder whether the bottom line is money, just like in Fifa, the corruption-hounded organization for international football.
One footnote to this dismaying episode concerns the utter hypocrisy of the Philippine Basketball Association whose chairman Robert Non of San Miguel Corporation and head of basketball operations Alfrancis Chua showed up in China to watch the Gilas games without having done anything to help the Philippine team by releasing the players coach Tab Baldwin asked for.

We have this gut feeling that they left before the finals because they travelled to China expecting to see the Gilas team beaten before they could make the finals. But they were surprised that the team made it.

To provide the lame excuse that they couldn?t book return airline tickets a day after the finals is unacceptable. Are they telling us that such a powerful conglomerate as San Miguel Corporation couldn?t use their persuasive influence to get the airline tickets they needed? That?s a lot of BS.

At least the owners of Rain or Shine, Raymund Yu and Terry Que had the good-sense if not the decency to stay away after they had asked coach Baldwin to pick one player between Gabe Norwood and Paul Lee and although he would have loved to have both, Tab decided on Gabe because of his defensive ability.

We gather that Fred Uytengsu?s son who is always at the PBA games was in China. This young man had every right to be there because Mr. Uytengsu went out of his way to release three players ? Sonny Thoss, Dondon Hontiveros and Calvin Abueva to the national team living up to the underlying philosophy of country above club or self.

It was what SBP president Manny Pangilinan told us in a text message before the knockout game against Japan when he quoted what Heneral Luna said so simply but eloquently, ?Bayan muna, hindi sarili.?

Former Commissioner Chito Salud was also there despite the fact that he failed rather miserably to keep his promise to make sure that Gilas Pilipinas would have the full backing of the PBA teams. Of course, Willy Marcial the head of the Media Bureau and special assistant to Salud was also there. What his role was, we will never know but we can surely guess.

The presence of Commissioner Chito Narvasa and his deputy Ricky Santos was understandable because Chito is studying the Fiba brand of officiating with a view to introducing this officiating philosophy in the PBA so our pro league players will get used to the rules and not commit the mistakes that are allowed in the PBA to the detriment of the national team in international tournaments.

It was clear that coach Baldwin gave his heart and soul to the quest for an Olympic berth. He did a tremendous job motivating the players to go out and do their very best even as they played for each other and our country behind a strengthened bond of caring for one another.

Communications secretary Herminio Coloma Jr in a statement issued by Malacanang, said ?Throughout the tournament, the Gilas Pilipinas showed their bravery and determination, and they faced all the trials. They refused to be daunted or frightened, and they kept up with the competition in every aspect of the game. They showed the unique, Filipino way of playing?heroic, intense, and full of heart?which is the reason why they earned the admiration and respect of the best teams in Asia. ?

As Manny Pangilinan pointed out ?this is a special team, comprising players who really love this country by serving it the best way they can.?

MVP?s heart was filled along with the players and the coaching staff at the remarkable reception they received on arrival at the airport where they were embraced by a grateful nation for their hard-court gallantry.

Its obvious, the country loves Gilas!

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