A bashful confession from a proud UP student here: I haven’t invested in this season’s Cinderella UAAP run.
Well, of course I’m invested—it’s my alma mater, and I am a basketball fan. What I mean is I haven’t really poured the time to watch their games, even now they’re at their strongest, nor have I given the effort to make time. I know deep down that I should, but at the height of their power I’m really scared.
You see, as an isko with a student number of 07, graduating in 2012 (facts I’m not ashamed to give out) I’ve been through it all. I’ve been through more than a few winless seasons, and like any UP student who cares about the damn basketball team, I’ve been the butt of jokes among friends from the other UAAP schools.
It’s just something you learn to live with, rationalizing to yourself that the Fighting Maroons lose a lot because they’re busy doing other things that plain matter more than basketball. They got classes to pass, causes to fight for. Other schools would coddle their athletes (please, spare me the surprise), and other athletes who are better ballers probably wouldn’t pass muster in the U of P (again, the surprise). Or we tell them that we’d get them back in the cheerdance competition.
But here’s the thing: when you actually watch Fighting Maroons play in those dark times, you realize they weren’t just lowly, pathetic jobbers who got piled on by the better teams in every game. Sure, there were some games in which that happened, especially when they matched up with the elite, but a good number of these games saw the Maroons stand a chance. Hell, sometimes they won—just ask Ateneo or La Salle.
Here’s the pattern of a good “Dark Ages” Fighting Maroons game, which is mostly against teams on the same level. They’ll come out and start hot in the first half, maintaining what was usually a modest double-digit lead against their opponents. That dominance will make you believe that anything is possible, that UP can be more than just cellar-dwellers (especially if a game happened early in the season).
Then the second half rolls through. Sometimes they’ll maintain that lead in the third quarter, but you’ll likely notice it slowly dwindle to single digits.
The lead will still be there, but not as big. By the time the fourth quarter rolls around, that single-digit lead would become a tie. By the final minutes, the other team would’ve already stolen the lead. The gun-jumped pride of rooting for a home team that looked like it finally could would become bitter, bitter heartbreak.
Now multiply that heartbreak by many games over a season, then take that product and multiply it once more by many seasons. That’s what I’m feeling right now.
There’s absolutely no denying this is the best damn season of the UP Fighting Maroons in basketball in forever. (Forever, by the way, is 32 years ago, when Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc led the Maroons to the UAAP Championship—the same year a dictator was toppled.) So why do I still not want to commit to this run? Why do I still feel scared whenever the UP defense starts to get soft and spotty in moments like last Wednesday’s, when it allowed Adamson to rally back and force the game to go to overtime?
Shouldn’t I be proud, congratulating the boys for finally breaking the curse and doing well for themselves, whether they win the title or not?
Of course, the answer is yes! I should absolutely feel proud. But I’m honestly also scared. Scared of the heartbreak that comes with every big loss. Of course we want the Maroons to win it all—we’ve already come too far to fail. It would’ve been different had UP been knocked out from Final Four contention much earlier; such a loss wouldn’t have stung as bad as coming home empty-handed when we’re this close to the title.
I suppose I’ll have to spend the next few days conditioning myself in the belief that this is far more than we’ve ever expected, and the distance the team has reached whether or not they win the title is good. It’s great. It’s remarkable. And it’s the real proof that anything is possible. I have to unlearn the connotations that tell me “UP Fighting Maroons” equals “losing in men’s basketball.”
Whether or not they pull this thing off, I realize that I’ve got to let go of my deep-seated fear of the team losing and breaking my heart once more. I’ve got to tell myself that they’ve already done as much to prove me wrong. No matter how hard it is, no matter how painful it is, that will be the fight I have to fight as a fan, while UP takes the floor and does battle against elite Ateneo.
Real bravery, anyway, is staring defeat in the face and still choosing to charge.