MANILA, Philippines -- When Marc Pingris looks back on his basketball career, he considers himself blessed to have made an impact not just on the PBA, but also on the Philippine national team program.
For several years, Pingris was the embodiment of Gilas Pilipinas' iconic battle cry of "puso." At 6-foot-4, he was perennially undersized in international competitions, but that never stopped him from repeatedly suiting up for the Philippines.
In 2013, he was part of the historic Gilas team that placed second in the FIBA Asia Championship, in the process earning a place in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup -- the first time in nearly four decades that the Philippines competed in the world stage.
That Gilas team memorably ended the so-called Korean "curse," as they defeated the Philippines' bitter rivals in the semifinals, 86-79, to secure their World Cup spot. While the game is best remembered for Jimmy Alapag's iconic three-pointer, Pingris also had his heroic moment in the game as his offensive rebound and putback in the closing seconds clinched the victory.
Now that he's retired from the PBA, Pingris considers that game still the most unforgettable moment of his Gilas Pilipinas career.
"Noong nawala si Marcus Douthit talagang lahat kami nag-step up talaga, mapa-point guard man to big," said Pingris, referring to the injury suffered by naturalized center Marcus Douthit in the first half that left them a man down the rest of the way.
"Lahat kami ng team, pati mga coach, talagang nag-adjust," he said.
Pingris recalled suffering a light sprain as well, but there was no chance that he would sit out the game. He refused to have his ankle taped, either, worried that it would affect his speed. Instead, Pingris said he got out of the game, briefly, and prayed. And then, he did what he had done so many times over the course of his career.
"'Yun lang, larong kanto, pagpag lang, 'di ba. Pagpag mo lang 'yung paa mo, pag-pray mo, sige," he said. "Wala -- andoon ka na eh."
"So nung bumalik ako talagang grabe 'yung nilaro naming lahat," he said. "Sa grabe, hindi ako napapaniwala talaga.
Just watching the game, all these years later, still gives him chills. It takes him back to the emotional moment when the buzzer sounded, and Gilas Pilipinas celebrated with the fans at the Mall of Asia Arena. Having the fans there, said Pingris, was crucial to their victory.
"Siguro, dahil gusto lang talaga naming manalo at salamat sa mga Pilipinong pumunta dahil sila 'yung nagbigay ng lakas namin eh, 'yung sigaw nila," he said. "Talagang ang laking bagay noon."
Pingris played for the Philippines in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the 2015 FIBA Asia Cup, and the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. In 2020, he was named to the Gilas Pilipinas pool for the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, partly to serve as a mentor to a young team.
At the time, Gilas Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin said that there was no one better than Pingris to lead that young squad full of cadets -- precisely because he embodied the team's culture in a way that very few other players do.
"Because this is the national team, and because we are trying to first and foremost for 2023 develop a culture, and it needs to be a culture of belief. It needs to be a culture of dedication and commitment," said Baldwin back then. "Ping's the best example I was ever around in my years in Gilas."
Pingris treasured every moment that he had with the national team, and considered himself blessed to have been a part of the program.
"It's an honor, talaga," he said. "It's an honor na makapaglaro, makasuot ng jersey ng Pilipinas. Naglalaro ako doon para sa bayan."
"Hindi ako naglalaro sa apelyido ko sa likod, kung 'di ang ginagamit ko talaga 'yung nasa harap ko. So, sa lahat ng mga teammate ko sa Gilas, you know, ang dami naming pinagdaanan kaya gusto ko rin magpasalamat sa kanila," he added. "Blessed lang. Sobrang blessed and proud."