This day 8 years ago was a time Philippine basketball will never forget — the day the country ended the so-called Korean curse.
For long-time basketball fans, it will be forever remembered as one of the greatest feats for the national basketball team, one that avenged numerous losses against the South Koreans in major Asian basketball competitions.
Several times, the Philippine quintet ended up experiencing heartbreaking losses against its long-time tormentors in the Asian region.
Some of those bitter setbacks include:
- 1986 Asian Games — The Philippines came close to reaching the gold medal match against China, but a controversial charging foul called on Allan Caidic deprived the Filipinos' chances of moving to the championship match after losing to host Korea.
- 1994 Asian Games — South Korea, bannered by Hur Jae, defeated the Philippines, 86-79, which relegated the Filipinos to a semifinal round encounter against China. The Philippines settled for a fourth-place finish, losing to Japan in the bronze medal game.
- 1998 Asian Games — South Korea blasted the Philippines Centennial Team, 103-83, in Bangkok, once again putting the Filipinos in a head-on collision course with the Chinese five in the semifinal round. In the end, the Philippines vented its ire on the Kazakhstan cagers and defeated them in the bronze medal match.
- 2002 Asian Games — Probably, one of the most painful defeats at the hands of the Koreans happened in Busan, a game that saw the Filipinos in the best position to advance to the final. Olsen Racela, the steadiest free-throw shooter on the national team, uncharacteristically missed two free throws that would have given the Filipinos more cushion, but instead, the Philippines held on to a shaky two-point lead, 68-66. A Korean player then went for a penetration, but the ball bounced off his foot. A scramble for the loose ball ensued and it ended up at the hands of Lee Sang-Min, who shook off two Filipino defenders and drilled in a dagger triple.
Those painful memories were still fresh and while the Philippines, which started to use the moniker Gilas Pilipinas, was preparing for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship the country was hosting, Chot Reyes and his chosen dozen were already preparing for South Korea and didn’t look beyond.
“Throughout that stretch, we were very disciplined in not looking too far ahead of ourselves,” Reyes said.
“We were taking things as they come because we were very deliberate in our planning. We knew the kind of team that we wanted to build. We knew we were building a team for Korea. Hindi na namin masyadong iniisip Iran and China.
“We knew that to get to the top three, we have to get by Korea. Even after winning the Jones Cup, we beat them in the Jones Cup, it basically validated that we were on the right track. But we refused to look too much ahead.”
“Very disciplined approach namin. Our discipline is not just based on the game we play, but even on the way we were thinking, we have to be very disciplined. We did not allow that to enter our minds. We just made sure that we have to take care of the things in front of us.”
So the stage was set. It’s the Philippines versus South Korea and the winner will not only advance to the gold medal match against Iran, but will also secure an automatic berth to the World Cup. At that time, the Philippines had not played on the world stage since the 1974 World Championship in Puerto Rico.
The Filipinos waged a war for the ages against the Koreans and with all the bitter experiences tasted by our previous Philippine squads against its long-time rival, winning at home would be the best opportunity to score a payback.
And Gilas Pilipinas did just that, similarly accomplishing the feat by the Philippine men’s basketball squad, which beat Korea nearly 40 years ago at Rizal Memorial Coliseum when the hosts became champions of the tournament then known as the Asian Basketball Confederation.
Reyes put this victory as the greatest he ever achieved throughout his coaching career.
“Definitely, it’s the game for the ages. It’s very hard for this generation of Filipinos to think of a more important victory. I thought it was just something special. That’s why I had a lot of great memories, great victories, but I think that victory over Korea would be the greatest of all those great victories,” Reyes said.
Two other players who went to war with Reyes — Ranidel de Ocampo and Marc Pingris — also savored the sweetest victory of their basketball career.
“Tumatayo pa rin balahibo ko, especially kapag mag-a-anniversary ’yung August 10 nung tinalo namin yung Korea. Nanunumbalik lagi sa alaala, lalo na sa mga taong nakasaksi at nakanood at sa mga sumuporta. Mas pressured game pa nga sa akin ’yun kaysa sa World Cup. I think ito ’yung pinaka-best moment ng career ko. Una pa rin sa akin yung nasa MoA Arena tayo nu’ng nanalo tayo,” said De Ocampo.
“Kasi nga, almost 40 years tayong hindi nakabalik sa World Cup. Tapos nakabalik tayo. Ang daming drama rin noon. Ito ’yung moment na hanggang sa pagtanda ko habambuhay ko itong iti-treasure.”
Pingris had to play a much bigger role for Gilas Pilipinas during that semifinal match, especially with naturalized player Marcus Douthit sidelined by a calf injury. His basket in the closing seconds of the match sealed the Filipinos’ triumph as players, coaching staff and the rest of the country who were there to witness history unfolded, cried in pure joy and heaved a sigh of relief, as the curse finally ended.
More importantly, it put the Philippines back on the world stage for the first time in four decades.
“Minsan lang mangyari sa buong buhay mo. Napasama ka sa history. Sobrang honored and sobrang blessed na napasama ako sa team na ito. Habang-buhay kong ipagmamalaki yan. Naalala ko pa ’yung mga training namin, grabe. Grabe ’yung hirap na pinagdaanan namin. Honor mo talaga ’yan kasi bansa ’yan,” Pingris said.
“Ang sarap ipagyabang and ang sarap ipagmalaki. ’Yung suot mo, Pilipinas. Sa totoo lang, habang nagwo-workout ako, ’yun ang pinapanood ko. ’Yung mga games ko sa Gilas. Kasi gusto ko ring makita ng anak ko. Gusto ko rin na balang-araw, maglaro siya dyan. Habang buhay ko na dadalhin ’yan.”
Rey Joble is a sports journalist who has been covering the PBA since 1998, and followed the league as a fan way before that.
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