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2020 Yearender: Kobe mourned, games shut down in PH sports season unlike other

Dominic Menor, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 25 2020 12:02 AM | Updated as of Dec 25 2020 12:06 AM

Not even an unconventional year could stop the Philippine sports world from producing stories of success, loss and redemption.

Here are 10 sports newsmakers — and a handful of sub-narratives — that defined 2020.

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2020 Yearender: Kobe mourned, games shut down in PH sports season unlike other 9
2020 Yearender: Kobe mourned, games shut down in PH sports season unlike other 10

KOBE BRYANT

The Philippines joined the rest of the world in paying their last respects to the “Black Mamba”. Andy Alvarez AFP/file

Was there a bigger story in sports this year than this? Bryant’s death sent shockwaves across the world, whether it was diehard fans or casual followers.

The impact of the Laker icon’s untimely passing — along with daughter basketball prospect Gianna, and several others in a helicopter crash — was felt deeply for days, even weeks, in the Philippines, which considered Bryant somewhat of an adopted son. Even 11 months later, the phrase “the late Kobe Bryant” still sounds surreal. RIP, Mamba.

In a surreal conclusion to the longest NBA season ever, Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers — led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis — hoisted the championship, a perfect tribute to the “Black Mamba’s” legacy.

Kobe’s passing wasn’t the only big news to come out of the league, with the stoppage of play because of COVID-19 and the players’ involvement in the Black Lives Matter campaign among the notable storylines.

MANNY PACQUIAO

For the first time ever, Pacquiao went on a full calendar year without wearing his mitts and shorts. George Calvelo ABS-CBN News/file

For the first time since his professional debut in 1995 — that was 4 presidencies ago — Pacquiao was inactive for a whole calendar year. But that didn’t mean the reigning super-welterweight world champion wasn’t in the public consciousness the past 12 months.

Pacquiao’s name was thrown in as a possible next opponent of Conor McGregor, when the topic of a (perpetually teased) rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. came up, when he collaborated with the esports community, and when the annual topic came up of “boxers calling him out to fight.”

With Pacquiao, old reliables such as Nonito Donaire Jr. and Donnie Nietes, and champions such as Jerwin Ancajas out of action, John Riel Casimero’s successful defense of his WBO bantamweight title made sure Philippines boxing sustained its ring glory, as did the Olympic qualification of Eumir Marcial and Irish Magno.

THE GROWLING TIGERS SAGA

Aldin Ayo and UST saw a match made in basketball heaven abruptly come to an end. Mark Demayo ABS-CBN News/file

It was supposed to be a quiet year in varsity sports as universities and colleges shut down their programs because of the pandemic. But one day in late August, the news of CJ Cansino leaving the Growling Tigers for the Fighting Maroons came out of nowhere. That was just the beginning, though, of a landscape-changing series of events that revealed an alleged breach of quarantine protocols and the collapse of the UST program led by coach Aldin Ayo.

OBITUARY

The passing of young footballers Celestina Beatrice Luna and Alyana Bautista drew a lot of attention on social media. Courtesy of their respective Facebook accounts

The football community lost two promising young footballers in Alyana Bautista and Celestina Beatrice Luna due to illnesses, with their demise trending online. Some of the Filipino sports personalities who died this year included chess player Arianne Caoili, multi-titled UAAP head Aric del Rosario, boxing matriarch Laura Elorde, former PBA player Junel Mendiola, and sports benefactor Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco.

HERO-ATHLETES

Thirdy Ravena and Adrian Wong were just two of many Filipino sportspeople who came to their countrymen's aid. Courtesy of Chooks-to-Go/file

Local athletes — whether students or professionals — stepped up their game in whatever way they could to lend a hand to those who bore the brunt of the pandemic. From food-aid drives to donation campaigns they showed that, whether in sport or in real life, teamwork always makes the dream work.

INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM

Sprinter Kristina Knott etched her name in Philippine sports history in August. Czar Dancel ABS-CBN News/file

Kristina Knott, a US-based Filipina sprinter, etched her name in Philippine sports history when she broke the longstanding mark in the 200-meter sprint, a distinction icon Lydia de Vega held for 33 years.

Knott wasn’t the only source of Pinoy sporting pride overseas, as golfer Yuka Saso pocketed 2 championships in the Japan LPGA Tour (besides emerging its top money earner), tennis phenom Alex Eala took home the trophy in girls’ doubles play at the Australian Open, and Filipino immigrant to the US Wesley So topped the US Open chess competition.

James de los Santos was definitely not idle during the pandemic, as he racked up gold medal after gold medal in international online karate tournaments (kata) en route to 30 total (and counting).

GILAS PILIPINAS

This year gave the country a glimpse of the future of the Philippines men’s national basketball team. Courtesy of FIBA/file

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas made a bold decision to field to the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers a national team made up mostly of non-PBA players.

The youngsters — led by head coaches Jong Uichico ang Mark Dickel, and Gilas Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin — didn’t disappoint, dismantling Indonesia in February, then Thailand twice in a bubble environment in November.

P.B.A. BUBBLE

Barangay Ginebra edged TNT Tropang Giga to lift their first All-Filipino trophy in years. PBA Media Bureau/file

Following in its big brother’s footsteps, the PBA rolled the dice and put together a bubble tournament on its own in Angeles City, Pampanga. A few positive COVID-19 cases notwithstanding, the league eventually got to the finish line, crowning crowd-darling Barangay Ginebra the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup champion after halting play for an unprecedented 7 months.

In other big stories on professional hoops, Calvin Abueva was finally allowed to return to the PBA after serving an 18-month suspension, San Miguel Beer assistant coach Jimmy Alapag and his family flew out to the US for greener pastures ending one of the most celebrated careers on domestic soil, and phenom Thirdy Ravena packed his bags for the Japan B.League.

JAMES YOUNGHUSBAND

The popularity of football in the Philippines reached its pinnacle during the Younghusband era. AFP/file

With James’ retirement in June, it closed a major chapter not just in Philippine football but also in the country’s sports history. His brother Phil hung up his cleats 7 months earlier.

Meanwhile, the Azkals men’s national team saw a few international stints cancelled — including the biennial ASEAN Suzuki Cup. The Philippines Football League (PFL), on the other hand, was shortened. 

COVID SHUTS DOWN EVERYTHING

Former Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, bump elbows after a ceremony to present the Olympic Order to Abe at Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. Kim Kyung-hoon, Pool Photo via AP/file

The magnitude of the cancellation of sports events and tournaments because of the COVID-19 pandemic — both worldwide and locally — hadn’t been seen since World War 2

The big one was the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, creating a ripple effect on how international competition would be calendared from then on.

On the domestic front, the UAAP and the NCAA terminated their respective events earlier this year as the pandemic spread to the Philippines. The UAAP in December announced it was canceling Season 83, too.

The PBA and the Philippines Football League stopped then restarted, the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup was reset as were friendlies, and dozens more sports federations halted competition in the face of one of the most debilitating health crises the modern world has ever experienced.