MANILA, Philippines – It’s only a day left before the Philippines sees if the entire timeline of Jordan Clarkson drama was well worth the trouble.
As of now, with the country still slowly making its way to the 2018 Asian Games medal board, all eyes are on Clarkson, waiting to see if he can lift the Yeng Guiao-coached national squad against China on Tuesday, August 21 at 5 pm (Manila time).
But the 26-year-old Clarkson, who has just been in the NBA Finals for the Cleveland Cavaliers, is not sweating the pressure.
"I don't think it's no pressure for anybody, for any of the guys,” he said. “Just being able to step on the floor – you say all eyes – you say they're gonna be on me, but I don't think so. We got a team full of players that are ready to come out there and compete. I feel like the guys are ready. What they did in that first game was amazing.”
The Philippine team blasted Kazakhstan in the August 16 preliminaries by 37 points, 96-59. Clarkson back then was a jet-lagged spectator who still joined practice later on.
“I really see the talent level of the team,” continued the former Los Angeles Lakers star. “So I've been around the game, I've been around the NBA and I've seen players. I think we have a solid group that really complements each other. So in terms of eyes being on me, we're all together in this. We're coming to win, we're coming to fight.”
And much like the rest of the Filipino basketball community, Clarkson has been really eager, even borderline frustrated, at the extended wait. (READ: Clarkson calls on NBA to free players for global tournaments)
“It's an honor, just being able to get here – to even get cleared – was an honor, period,” he said. “I actually told my agent, I was like, 'Man I'm coming. The only way I'm coming is if I'm playing. I can't come to sit no more.' It's like really just – it's urging me and it's making me angry. I was like, the only way I'm getting in that plane is if I'm playing, I'm suiting up in that uniform.”
Clarkson was granted a one-time exception by the NBA at the last minute to finally play, after a see-saw of reports saying he’d either been allowed or disallowed.
“So just being able to represent the country, that's how passionate I was, and you know I was tired of just sitting there, tired of being denied,” he continued. “After that, it's like, after being told no so many times, you just wanna give up but we kept fighting, and that’s what's it all about.”
The farthest Clarkson got to donning a Gilas Pilipinas jersey before the Asian Games was in practice. After that, the possibility of him wearing it for an actual game was close to impossible due to a number of restrictions both from the NBA and FIBA.
But at least for one tournament, the drama can all be finally set aside.
“I'm here now, ready to compete,” he said. “Now it's time to fight on the court and go get wins.” – with reports from Beatrice Go in Jakarta