I believe in Gilas Pilipinas. Do you?
One day, my mother asked me, "How far do you think Gilas will go at the World Cup in Spain?"
It took me a moment to answer. "Probably just the first round." She responded right away, "Bakit naman?" (Why?)
My natural response was, "It's the World. Much tougher competition than Asia."
My mother took a moment to stare at me. "Hindi mo pa rin masasabi, bilog ang bola. Tsaka bakit mo sasabihin na hindi sila mananalo?" (You can't really say that, the ball is round. And why would you say that they can't win?)
Her statement didn't particularly take me by surprise. But it did make me think.
Each time any conversation strays to Gilas' chances at Spain, those involved almost always shoot down Gilas.
"'Di yan aabot."
"Ang hirap maka-isang panalo. Dalawa pa kaya?"
"Sana nga naka-bracket natin yung USA, kahit sure na talo tayo."
Why are we NOT believing that Gilas Pilipinas can go farther than the first round? Why are we all assuming that they will be going to Spain already assured of a series of losses when the opening buzzer hasn't even sounded? Gilas is fighting for the Philippines. So why are Filipinos the first ones to doubt them?
We always do that. Not just for our national men's basketball team but for every sports team we supposedly support. We always underestimate what they can do and try to predict what will happen. We always undermine their capabilities.
Of course, as a sports reporter, I know exactly where all of those preconceived conclusions stem from: statistics, facts, history, quantified analysis. Basically, we make informed guesses or conclusions. There is a basis for all of it – sometimes more than I care to admit. That's the realist in all of us.
But after my mother spoke those words, then came something else. A part of me that's confidently walking by with a knowing smile. The dreamer inside me.
I loved sports as a child. You know why? Because it made me do things I couldn't do. For a couple of hours on the court, I could become great. And on good nights, for a moment or two, I could get past my limitations and do something extra special. At a moment in time, I felt invincible.
That's also why I chose to write about sports. Because sports allows you to witness great things in people, places, situations you never thought possible. Human limitations don't matter on a court or on a field. Whether one is under bright lights, deafened by the screams of a sellout crowd, or one is out on the street with nothing but the streetlight on and the sound of crickets or cars in the distance – there's always a great, defining moment bound to happen.
So when my mother asked why I didn't think Gilas can exceed expectations at the FIBA World Cup this August, I began to question my own conclusions. And I remember all the reasons I started writing about sports in the first place and all the reasons I love it. Then the dreamer inside me spoke: why the hell not? Bakit nga ba hindi?
Why was I even doubting Gilas could win one game? While I hoped they would, a bigger part of me believed it is more unlikely to happen.
But this is Gilas. The same team that made us all proud at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship. They are the same team who broke the South Korean curse and booked their ticket to the World Cup. They're the same team who shut the disbelievers up and proved every doubter wrong.
Sure, Spain is a different monster altogether. We are facing two teams in our bracket that rank 3 (Argentina) and 5 (Greece) in the FIBA world rankings. Even Croatia (16) and Puerto Rico (17) are far above the Philippines' 34th place rank. Senegal (41) seems to be the only team all of us can agree we have a chance to beat. And Gilas' modest goal for Spain is two wins in order to reach the second round.
Two wins. That's the goal. But we couldn't even bring ourselves to believe that Gilas can win one. Why should we doubt them when we all believed at least once already?
Everyone believed when Jimmy Alapag hit the biggest three-pointer of his life against South Korea. Every Filipino believed Gilas could do anything when they saw Marc Pingris playing through injury. Every single person at the Mall of Asia Arena believed that the Philippines could beat Iran in the Finals after that massive Gabe Norwood block.
Granted, Gilas lost to Iran. But we still continued to believe anwyay. Gilas claimed a silver that shone like gold and all of us rode that enormous, high wave until the end of 2013 – perhaps even until now.
Let me remind you also that all of us believed in Gary David during that FIBA Asia competition despite his shooting woes. Eventually, that belief paid off, didn't it?
The other day I read a story on Bleacher Report by one great sportswriter, Howard Beck. He wrote of the Chicago Bulls and analyzed how in the world they were winning despite all the blatant missing pieces on their roster.
He wrote, "If you go seeking a deeper explanation for Chicago's uncanny success, prepare to be lost in an impenetrable fog of sports cliches about effort and toughness, commitment, dedication and sacrifice."
Beck then went on to break down the Bulls' sturdy system that knew no one specific player/s for it to become successful. Yet it also highlights the system will only work with a roster of players and coaches who buy into it and who believe in it.
"It's impossible not to marvel over the Bulls' resolve, the way they have turned a catalogue of cliches into a daily guide for living," he wrote. "You watch Noah hopping, chirping, clapping, exulting, and you wonder whether there is anything this team cannot overcome. A team with lesser character would be calculating its lottery odds right now."
The story reminded me not only of Gilas but also of teams like the Ateneo Lady Eagles, who rendered false every single prediction of their fate. Before the Season 76 volleyball finals started, and Ateneo with a thrice-to-beat disadvantage, everyone swore it was without a doubt impossible for them to win. Yet they did. And another sports cliche was born in "heartstrong."
That's probably all Gilas is about heading into the World Cup as well – sports cliches and every possible intangible. Some would argue those intangibles are the reason Gilas even performed well at FIBA Asia in the first place. If that's the case, what's so wrong about that?
My mother doesn't particularly follow the stats. She doesn't analyze the game in the same way a member of a national team's coaching staff would. She doesn't even analyze the game the way a hardcore fan would. She is innocent to all of that.
And her innocence is liberating.
Sometimes, what we all need is just some perspective. Yes, the odds are seemingly forever not in our favor. Yes, we are a 34th rank nation whose inexperience in world basketball is a sin. Yes, we are small. Yes, we are exhausted because of the hard-nosed schedule from the PBA to World Cup training right away. Yes, we are about to experience every possible setback there is.
But no, none of those mean that we should settle and not strive for something great. None of those mean we should not believe. None of those mean we should stop dreaming and concede without even trying. None of those mean we can't shoot for the stars. Because we can, and we should.
An innocent comment from my mother, a longtime basketball fan, reminded me of that. Even Kanye West knew it, "reach for the stars so if you fall, you land on a cloud."
Now, that's not to say that we should not consider reality. Of course we can't ignore statistics and tactics. It's only natural that Gilas map out a feasible plan that can give them the best shot at going far. But let's not limit aspirations. Let's not be the first to discourage our national team. Instead, no matter what the odds are, let's be the first to push them forward.
Heading into a tournament we all know is bigger than any one of us, all Gilas will have are the intangibles – morale, fortitude, belief, character. I guess my point for all of this is, kung yun na nga lang ang meron ka, bibitawan mo pa ba yun? (If that's all you have to hold on to, would you still let go of it?)
I write this on Good Friday. You may not hold the same religious beliefs, but now, barely 4 months before the FIBA World Cup, is a good time to believe. – Rappler.com
Jane Bracher is Rappler's sports reporter. She's often seen chasing after athletes, coaches, sports officials for the best quotes of the day. When there are no games, she spends her time geeking out and reading the work of sportswriting greats to help elevate her craft. Follow her on Twitter: @janebracher.