At lowest point, Gilas finds comfort among Filipinos

MANILA, Philippines – In the PBA, it’s not uncommon to see Marc Pingris happily obliging fan photos and autographs after games. He does not brisk walk away from crowds waiting for him, nor does he hide from them. 

The 34-year-old veteran, whose rags to riches story is among the most gripping in the PBA, always waits for the crowd to thin and does not leave until everyone gets a photo or a signature. 

Now, with national team Gilas Pilipinas, he continues to do the same even after one of the most painful defeats the team has had to endure in front of its home crowd Wednesday night, July 6.

The passionate big man was the first Gilas member to approach the throng of fans patiently waiting to catch a glimpse of their idols after the Philippines bowed out of the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament with an 89-80 loss to New Zealand. 

The rest of the nationals graciously followed suit with guys like Jeff Chan, Japeth Aguilar, Terrence Romeo, Ranidel De Ocampo and June Mar Fajardo opting to spend time with fans instead of waiting to leave inside the bus. 

Gilas players granting photo and autograph opportunities to fans. Pingris among the longest to stay outside #FIBAOQT — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) July 6, 2016

All of them put on brave faces in front of the excited crowd that called out their names every chance they could. Shirts were offered to be signed, markers were passed around, and smartphones made their way from the back of the horde to players’ hands for selfies. 

Pingris and Chan, who were both fighting back tears moments after the final buzzer, stayed out the longest. Pingris, who opted to hold smartphones and take selfies himself, patiently went up and down the long row despite the fact it was almost midnight. Fajardo likewise patiently chatted with those waiting. 

Jeff Chan ( @jeffreichan) taking time earlier as well for the fans #FIBAOQT — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) July 6, 2016

For them, this was a small but simple way to show appreciation and give back after failing to meet the fans’ expectations and giving them a win. 

Siguro ito lang yung pagkakataon na mapasaya rin namin sila, kaunting autograph tsaka pictures lang. Nakasanayan na rin ng team yan (Perhaps this is our only chance to make them happy, just some autographs and pictures),” said Pingris, who was jus as gracious right after the game, defying security to accommodate media interviews. 

Nagpapasalamat kami sa kanila. Kung wala sila wala rin kami dito (We’re thankful to all of them. If not for them we wouldn’t be here).” 

June Mar Fajardo patiently signing autographs and taking pictures with eager fans #FIBAOQT — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) July 6, 2016

A telling moment came when the flock began chanting the name of Romeo. “Terrence! Terrence!” they went. Romeo was sitting inside the bus, but upon hearing the chants he stood up – to more cheers – and alighted for one more round of photo ops.

Tara tara! Sige isa pa! Salamat, maraming salamat (Come on, come on! Okay one more round! Thank you, thank you very much),” he said clapping his hands and bowing to the crowd in a gesture of appreciation. 

Fans calling for Terrence Romeo ( @tbvromeo) to get out of the bus for more photos. He obliges #FIBAOQT — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) July 6, 2016

Jimmy Alapag, a national team legend who watched the game live, tossed a t-shirt to the crowd, which continues to adore him almost two years after retirement. 

Gilas legend Jimmy Alapag ( @JAlapag3) tosses a shirt to the crowd outside MoA Arena #FIBAOQT — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) July 6, 2016

Though with heavy hearts, Gilas Pilipinas, without hesitation, reached out to the very people they swore to win for. These are the same Filipinos who followed them through every sweet victory, and each heartbreak. 

The players probably wanted to simply retreat to a quiet place and reflect about the defeat. But they couldn’t turn their backs on compatriots who supported them through thick and thin, and welcomed them into their homes when they were far from the archipelago, immersed in training camps and trying to get better.

Hindi lang dito e, kahit pag nasa ibang bansa kami talagang may pumupunta (It’s not just here, even abroad they always come to see us),” Pingris said, going on to talk about the immense hospitality Gilas experienced abroad. 

Gusto ko rin palang magpasalamat sa mga Pilipinong nagpakain sa amin sa Europe dati sa Bologna, Italy. Lahat ng mga Pilipino doon na talagang pinaghandaan kami ng Filipino food. Nagpapasalamat ako sa suporta nila. Sila pa yung naglalaba ng damit namin. Grabe suporta ng mga Pilipino.”

(I want to thank the Filipinos who fed us in Europe at Bologna, Italy. All of the Filipinos there who cooked Filipino food for us. I’m thankful for their support. They even did our laundry. The support of Filipinos is amazing.) 

The players may have wanted to be elsewhere, but in many ways, perhaps burying themselves in the warmth of the fans’ hugs, smiles, and encouragements was healing. 

Nawawala yung pagod mo, hindi mo naiisip na talo ka. Talagang grabe yung pagmamahal nila sa bayan natin (Our exhaustion goes away, and we forget we lost. They truly love our country),” Pingris said.

Even after a huge disappointment, Gilas Pilipinas finds they can always come home to Filipinos, and they won’t ever be abandoned.

Salamat sa mga Pilipinong pumunta, nanood (Thank you to all the Filipinos who came and watched),” he added. “Kahit na natalo kami talagang pinaparamdam nila na panalo pa rin kami sa puso nila (Even though we lost they continue to make us feel like winners in their hearts).” –