Laban Gilas Pilipinas! Puso! That is the fighting motto of the Philippine basketball team. Though the odds be great or small, but with heart so strong, Gilas Pilipinas will fight to win over all.
The odds indeed were great that evening of July 2 for the Australian Boomers were too tall. Fight the Gilas boys did just the same and they won. But it was a win that Pilipinas cannot be proud of.
Not that they engaged in a free-for-all. Brawls in basketball are inevitable. They break out in FIBA tournaments, in the Olympics, and in the National Basketball Association. Opposing players bump hard against each other, most of the time unintentionally, but sometimes deliberately. Deliberate fouls cause tempers to flare, ultimately fistfights.
RR Pogoy deliberately bumped Chris Goulding. That is basketball. It looked to me though Pogoy didn’t bump him hard enough to cause him to fall. But fall Goulding did, getting the referee to call “Foul!” That is basketball.
In retaliation for his fallen teammate, big Daniel Kickert blindsided Pogoy with a vicious elbow, not only knocking down RR but nearly knocking him out. When something like that happens in the NBA, the injured player is sent to the lockers for medical tests to determine if there is more serious injury.
The Gilas boys were not going to take that nasty blow on one of their own sitting down. They rose from their seats and ran after the Australian bully, naturalized Filipino Andray Blatche joining the hostile pursuit.
This is when “Laban Gilas Pilipinas!” meant “Fight, fair or foul!” and “Puso!” showed a dark color. Outsized and outplayed, but outnumbered Gilas Pilipinas were not. A coach and an official joined reserve players in ganging up on Australian players.
Jason Castro, Blatche, and other Gilas team members rained down punches and kicks on Goulding who was still flat on his back. Assistant Coach Jong Uichico not only joined the pummelling of Goulding, he dropped a chair on him. Brian Cruz hit Kickert from behind. Nathan Sobey was ganged up behind one of the goals by fans. An official hit him with a right hook while the player’s arms were held down by a fan. When he walked away from the melee Peter Aguilar, Japeth’s father, threw a chair at him.
When Sobey was walking towards his bench, Calvin Abueva and Terrence Romeo confronted him and knocked him down. Cruz and Mathew Wright chased a backtracking Australian player, both landing hard punches on the Boomer.
When fight broke out, Chot Reyes and team officials watched from the sidelines. In contrast, the Boomer coach and his assistants were restraining players on the bench from joining the fray. Assistant Coach Luc Longley, like a boxing referee, was bravely separating fighting players.
Longley blamed Chot Reyes for the incident. He accused Chot of inciting his players to act violently. During a huddle with his players, Chot was caught telling his boys: “Hit somebody. Put someone on their ass.”
The Gilas coach explained during an ESPN 5 Sports Center interview that his instruction was typical basketball lingo that means playing physical. He said: “Anyone who understands basketball, if you take offense with that statement, you don’t know basketball.”
Luc Longley is one person who can be safely said to know basketball thoroughly. He played for the University of New Mexico, an NCAA Division 1 school, for four years. He was a member of the Australian basketball team that participated in the Seoul, Barcelona, and Sydney Olympics.
He played in the NBA, first for the Minnesota Timberwolves. His coach there was Bill Musselman, who was known for his trademark intensity and who once said “Defeat is worse than death” because “you have to live with defeat.” He next played for the Chicago Bulls when legend Phil Jackson was the head coach and team members were Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, and bad boy Dennis Rodman.
He also played for Phoenix Suns under Danny Ainge who when he was a player nobody messed with. He last played for the New York Knicks under Jeff Van Gundy, the annotator of the NBA Finals.
Longley would have understood when Chot told his players to “hit somebody, put someone on their ass” if he had heard any of those NBA coaches give the same instructions to their players. But Longley took offense because he never heard the same words from his coaches.
Chot could have simply told his boys to foul. In fact, during live action, he was seen signalling his players to foul. He didn’t have to use what he calls basketball lingo.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas was hosting the game and offiicals of the body, including the chair, Senator Sonny Angara, were in the venue. None of them tried to restrain the local players or calm down the fans. It was only when order was restored and the visiting players had been mauled that SBP president Al Panlilio addressed the crowd to calm down and respect the Australian players.
To add insult to injury, ex-Gilas hero Marc Pingris took a selfie of the team members who were all smiles as if saying “we beat up those blokes real good, didn’t we?”
Hours after the unfortunate incident, early Tuesday morning in the Philippines, Basketball Australia Chief Executive Anthony Moore apologized for the involvement of Australian players in the brawl. As of Tuesday afternoon, no apology had been issued by SBP. Instead justifications and excuses were given by Chot and other team officials and supporters.
“This is our house!” says a Gilas Pilipinas poster. The 2023 FIBA World Cup will be held in that house. I wonder what sportswriters from other countries will label that house come 2023, The Rough House, The House with Flying Chairs, or The House Where Visitors Are Put on Their Ass.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.