WHAT a glorious ending this week for the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 81 men’s basketball tournament that drew record crowds during its last two games at Mall of Asia Arena and Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Figuring in the finals were my two tertiary alma maters: Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), where I obtained an economics degree, and University of the Philippines (UP), of which I am an MBA graduate.
Both are located along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, thus giving rise to the first-ever “Battle of Katipunan” in UAAP basketball history. Both have often topped the list of the country’s best educational institutions, having been known more for their academic credentials than for their athletic prowess.
But since the start of the 21st century, ADMU’s Blue Eagles have become a major hoops powerhouse. This, after winning back-to-back championships in 1987 and 1988, followed by their so-called “Dark Ages” that ended in 2002 with a come-from-behind victory against their long-time rivals, De La Salle University’s Green Archers.
Then came their unprecedented “five-peat” era from 2008 to 2012 and another title drought until they regained the crown last year. As this season’s defending champions, they were expected to retain the trophy because of their stellar performance during the pre-season — capped by an almost-podium finish at the Jones Cup international tournament in Taipei, where they played against top-rated professional teams and national squads from Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East, and North America.
On the other hand, UP’s Fighting Maroons last held the UAAP crown in 1986. Since then, they had never reached the finals and even endured a couple of winless seasons in this decade.
So their phenomenal rise from zero to hero caught many by surprise this year. Theirs was a Cinderella story from a poor start in the first round to a string of consecutive triumphs in the second round that made them capture third-seed in the semifinal round, where they hurdled a twice-to-beat disadvantage in dramatic fashion by defeating Adamson University’s Soaring Falcons not once but twice.
Making it to the UAAP finals for the first time in 32 years was already a feat in itself, and despite their inexperience, the Fighting Maroons fought gallantly but were swept in two games by the Blue Eagles, who now have a total of 10 championships to their credit.
Emotions ran high during the series, especially among fans of the two teams. There were even suggestions to create a “demilitarized zone” in the middle of Katipunan Avenue to prevent hostilities — real or imagined — from escalating.
But when the final buzzer sounded, the victors were magnanimous while the vanquished were gracious, and the 23,000-plus spectators in the coliseum rose as one in a spontaneous wave of unity.
It brings to mind an upcoming course at New York University (NYU) on “How Basketball Can Save the World: An Exploration of Society, Politics, Culture, and Commerce through the Game.”
Developed by David Hollander, a professor in NYU’s sports business program, the four-credit course will debut in the 2019 summer term with plans to be offered as an elective to undergrad and graduate students in the succeeding semesters. He said: “Basketball seems like one of the few things that everybody is okay with. Even the most closed societies like North Korea, who wouldn’t allow anybody in, was fine with allowing a group of basketball players led by Dennis Rodman.”
Dan Klores, a film director whose documentary on basketball was recently aired over ESPN, believes that the game of hoops has become a global common denominator. “As popular as soccer is, you can’t do that in the United States yet, which is a big part of the world. But you can go anywhere now and basketball has historically opened doors, opportunities, and culture to one another.”
Can basketball diplomacy ease the tension generated by the trade war between the US and China, where more than 300 million people play the game?
APP FOR HOOPS AFICIONADOS
Back here in our basketball-crazy nation, a mobile app called Dayo will be launched in the first quarter of 2019 catering to the specific need of finding a basketball court or gym as a playing venue.
Dayo literally means “visitor” or “to migrate” in Filipino, and the Dayo app is designed for ballers who want to play their favorite sport in available venues. It has a geo-location feature that allows users to find courts and other players in their area, as well as to reserve timeslots on the fly.
Currently under beta-testing, Dayo’s proponents envision it to become “the Airbnb of basketball courts.”
J. Albert Gamboa is CFO of the Asian Center for Legal Excellence and Chairman of FINEX Media Affairs’ Golden Jubilee Book Project.