As the Year 2019 dropped the curtain last week, so did the decade of the 2010s, a stretch that proved to be a solid one for Philippine sports with a number of feats and achievements notched as well as landmark events which enhanced the local sporting scene for the now and the future.
And the good thing about it all was that it was not only confined to certain sports as positive developments were spread out to more disciplines.
This space would like to look back a little as we start the 2020s and below are some of what it thinks were the standout moments in the decade that was.
Being a huge basketball fan, Gilas Pilipinas breaking the so-called Korean Curse in 2013 and earning a spot in the FIBA World Cup the following year was truly a memorable one.
Long frustrated by the Koreans in many high-stakes international competitions prior, Chot Reyes-coached Gilas changed the storyline in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship held here.
Facing off with the Koreans in the semifinals for a spot in the finals, the Philippines fell to a disadvantage early on as then-naturalized player Marcus Douthit suffered a calf injury in the first quarter that would render him unavailable for the rest of the contest.
Despite being undermanned, the rest of the Gilas squad were undeterred and instead stepped up collectively to take the challenge put up by the Koreans.
Jimmy Alapag, Jayson Castro, Mark Pingris, LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Gabe Norwood and Ranidel De Ocampo anchored their team throughout the second half, allowing Gilas to outlast the Philippines’ perennial basketball tormentors, 86-79.
The win earned for the Philippines a finals joust with Iran and assured it of a spot in the FIBA World Cup in 2014.
We lost to Iran in the finals, 85-71, but it hardly mattered by that time as the point was already made that the country was back with the big boys.
Following that breakthrough performance, the Philippines has competed in two World Cups (2014 and 2019), with the 2023 edition of the basketball tournament to be held here and Indonesia and Japan. The country also became a steady competitive presence in the Asian basketball after that.
Football also saw a renaissance in the last decade, boosted by the “Miracle in Hanoi” fashioned out by the Philippine Azkals in 2010.
Competing against defending champion Vietnam with a semifinal spot at stake in the AFF Suzuki Cup, the Azkals produced a major upset by blanking the host, 2-0, to advance to the next round of the tournament.
Chris Greatwich and Phil Younghusband provided the goals for the Azkals in the win, which pretty much pushed the national team, and football in general, to the national consciousness.
Football enjoyed a lot of attention in the immediate aftermath and brought the sport to the fore than at any time previously.
The Azkals had their ups and downs since then but they finished the decade with a first-ever appearance in the Asian Cup in January 2019.
The 2010s also saw Filipino boxing legend Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao solidify his standing as one of the best boxers in history.
While in the 2000s Pacman built his legend, the following decade had him building on it, including making his way as the only eight-division champion in boxing.
Sure he had telling losses at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez (2012) and Floyd Mayweather Jr. (2015), still convincing victories over the likes of Brandon Rios, Timothy Bradley, Chris Algieri and of late Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman while in his late 30s still showed how Pacquiao is a boxer all his own.
Mixer martial arts, too, saw taking further root in the country in the last decade.
ONE Championship descended on the country in 2012 and has done wonders in the local MMA scene since with a steady offering of world-class live events year in and year out.
Through the promotion, local fighters like Eduard Folayang, Honorio Banario, Kevin Belingon, Geje Eustaquio and Joshua Pacio became world champions, along with long-time MMA fighter Brandon Vera.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship also gave nod to the local MMA scene when it staged its first event in the country in 2015 which was headlined by the fight between Frankie Edgar and Urijah Faber. It was also made special by the farewell fight by Filipino-American fighter Mark Muñoz.
The UFC late in the decade put up local gyms in various parts of the country to bring the sport to more Filipinos.
Last year another international MMA promotion — Brave Combat Federation — made its Manila debut with Filipino champion Stephen Loman retaining his title.
National Basketball Association fans in the Philippines also had their fill in the 2010s, highlighted by the first-ever Global Game held in the country in 2013 that featured the James Harden and Dwight Howard-led Houston Rockets against Paul George and Danny Granger’s Indiana Pacers.
The Rockets beat the Pacers, 116-86.
League stars and legends came in steady stream here in the 2010s through the NBA’s various initiatives like the Jr. NBA/WNBA program, NBA Cares and NBA 3X, among others.
Unfortunately as the decade drew to a close the NBA saw itself sans a local TV partner for its games as its contract with long-time broadcaster Solar Entertainment Corp. was no longer renewed.
The league is still said to be in negotiations for a new TV partner here.
(To be continued)
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.