Let me start off by saying that I don’t know you. I’ve never met you. I only know that you haven’t been given the proper credit you deserve for building the country’s national basketball program, and turning it into the regional powerhouse it currently is.
The numerous incarnations of Gilas Pilipinas, from the players to the coaches, deserve all the adulation they’ve received. But let’s not think that the whole Gilas program just showed up out of thin air. Most people forget that as recently as 10 years ago, the country was banned from participating in all FIBA-sanctioned tournaments because of the pile of hot mess created by tensions between the Basketball Association of the Philippines and Pilipinas Basketball—then the two organizations governing hoops.
We didn’t even have a national team to root for. That’s how bad it got for a country that’s supposedly a hotbed of basketball.
I don’t know if you volunteered for the task of righting this wayward ship or if you were thrust into this position forcibly. What I do know is that you embraced the challenge of sifting through that rubble to pick up the pieces of a program that had been neglected and ignored for so long. You were the driving force behind the creation of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), now the officially recognized basketball organization of the country. You put the right people in place to lead the organization and established a singular basketball pool that eventually turned into Gilas.
Since you took the helm at SBP, our basketball program has steadily improved to the point that our national team is already considered as one of the best in the region. We’ve won numerous international tournaments. We’ve won two silver medals in FIBA Asia. We only won one game during the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball, but the way our boys played endeared them on the global stage. I even remember a story about a young Argentinian boy trading away his own national team jerseys for a Jimmy Alapag jersey. Incredible.
Away from the court, you were co-opted into the FIBA Central Board, and you led the charge in our bid to host the 2019 FIBA World Cup of Basketball. We didn’t get it, but it still showed your dedication to bring basketball back to its emotional homeland.
It’s funny because our sense of nationalism rarely manifests itself these days. Barring Pacquiao fights, rare is the day when our fractured society is united under one common purpose, cheering for one common goal. We do it, though, when it comes to Gilas Pilipinas. It's the player's highlights we see on YouTube, and the coaches that get the in-depth profiles; but just like them, you’re responsible for bringing that united voice into the forefront.
You never puffed your chest about it because deep down, you’re just like us; you just love the game of basketball, and you want to see Filipinos play it in the highest imaginable level. You cheer as much as we do, and you invest your heart and mind into it because you know it’s one of the few things we Filipinos can rally around with a sense of pride and purpose, free of any hidden intentions.
So as we thank Gilas for another excellent performance at the 2015 FIBA ASIA Championships, I’d like to divert some of that gratitude to you for everything that you’ve done. Under your leadership, the Philippines is now considered as one of the major forces in Asia.
Soon enough, we’ll be breaking new ground, and we’ll be competing against the world’s best. That’s how far our national basketball team has come. Our players have always had the talent and the #puso in them, but it took a man with a plan to funnel that passion into something that makes the giants tremble.
Remember when you were greeted with chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP” back in 2011 when you brought those NBA stars for a barnstorming tour in the country? I was there, and I was chanting it too, because in the words of Kevin Durant, “you da real MVP.”
A GILAS FAN