It was going to be an interesting game. Australia wanted to avenge a surprising loss to Japan. Gilas Pilipinas wanted to defend its home turf and prove that they could hang with the best in the world. Both wanted that coveted top spot in Group B of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, a win that would be carried over to the second round of the tournament. A day prior to the match, officials from both teams were already in the middle of a spat over floor stickers of all things. And by the third quarter, we were all wishing it remained as petty as a fight over corporate sticker placements.
As expected, the Boomers were in complete control throughout the game. Gilas came as close as five points but it felt like they were never really a threat to steal the game. Unfortunately, the frustration of the impending loss, combined with the physical play of Australia, boiled over and manifested itself in an offensive foul by RR Pogoy that sent Aussie Chris Goulding to the floor which then resulted in a retaliatory elbow from Goulding’s teammate, Daniel Kickert.
What followed was one of the most violent brawls in international basketball history highlighted by Thon Maker’s flying kicks, a jumping punch courtesy of Jayson Castro, a flying chair, and a Stone Cold Steve Austin inspired ground-and-pound beating of an Australian player by multiple Gilas players and spectators.
Almost everyone from this basketball-crazy country has been part of, or has witnessed a basketball-related brawl. Basketball is a physical sport and with all the emotions and testosterone flooding the court, fighting is somewhat inevitable. And to some extent, we get that. But whenever we see professionals go at it, it’s always an ugly sight. That might seem contradictory and yet it’s not. In all things, professionals are held against higher standards. While we want to avoid judgement as only the people on the court know the full details, including what was said and done before the fight broke out, any type of bench-clearing riot in pro sports is saddening.
The fact that Gilas players are also representatives of our country only compounds the absurdity of what transpired in the Philippine Arena. Our players definitely showed limitless amounts of puso during the brawl, but what about utak? They were clearly not thinking of the repercussions of their actions as they were too busy showing everyone that Manny Pacquiao is not the only notable fighter to come from the Philippines. To say that the team was an embarrassment might be too harsh, but we must at least admit a certain level of disappointment as to how the entire team conducted themselves on the court.
Protecting your teammate is a noble intention but our players, specifically those on the bench (including those not even wearing a uniform) and even some staff and spectators, should have exercised better judgement and let the players on the court and the officials sort it out. Pingris (and we only have love for him as one of the local greats) puts the cherry on top of our side’s total lack of discernment by taking that selfie which, as much as it pains a Gilas fan to say this, paints a picture of sore losers who were just looking for an excuse to deliver a beatdown on the winning team.
Kickert may have been out of line delivering that elbow that floored Pogoy and that would have been a smear against the Australians. Unfortunately for us, that elbow will only be a footnote to how our team poorly handled the situation.
"To say that the team was an embarrassment might be too harsh, but we must at least admit a certain level of disappointment as to how the entire team conducted themselves on the court"
In the past few years, Philippine basketball has seen a resurgence in the Gilas program. It would be a shame if this incident affects our standing in the international basketball community. We can almost wave goodbye to us hosting any FIBA sanctioned events in the near future, which is probably the least of our worries. Losing some of our best players to possible suspensions would already be bad for us, but a decision to ban us in tournaments, which has happened before for more petty reasons, will be a devastating blow to the country’s basketball program as a whole.
While both teams engaged and should be held equally responsible, the fact remains that only four Boomers figured in the scuffle. Nine players were ejected from our side. That is not to absolve Australia of any wrongdoing and for baiting us into a fight but that’s four roster spots the Aussies can easily replace (with possibly even better players) and almost an entire roster of our top tier players who can possibly face suspensions from international play. There’s no getting around the fact that this could potentially spell disaster for future Gilas campaigns.
No matter how you look at it, we are on the losing side of things. Whatever sanctions are given out, and there will be a lot, this will leave a bad impression in the basketball community for years to come. We only hope that Gilas bounces back from this with a stronger desire to win and become better representations of what true Filipino sportsmanship and passion for basketball is really all about.