I bet all basketball fans and pundits thought it would be an opening day cakewalk for the Philippines over FIBA Asia Championship debutantes Palestine. Some of us might have turned off the radio or livestream in the first quarter to proceed to our lunch, lest we starve in overtime work.
But that was not the case in Changsha as one of the world’s oldest nations defeated World Cup veterans Gilas Pilipinas, 75-73, in riveting fashion, sending the Palestinians to a championship-level celebration at the sound of the buzzer.
And we must understand the jubilation of an oppressed nation of four million people who are still facing one of the deadliest wars in the 21st century, who are still thirsting for universal recognition as an independent nation state.
While my heart weeps for my country, I can’t help but shed tears of joy for Palestine for giving their people hope amidst bloodshed. Finally, here is a nation celebrated in the basketball world as the biggest giant slayers in the international scene for 2015, even if Palestinians are being slain every day by the oppressive Zionist regime of Israel.
Furthermore, the pro-underdog in me felt inspired in witnessing again a Cinderella finish, just like when the aging Italian Flavia Pennetta upset the rampaging Serena Williams in the U.S. Open semifinals on the way to her first and last Grand Slam trophy, and when the Philippine men’s football team blanked Vietnam in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.
Even if they will end up winning just this game for the rest of the tournament, the Palestinian cagers have made their people proud. This much-deserved victory has put Palestine in the map and we, sports lovers, are part of this triumph.
But this might not be the last W we’ll see from Palestine. Wednesday’s game has finally exhibited the calibre, depth, and maturity of this team. Palestine plays zone defense with all grit, forcing Andray Blatche to be a stretch center rather than a post-up threat. They clamped down on Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva, who could not display their unorthodox penetrations; obviously, their scouting report was written in full detail. And as a team, all of its players know their roles. Also, it must not come as a surpise that Jamal Abu-Shamala—that guy who drained back-to-back treys as Palestine went up, 72-71—was actually a former NBA D-League standout, and I could not believe why the Philippines just let him play his game. Obviously, we have underestimated this spartan team.
Even with this loss, Gilas will still advance to the second round. They will now learn how not to underestimate even the easiest opponent. Everyone will step up and play as a team. We will see them run the floor, the way we Filipinos play our very best basketball.
But from 12:30 to 1:30 P.M. (Manila time) of September 23, 2015, Palestine was the best basketball team in all of Asia.
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