Sun 23 June 2024

FIBA should have known better: Gilas-Boomers brawl in context

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The elbow

Roger Pogoy and Chris Goulding have been going at it at the third quarter. At the four-minute mark, Pogoy and Goulding collided away from the ball while Junemar Fajardo was posting up Thon Maker. Pogoy shoved Goulding and the latter flopped like crazy. Within a second, 6’10” power forward Daniel Kickert issued a vicious elbow on the chin of the 6’2” Pogoy. Pogoy was floored and it was a free-for-all involving nine Gilas players against four Boomers.

Given Goulding’s height and heft discrepancy against Pogoy, his elbow could have had maimed or worse, kill Pogoy. This is no joke. This happened in 1977, when Los Angeles Lakers enforcer Kermit Washington punched Houston Rockets star forward Rudy Tomjanovich right on the face. Tomjanovich’s face was literally rearranged and he was rushed to the ICU immediately. After the punch, Tomjanovich tasted something bitter in his mouth. According to his doctor, it was spinal fluid. He could have died that night.

That infamous night changed basketball forever. This introduced a third referee in the game as fouls have been strictly regulated. Referees are now more vocal and involved in game play, interfering in a play when necessary, even if players are trashtalking or exchanging light shoves. While fights still had occurred during the ‘80s and ‘90s, the NBA and the rest of the basketball world have adjusted to the point of prohibiting handchecking, just to protect players from harm. In fact, we have seen numerous disqualifications even on verbal tussles alone.

The brawl could have been prevented if the referees have t’d up Pogoy and Goulding just on plain trash talking or shoving. They could have halted the game just to talk to the team captains and remind them to play fair. In this day and age of modern basketball, referees are encouraged to maximize their prerogative of ensuring physical safety in the game.

The referees should have known better.

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Bound to happen

Australia plays dirty. No, not the rugged, physical brand of basketball we see from the likes of Iran or Jordan where physicality comes from creating spaces, forcing turnovers, getting the loose ball, or defending a lethal scorer. The Boomers talk trash with utterly racist remarks. They throw cheap shoves or elbows against the opponent. They intentionally trip shooters or ball handlers. They flop. They taunt the opposing team during warmups.

Such propensity to unnecessary antics should have been corrected by game officials and by team management to begin with. But since it went unchecked, a disaster in an Australia game is just waiting to happen. And it so happened in the Philippines’ backyard. In a game won by Australia by the third quarter, a player of the far more superior team chose to hurt and almost maim a smaller and already defeated player just because his mate flopped.

Is it human for Gilas to retaliate with such vitriol? Among Filipino chargers who started the melee, Jayson Castro is the least likely to hurt someone. Even the casual PBA fan would know that Castro is one of the nicest guys in the league, never figuring in a fight or spat on or off the court in his ten-year career. Even during his NCAA days, when he played for the very physical Philippine Christian University Dolphins (alongside notorious big men Beau Belga and Gabby Espinas), Castro was always the good cop. Yet he pulled his punches on Kickert, never mind if the Aussie is fourteen inches higher than him. In the mind of a small man who has absorbed much beating from big men in his career, seeing a helpless comrade fall from a cheap shot was too much to take. In his mind, he must stand up for the small men. Still, what he and his teammates did is inexcusable.

Then again, game officials and coaches should have known better.

Those who know better

While it is human, no matter how base that instinct is, to stand up and fight for a bullied comrade, it is also human, as higher beings than animals, to display exemplary sportsmanship. And three Filipinos stood tall in a game dominated by machismo and misplaced nationalism.

June Mar Fajardo, the Philippines’ greatest basketball player of this generation, could have mauled the bejeezus out of Kickert and Maker. Yet this humble giant knows that he is more than just a thug who pretends to play hoops and an NBA MVP-wannabe. Fajardo knows, even if he is the underdog, that he is the best player of this side of Asia. As the best player particularly at the low post, he has conditioned himself to absorb all forearms, elbows, shoves, and hooks. As a center, pain comes with the territory. Fajardo has this superiority complex in him and it made him passive to violence and provocation.

Gabe Norwood, too, is numb from the muck of basketball. As the designated defender of the opponents’ best wing player, the former elite scorer has lowered his ego for country by playing the role assigned to him, that is, to absorb charges, go for the loose ball, and wipe the floor with his uniform. There is reason why he is the longest-tenured national team player in the lineup and that is playing no-nonsense basketball for the nation since 2007.

Finally, the last man standing is the young Baser Amer, who never left the bench during the melee, thus earning him his first cap for the national team. He had witnessed numerous scuffles while playing with San Beda in his college days yet he never involved himself in fights. Interestingly, he is the only Muslim on the court, a religion discriminated both in Australia and the Philippines as violent.

For all intents and purposes, if the expelled Gilas players will be banned for the 2019 World Cup qualifiers, these three will remain with the team.

They have known better.

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