Dribbling Shame

July 6th, 2018 · No Comments

by Benjie de Ubago


Sports bring out the best and worst in people.  With expectations on high, pay pockets hanging in the balance,  strength of a characters is put to the ultimate test.  There have been those who have risen to inspire but there have been those who have failed to do so.  There have been moments of glory and moments of frustration and despair. Screams have been deafening, tennis rackets have been smashed and golf clubs bent. This is even truer with contact sports like soccer, football, rugby, and of course Filipinos very own favorite – basketball. The slightest touch, a mere look could be considered a provocation and emotions are quick to boil over.

For the Philippines, basketball is not only the national sport – it is the national past time. Filipinos live for basketball and the players who make it to the big leagues are elevated to hero status.

The July 3 faceoff between Australia’s Boomers and the Philippines’ Gilas teams for the world Cup qualifier erupted into a violent free for all brawl at the third quarter for the whole world to see.   Lagging 30 points behind, tensions were high. Thirteen players were ejected from the game – nine from the Philippine team and four from the Aussie team.  End result was 89-53 in favor of the Australian Boomers.

Viewers were shell shocked and most took to tweeter and the internet immediately to express their disgust. “Despicable – deplorable and disgraceful – embarrassing!”  When it subsided and as video clips emerged,  it was inevitable for Filipinos to take sides. And soon the fickle finger of blame took over raking up as much excuses as possible.

According to the Philippine side, what triggered the brawl was the removal of sponsor’s decals (stickers) on the foul line by the Aussies the day before the game. This was a strategic marketing placement for a sponsor for the cameras to catch and had been pre-approved. The Filipinos regarded this action an insult. However, this was removed for safety issue which in the Philippines is not regarded as a top priority.  As this incident happened the day prior to the game, the issue had been resolved.  But obviously not, as the players were still nursing a grudge.

Then came the warm up prior to the game where in both teams take to both ends of the court with the half way mark on the court as the demarcation line.  The Gilas team was past their half mark on the court. When asked to move, one tried to trip the Aussies who of course retaliated.  So who was tripping who?

Then came the fouls and elbowing from the Filipino which was not visible from all angles.  But the Aussie’s retaliation with a bigger elbow crunch on a Filipino was visible.  Then all hell broke loose with punches flying, high kicks, and one Aussie player being pinned down on the floor as a pack of wolves devoured him.  Gilas players abandoned the bench, officials and spectators all jumped in.  Reason given: “if you see your team being attacked wouldn’t you come out to help?”  But the other Aussie players did not leave the bench.

To top it, while the officials were deciding what to do next, the Gilas team decided to take a selfie with all smiles which was considered out of taste.  In the heat of dribbling passion, most players remain stoic, and I have seen them cry from sheer disappointment when on a losing streak – not smile!  This time there was no show of remorse.

The Australian Basketball issued a statement immediately after the incident, as aired at 7am on July 3, 2018:

“ Basketball Australia deeply regrets the incident in tonight’s match between the Boomers and the Philippines in Manila. We are extremely disappointed with what happened and our role in it.  This is not the spirit in which sport should be played and certainly not in the spirit in which we aim to play basketball. We apologize to our fans and will await the penalties to be handed down.”

The Samahan Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP) issued their statement later that day:

“The Samahan Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP) apologizes to Filipino basketball fans and to the basketball community for the incident that occurred during last night’s game. As hosts, we regret having breached  the bounds of traditional Filipino hospitality.  As the national team representing flag and country we likewise, extend our apologies to the Filipino people. SBP stands by its conviction that violence has no place in sports. We will review the incident comprehensively and await the decision of FIBA with respect to disciplinary proceedings on the matter.”

An analysis of both of the above statements is revealing enough.

Next , came the rally of support which was more disgusting than  the incident.  Political colors were called in to the rescue (“Yellow kasi”) and “Poor us” kicked in. There was the cry for nationalism – “defend – laban para sa bayan!”  To this, my reply would be: aren’t there greater causes to fight for?

Finally, the Filipinos and Gilas supporters pulled out the trump card – the race card.  Fueled by emotion, it turned uglier as the language used was foul.   The “kampi-kampi” (taking sides in the absence of logic) crept  in, insults were flying along with allegations of bullying, trash talk and name calling .  The word used was “lait” – (meaning to belittle) —- Filipino Australians were being condemned for being ashamed of their own race when it had nothing to do with it.

Freedom of expression reigned as everyone posted whatever  they had to say despite the absence of facts and logic.  Some were amusing, comical, and absolutely incoherent!  But some were abusive, inciteful and sickening.  It became personal. There was a need to defend the honor  of the Filipinos – right or wrong.

  • “Kung ikaw hindi mo ba tutulungan ang ka-team mate mo – ka Pilipino mo?” (Would you not help your team mate – another Filipino?” )
  • “ Filipinos are hospitable. But if you mess with us then we will put you in the hospital without question.”
  • “We can’t be bullied and be (sic) disrespected in our land.”
  • “Dapat nga basag ang mukha nila.”
  • “If you were called a monkey, hindi mo ba sasapukin?” (NB: no name calling was done.)
  • Even Sotto threw in his two cents bit: “Were we wrong? We were wronged!” 


More Scuffles

However, I note that this is not the first all-in scuffle.  We’ve had much worst!

We dribble to ramble!  Philippine basketball history is full of stories of unsightly incidents; emotions gone awry and brawls on the hardcourt.  The PBA, NCAA and the UAAP have been marred with violent incidents as team loyalty is tested to the limits. The Basketball  legends were the main stars.

Anyone who’s followed a team and watched a basketball game ‘live’ knows how electrifying the feeling can be  inside the stadium. Packed with a cheering and at times taunting crowd, drums beating, hearts pounding, sweat dripping, reason vanishes as euphoria sets in and the sore losers are ravished.

Remember the bitter rivalry between Crispa and Toyota in the seventies?  In 1977 it reached violent proportions as the teams ended up in a fist fight.  As martial law was in place, players of both teams were packed in a Metrocom car and taken to Fort Bonifacio for the night and released the next day. Arnaiz of Toyota and Hines of Wranger also ended up in a battle of the fists which landed Arnaiz back at the Fort.  The Ginebra  versus Tanduay game landed  Loyzaga on his back on the hardcourt.  And in 1982, PBA Invitational game between Toyota vs South Korea ended in a brawl when South Korean team (118) outsmarted Toyota (107) for third place (107) in the last quarter and resulted to a ramble with players from both teams being thrown out. However, as this was still in the Marcos era, it was edited out as it would have brought embarrassment to the country.  And don’t forget the 1998 PBA Centennial team vs  Minnesota, USA exhibition game…oops brawl!

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) has seen rivalries between its member schools and universities.  The rivalry between Ateneo and La Salle goes all the way back to 1939.  The battle for supremacy carried on through the years and whenever they faced each other on or off the courts.

In 1977, the San Beda vs Ateneo ended up in a best of five series with fans hurling eggs, bottles (lucky, chairs at Araneta Coliseum were fixed to the floor) and 45 rpm records with metal strips onto the court.  Fans had to bring their umbrellas to protect themselves.   The fight spilled over into Cubao surrounds as cars with stickers and school buses had broken windows and damaged. There were casualties too and students suffered the consequences of expulsions. Despite supplications from the priests of both schools, the torrent of items being thrown kept on rolling down.   The championship was held finally behind closed doors but that didn’t stop the broken windows on cars and school buses.    San Beda won the game but this ended Ateneo NCAA stint as they moved to UAAP tournament.

And there were more fights – Letran, San Sebastian, Mapua , UP, UST and FEU all played the dribble to ramble at one stage or another.  Even in more recent years, fights have not been absent from the PBA, NCAA and UAAP.  And sadly, it continues to this very day.

With this kind of history, one wonders if it’s in our genes.  Is this part of our culture?  Are we simply uncontrollable or are we simply “pikon” – sore losers?  And on these instances there’s no one to put the blame on. We can’t really say we were abased or oppressed because it was simply only us.

Considering that basketball is the Philippines’ national sport, it is indeed sad that they should represent their flag and country when really the behavior is nothing to write home about.  Do we as Filipinos stand for a Filipino what is wrong even at times when it has been proven wrong? Where do we draw the line?

Regardless of who started it, the fight should not have escalated into such embarrassing proportions.  Neither should bad behavior be tolerated and condoned.  Officials and spectators should not have joined in. Yes, the incident will be investigated and both teams will suffer the consequences of their actions.  But as more and more Filipinos speak up, the more they become unraveled. Like, love, cheer and support but keep your eyes wide open.

Fences will be mended but will mind sets ever be altered?  After all it would seem that we dribble to ramble!

Tags: Grey Matter · Lead Story