People started crying as emotions gone higher. This wasn’t a championship game; it wasn’t even elimination either. But, this game was equally important for the Filipino people.
The arena in Seville Spain had some empty bleachers but the festive crowd made the gym felt like a full house with shouts and cheers towards the undermanned and undersized Filipinos.
It took 40 years before they could play in the world stage, and now with less than a minute left. The Philippines will be winning their first game after a series of close and heart breaking losses earlier against Croatia, Argentina and Puerto Rico.
Team captain, Jimmy Alapag stepped on the free throw line, composed and determined, as he sank two pressured pack free throws with just four seconds left in the game. This is Alapag’s last game as part of the national team, a fitting swan song for the 5-foot-9 diminutive guard who carries a heart as big as anyone in the court.
In the biggest stage of his life, with millions of people watching, Jimmy Alapag delivered the win, gave the Filipinos hope and made the Philippines proud. Jimmy lives for this moment. When the athletic and stubborn Senegal team made a run and threatened the Filipinos lead, Jimmy made a four point play to give the Gilas team a breather. He just wouldn’t quit, as the captain of the ship, he would be the first to come and the last to go.
Jimmy embodies more like the Gilas team, 12 years ago nobody thought Alapag was this good, his manager Chiqui de la Rosa had to talked to PBA teams to convince them how good Jimmy is, and all she got as a response was a smirk. He was too small and they questioned his ability to handle bigger and physical opponents.
Everybody thought the Gilas team was a pushover. People were debating not on their chances of winning but on how much lead Croatia would give them. However, Gilas shocked the world and gave everyone an awakening. They almost won against Croatia after an overtime game, lost to Argentina on a very close game, then lost again to Puerto Rico on a JJ Barea drive. Just like Alapag, the Gilas team proved to everybody that they do not only belong in the world stage, but they also are capable of winning.
Seville Spain has become a stepping stone and heartache for the Gilas team. And as Jimmy Alapag delivered the last point and the victory against Senegal, once again the captain has steered the ship and put his team on a monumental win. For one last time he maneuvered Pilipinas basketball in the right direction.
For Jimmy this is the end of his national stint, but for the Philippines the start of something big.
If you still think size does matter in basketball, then you haven’t seen Gilas Pilipinas yet.
“Laban Pilipinas” (fight Philippines) serves as a battle cry for this team.
And as Jimmy Alapag put his fist in the air and put it into his chest with force… the smallest man in the team just showed Gilas biggest asset… “Puso” (heart)