Politics, basketball inevitably mesh as Philippines and China renew Fiba Asia rivalry
Gabe Norwood consoles a Japanese player after the Gilas win. Photo by Fiba.com

CHANGSHA, China – Gabe Norwood was just a year old when the Philippines and China last faced each other in a heated battle for the Fiba-Asia (then known as the Asian Basketball Confederation) title.

Yet, he certainly knows the deeply rooted rivalry between these two Asian powers.

“Yeah, very aware,” said Norwood when asked about his sense of Asian cage history after China and the Philippines disposed of their respective semifinal opponents Friday to arrange a final duel on Saturday night.

“Not just ours but coach Tab's personal rivalry also. So it’s a lot of emotions going in there. We just gonna have our rest and be ready for tomorrow,” added the high-leaping forward, obviously referring to Baldwin’s heartbreaking 70-69 loss to China during the 2011 final in Wuhan while still calling the shots for Jordan.

Handled by the legendary Ron Jacobs and reinforced by naturalized players Jeff Moore and Dennis Still, the Philippines completed a six-game sweep of the 1986 tournament capped by an 82-72 win over China in its final outing.

It was the last time a Philippine team would win the championship as China would capture 10 of the next 14 editions of the biennial meet.

The 8::30 p.m. showdown will pit the tournament’s two most accomplished teams, with China owning 15 titles and the Philippines with five.

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Norwood expects the rivalry to be rekindled anew, at a time when the two nations are in the middle of a territorial dispute that grows worse by the day.

“It was brought up again there in the locker room after the game,” acknowledgedthe Rain or Shine stalwart. “It was unspoken but spoken indirectly between the coaches’ speech, to the bosses speeches to the prayer.”

Norwood knows toppling China in front of its ruckus crowd would be a mountain to climb, but he has faith in Gilas no matter what.

“It’s gonna be an all-out battle,” he said. “What a better way to end the tournament than to play the host team in the battle for the gold medal given the history (between the two teams).”

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