[Editors' note: With this piece, SPIN.ph bares the eighth member of our Top 10 Sports Heroes of 2017 leading up to the announcement of our 2017 Sportsman of the Year]
FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano couldn’t have said it better when he expressed gratitude to the man responsible for bringing basketball 'back home.'
“No wonder your name is MVP. Not only are you the Most Valuable Person, but you’re also going to make a More Valuable Philippines after 2023,” said the former senator as he praised longtime basketball patron Manny V. Pangilinan for going a long way to clinch the hosting rights of the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Although no longer the president of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), Pangilinan, who has been elevated as chairman emeritus of the federation, remained at the forefront of the bid to bring the world basketball championship back to the country 45 years after it was first held in Manila in 1978.
Truth was, Pangilinan felt the Philippines had the rights to host the so-called ‘Olympic of basketball’ in 2019 in the bag after making a similar bid two years ago against China.
“We felt we had won the bid,” recalled Al Panlilio, who succeeded Pangilinan as SBP prexy. “In fact, we still feel that way.”
“Nadale lang naman tayo noon in terms of infrastructure,” quipped SBP executive director Sonny Barrios. “Yun ang naging advantage ng China sa atin. They will hold the games in eight different venues around China and they showed yung massive infrastructure na ginagawa to make the hosting possible.
“I don’t know about the hosting fees and the other financial side of the bidding process, but sa technical standpoint tayo naungusan ng China.”
Panlilio disclosed how dejected the Filipino delegation was when it returned to its hotel in Tokyo shortly after losing the hosting bid to China back in 2015.
“At that time, we all thought the next shot we could get at hosting was 2027. And MVP joked, ‘Ang tatanda na natin niyan. Kaya pa ba natin?'” related Panlilio.
But as they say, winners never quit and quitters never win. There was still one big fight left in Pangilinan.
“He was the one who really stuck it out. I think there were times he (Pangilinan) did mention to me that people would discourage him, but that only encouraged him,” recalled Cayetano, who was supposed to be part of the Philippine contingent that went to the FIBA headquarters in Geneva for the final announcement of the winning bid, but was represented instead by older sister, Taguig City Rep. Pia Cayetano.
Pangilinan made the hosting bid a little bit creative. The businessman-sportsman was able to convince Japan and Indonesia to form a consortium with the Philippines co-hosting the event – an approach that hasn’t been done yet in the 68-year history of the World Cup.
“Yung formation ng consortium was Mr. Pangilinan’s idea. Sa kanya yan,” said Barrios, a former PBA commissioner.
Initially, it was Singapore and not Japan that was supposed to be part of the hosting, but it was upon FIBA’s advice that Japan later entered the equation.
“There’s the uniqueness of our co-hosting bid,” stressed Barrios. “If you’re FIBA and your main objective is globalization of the sport, you’d like the co-hosting bid of three countries, the power of three, so to speak.
“There’s a global reach in many aspects – culturally, religiously, economically – and the sheer number of 500 million of the combined population of the co-hosts.”
Initially, Russia, Turkey, and Germany were also in the running for the hosting, only for the fight to be reduced to a two-way choice between the Philippines-Japan-Indonesia consortium and the dual bid of Argentina-Uruguay.
“We liked our chances in 2015, but we liked it even better now,” said Panlilio of the feeling within the SBP camp just days before D-Day. “But we were optimistically cautious. Guarded optimism, ika nga ni Mr. Pangilinan. Mahirap na, e.”
But there was no heartbreaker this time.
“The feeling was great. Just great,” said Panlilio as he tried to relive the moment when FIBA president Horacio Muratore announced the winning bid. “We were all smiles even days after. Winning the bid made the long flight back home even better.”
Failure to clinch the hosting rights for the second time would have been the end even for an optimistic person like Pangilinan, according to Barrios.
“It was boon or bane for him,” he said.
Thanks to Pangilinan and the Philippine bid team, Filipino basketball fans have something really big to look forward to five years from now.
“We will not only be showcasing the world’s best players and best teams but in 20023, we hope to be showcasing the Philippines and the Filipino,” said Cayetano. “MVP might get a lot of pats in the back, congratulations, handshakes, but actually in the end, we're doing it for the Philippines and the Filipinos.
“In 2023, basketball will not only be coming home, but those players who will be coming here will be saying the Philippines is also home to us, and that’s really the essence of the Filipinos. We make people who visit us feel that they are home.”