CHANGSHA, China – Tab Baldwin has been in basketball for so long, but it appears from the way he talks, it’s only now that he’s having the time of his life as a coach.
Despite the pressure of having to carry what he termed as the ‘expectations of 100 million passionate fans,’ Baldwin admitted feeling the joy of being around Gilas Pilipinas as it tries to fulfill its quest of ending a 43-year wait to return to the Olympics.
As someone who began his career with the Philippine team as consultant to predecessor Chot Reyes, the 57-year-old native of Jacksonville, Florida has fully grasped the Filipinos’ deep love for a game that is almost a religion to them.
“I don’t think there’s a job I would prefer to have. I feel blessed,” said the veteran mentor, who had coaching experience handling the national teams of his native New Zealand, Malaysia, Lebanon, and Jordan in the past.
“And it’s not just the great situation working for a great boss (Manny V. Pangilinan). It’s because of the caliber of people, the caliber of players I have to work with. They’re very talented, very skilled, and very passionate.”
Baldwin came on board when Gilas was about to embark on its 2013 Fiba Asia bid in Manila under Reyes for a spot in the Fiba World Cup in Spain.
The team finished runner-up behind Iran and earned a berth in the world championship for the first time in 35 years, a feat that further burns the flame of hope of the Philippines’ return as a basketball power in Asia.
Baldwin saw all of these develop under his watch as Gilas consultant.
“It allowed me to know the players, it allowed me to understand the culture. It’s a phenomenal culture in terms of society, maybe the most humble and generous people I’ve been around,” he said.
“Sometimes that’s not a great thing in the environment of sports. But because their passion for basketball is so great, their league is so competitive and it fosters a high level of basketball. They kind of bring this warmth and passion as human being into the team environment. So it’s easy to create a chemistry with these guys and you know it’s a lot to be successful.”
And now as Gilas coach, he understands the great demand to deliver given the record achieved previously by the team.
“You have 100 million passionate fans. You carry the weight of their expectations, of course. That gives you sleepless nights like last night (in a loss against Palestine),” said Baldwin.
Still, it’s a job he won't swap for anything in the world.
“But you also carry the blessing of 100 million people who care (about) what you do, who care for you,” said the Gilas mentor. “Find me a better job, I don’t think you can.”