A SILVER medal that meant a whole lot to the entire Filipino people.
Gilas Pilipinas defied the odds behind a gallant stand in the first Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship to be held in Manila in 40 years last August in a performance that provided a feel-good story for a nation whose passion for the sport knows no bounds.
Coach Chot Reyes and his 12 brave men settled for second behind champion Iran in the biggest cage tournament in the Asian region, but in doing so, ended more than three decades of basketball futility for the Philippines by earning back a berth to the world championships 35 years after last playing in the event which Manila hosted in 1978.
The stirring feat was also the highest finish a men’s national basketball team achieved in a meet of this magnitude since Northern Consolidated Corp. won it all during the 1985 edition of the tournament then still known as the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) Championship, in Kuala Lumpur.
The runner-up finish may have come short of approximating the achievements of past national teams which went all the way to win the gold.
But for a group whose modest goal was to accomplish a podium finish and punch a ticket to the 2014 FIBA-World Cup in Spain, Gilas Pilipinas certainly more than exceeded the expectations of many with its improbable run in the world championship qualifier.
For the sheer impact of what it attained while uniting the Filipino people with every win earned and every loss suffered for 11 memorable days last year, Gilas has been bestowed the honor as the Philippine Sportswriters Association's 2013 Athlete of the Year.
The high-profile squad leads a long list of athletes, personalities, and entities to be honored by the oldest media organization in the country during its Annual Awards Night at the Solaire Resort and Casino on January 25.
The formal gathering which the PSA is holding to honor the top achievers of the year just passed in partnership with Smart Sports, MILO, Philippine Sports Commission, Air21, Globalport, Rain or Shine, Senator Chiz Escudero, Philippine Basketball Association, Accel, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office will have boxing great Manny Pacquiao as special guest and speaker.
Gilas Pilipinas became just the fourth team to be recognized as Athlete of the Year by the sports organization composed of editors, writers, and columnists from the national dailies, tabloids, and websites.
Previous group winners include Team Philippines (2005), Ateneo Blue Eagles (2012), and Team Manila (2012).
Other awards to be given out are the Presidential Achievement Award, Executive of the Year, NSA of the Year, Lifetime Achievement Award, Milo Junior Athlete Awards, Sixth Man Award, Mr. Football, Miss Volleyball, and Tony Siddayao Award for deserving youth athletes.
The gold medalists in the recent Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar will also be cited, while dearly departed friends in Philippine sports will also be honored posthumously.