THE silver-medal finish of Gilas Pilipinas in the Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship is just the first step towards regaining the country’s rightful place both on the Asian and world basketball map.
Businessman and well-known sports patron Manny V. Pangilinan stressed the point during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Annual Awards Night on Saturday before a packed crowd at the Centennial Hall of the Manila Hotel.
Coach Chot Reyes and the national team were presented with the Athlete of the Year trophy during the so-called `Oscars of Philippine sports’ presented by Milo and with Air21 as major sponsor, for leading the Philippines back to the FIBA-World Cup 35 years after it last saw action in the quadrennial meet.
The country’s top sports officials led by Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Jose `Peping’ Cojuangco and Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman Richie Garcia joined PSA president Lorenzo `Jun’ Lomibao in presenting Gilas Pilipinas its Athlete of the Year trophy and medals for players and members of the coaching staff.
Pangilinan, president of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), said the feat of the men’s basketball team hopefully puts the Philippines back on the road to excellence in a sport that is dearest to the hearts of the Filipino people.
“Remember, excellence is not a destination which can be reached with just one step. Rather, excellence is achieved brick-by-brick, bit-by-bit, step-by-step,” said Pangilinan in his acceptance speech after being named Executive of the Year by the country’s oldest media organization.
“What’s important is to show improvement gradually but consistently on that long and steep road to excellence.”
The chairman of PLDT and Smart Communications also noted how the country has improved on its world ranking since he took over the reins of the country’s governing body for basketball, which was also named as the PSA National Sports Association of the Year during the formal rite held in partnership with Smart Sports, Philippine Sports Commission, Senator Chiz Escudero, Philippine Basketball Association, SM Prime Holdings, Rain or Shine, Globalport, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., ICTSI-Philippine Golf Tour, Accel 3XVI.
“In 2007, when SBP was formed, we were No. 65 in the Fiba world ranking. After August 2013, we rose to No. 34. Let’s keep improving, Gilas,” he extolled the national team bound for the World Cup in Spain this August.
But the SBP president was quick to add the achievement of Gilas Pilipinas would not be made possible without the support of the entire Filipino people, stressing the storyline of the high-profile national team is `one team together, one nation united.’
“We must, of course, pay tribute to our basketball fans who carried Gilas on its shoulders to the silver line finish, who returned us to the world stage after 40 long years of absence.”
On hand to inspire Gilas Pilipinas in its Fiba-World Cup campaign was the legendary Carlos 'The Big Difference' Loyzaga, acknowledged as the greatest Filipino basketball player of all time, who was accorded with the Lifetime Achievement Award together with former International Olympic Committee (IOC) representative to the country Frank Elizalde and one-time Fiba-Asia secretary general Mauricio 'Moying' Martelino.
A two-time Olympian, Loyzaga anchored the Philippine team that won a bronze medal in the 1954 world championship (now Fiba-World Cup) -- the highest finish by an Asian country in the quadrennial meet that remains unsurpassed until now.
Loyzaga was also a star player in the national team that won four Asian Games gold medals (1951, 1954, 1958, 1962) and two FIBA-Asia championships (1960, 1963).
“Your love for country must surpass even your love for the sport,” said Loyzaga, 83, in his prepared speech read for him by actress daughter Bing Loyzaga.
In all, a total of 123 sports heroes, personalities, patrons, and organizations were honored during the formal gathering.