YES, big boys do cry.
And who wouldn’t on this touching moment when Gilas Pilipinas achieved what had been deemed by many as improbable, earning a trip to next year’s Fiba-World Cup in Spain by making the gold-medal match of the 27th Fiba-Asia Championship after beating a dreaded South Korea side, 86-79.
There was no miracle needed or a magical performance from the nationals, who simply relied on pure grit and heart to pull off the win that overwhelmed this basketball-loving country of 95 million people.
Celebrations, both tearful and pleasant, followed the country’s first victory in its past nine Fiba-Asia meetings with Korea since 1987 - a win that should count as the proudest moment in sports for this generation outside of the great Manny Pacquiao's exploits inside the ring.
When the final buzzer sounded, Marc Pingris knelt on one knee sobbing, Gabe Norwood and Jimmy Alapag hugged each other and screamed at the top of their voice, coach Chot Reyes turned into an emotional wreck on the bench, while the other players shed tears of joy as the entire Mall of Asia Arena crowd watched in ecstasy on this moving night when the Philippines got back on the world map.
“There were lot of emotions, but mostly emotions of overjoyed,” said team manager Butch Antonio later. “Ako nga sa bench pa lang umiiyak na, so just imagine what more did the players feel?”
Jeff Chan, who had been one of Gilas Pilipinas’ consistent gunners from the outside, sought his teary-eyed wife in the stands and gave her a hug. So did Larry Fonacier, who even kissed and carried his child in his arms amidst the frenzied celebration inside the arena.
A known tough guy on the court, Ranidel de Ocampo wasn’t shy to break down in front of mediamen during the post-game interview as he dedicated the win to the entire Filipino nation.
“Para po sa inyong lahat itong paghihirap namin sa Gilas,” he said in between sobs. "Umiyak ako noong nag-champion ako sa Talk `N Text, pero hindi katulad nito.”
To which Reyes, also his former coach with the Tropang Texters, retorted, “Iyakin ka naman talaga e,” bringing the house down.
Pingris, considered one of the team’s toughest defenders, also showed his soft side when he admitted how tough it was to be away from their families during the two months that Gilas had to train together as a team in preparation for the world championship qualifier.
“Mahirap mawalay sa pamilya namin. Kaya salamat po sa lahat ng sumusuporta sa amin dahil kayo ang nagbibigay ng lakas sa amin,” he said in between sobs.
“We cried when we lost in 2007 and now that we’ve won, we’re still crying,” added Reyes, in reference to the loss suffered by the national team when it finished ninth during the 2007 edition of the meet in Tokushima, Japan.
But there were also some light moments – injected by De Ocampo.
“Sana `yung mga susunod na Fiba-Asia dito pa rin,” said the bruising power forward, aware of the tremendous support the team received from the crowd as the country hosted the Fiba-Asia meet for the first time in 40 years.
“At siyempre, nagpapasalamat din kami kay Mr. Manny V. Pangilinan sa ginawang pag-suporta sa national team. Kung wala siya, walang Gilas at walang hosting ng Fiba-Asia sa Manila. Sana humaba pa ang buhay niya at lagi natin siyang ipagdadasal na maging healthy siya palagi.”