THE man who managed to swing some of the biggest deals in Philippine business never imagined Gilas Pilipinas would be able to beat Korea without naturalized big man Marcus Douthit.
He was glad to be proven wrong.
“Grabe, wala si Douthit. We won without Douthit," said an ecatatic Manny V. Pangilinan at the end of an 86-79 victory over Korea on Saturday night that sent Gilas to the Fiba-Asia championship finale against Iran.
The man they call 'MVP' had shown unwavering faith in the Philippine team since he assumed the leadership of Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, and time and again put his money where his mouth is.
He has spent millions since starting the Gilas national basketball team program and had fought ferociously to bring Asia's biggest cage tournament to our shores to the tune of P70 million, give or take a few millions.
The high-profile businessman celebrated with the rest of the nation as Gilas overcame an early hiccup against Chinese-Taipei to get as far as the semifinals but, as Douthit limped off the floor on Saturday night, he perhaps thought the nation's hopes had gone with him, too.
That was until a band of bravehearts showed what Pangilinan had always counted on all along - that the Filipino is as resilient on the court as he is in life.
"I couldn’t imagine winning without Douthit," he repeated, as if the small group of sportswriters huddled around him had not heard him the first time. "But they did.”
Now the program Pangilinan started shortly after working for the downfall of the despised Basketball Association of the Philippines has reached a new high, with Gilas now assured of a return to the world championship set in Spain next year.
And oh, there's also the final on Sunday night against Iran where the nationals will have a shot at the country's first Asian championship in 28 years.
“Looking forward to Spain,” he said.
Pangilinan, though, isn't thinking that far ahead, preferring to savor this moment when years of frustration for Philippine basketball have finally led to this one proud piece in the nation's sports history.
“Let’s wait for the result of (the) Iran game," he said, breaking into a smile. "Siguro pahinga na muna mga bata.”