THIRTEEN years after, Olsen Racela and Lee Sang Min found themselves in the same building.
Their paths didn’t cross the way it did during that fateful semifinal game in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, but it was the closest encounter between two players whose careers will forever be intertwined.
Lee was at ringside of the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Sunday, a short distance away from where Racela was sitting at the Barangay Ginebra bench during the PBA Governors Cup game between the Kings and the Meralco Bolts.
Like Racela, a current deputy of coach Frankie Lim with the Kings, Lee is retired and into coaching, calling the shots for the Samsung Thunder in the Korean Basketball League (KBL). The Korean gunner is currently in town to scout possible imports for his team.
Racela said he heard Lee was at the game scouting, but didn't get the chance to meet the man who broke his heart and the national team's – as well as millions of basketball-loving Filipinos – with a buzzer-beating three-pointer that ended the Philippines’ gold-medal hopes in the Busan Asiad.
“I heard nga na he (Lee) was around. I think Saturday nasa venue din siya pero wala naman kaming laro,” said the former Ateneo playmaker. “Hindi ko rin naman siya nakita dahil busy rin kami sa game.”
The mere mention of Lee Sang Min's name evokes the memory of that heartbreaking 69-68 Philippine loss to Korea, which Racela would much rather forget.
The nationals could have clinched the win – and a place in the gold medal round against host China – had Racela not missed two free throws with 23 seconds left and the Philippines holding on to a 68-66 lead.
The surprising botched foul shots by Racela – a 90 percent free throw shooter at that time – paved the way for Lee’s heroics, a moment that forever made him a part of Korea’s basketball lore.
As for Racela, he said the wound caused by that horror loss has already healed, saying the nightmare is all behind him.
“Erase na sa memory ko 'yun,” he said inside the Ginebra dugout.
But in an unpublished interview by Spin.ph on the 10th year of the Busan tragedy, Olsen admitted the three-pointer he converted prior to those two missed free throws may have affected his shooting from the foul line.
It was a Racela trey in the final 51 seconds that gave the Philippines a 68-66 lead.
“Ang lakas kasi ng pulso ko nun, kaya 'yung unang tira ko medyo long. I adjusted in the second one, but I missed it,” he recalled.
As Olsen’s roommate during the Asiad, Jeff Cariaso, now one the assistant coaches at Alaska, remembered how a hurting Racela offered no excuses for the loss.
“Great respect for Olsen. Sabi niya, ‘I missed it.’ He manned up to what happened,” said Cariaso, who once had Racela as his deputy during his brief stint as mentor of Barangay Ginebra.
Cariaso said he comforted his roommate the best way he can.
“I was with him the whole night. I was there just trying to listen, trying being someone you can hang around,” said the soft-spoken retired guard.
“Of course, we’re sad the whole night. But we just talk about it briefly and then we talked about everything na. We moved on from there.”
Just like Olsen did 13 years after.