SEVILLE - The final buzzer that ended a 40-year wait for a Philippine victory in the Fiba Basketball World Cup was met with joyous, fiesta-like celebration in and around the Centro Deportivo San Pablo pavilion in this laid-back Spanish city on Thursday night.
Coach Chot Reyes, who smashed his whiteboard in disgust just moments earlier after Gilas lost a lead late in regulation to Senegal, walked to the floor pumping his chest and pointing to a large section of ecstatic Filipino fans inside the half-filled after the historic 81-79 overtime win.
"This is for all our kababayans around the world," said game hero Jimmy Alapag as he joined the rest of Gilas players in a lap of honor around the stadium, thanking and exchanging high fives with fans who have come from far and wide to cheer them on from the stands.
Hundreds of Filipino fans, not giving up on Gilas even after it lost its first four games by an average of six points, savored the winning moment, waving Philippine flags and cheering themselves hoarse and blowing their vuvuzelas from the stands.
"Happy for Gilas, happy for our country," Gilas patron Manny V. Pangilinan tweeted from the stands.
Joyous scenes at the Mall of Asia Arena last year when Gilas finished runner-up to Iran in the Fiba-Asia championships were replicated on Thursday night, although in a much smaller scale.
But those who made the long journey to this city got their money's worth as they witnessed the Philippines' first win in the world championships in four decades - or since the 1974 event in Puerto Rico.
Alapag, who along with June Mar Fajardo carried Gilas after they lost naturalized player Andray Blatche on fouls late in overtime, was mobbed by Pinoy fans as soon as he joined the lap of honor.
He was also the last to climb into the team bus, having to give interviews to a long line of journalists both foreign and from the Philippines who waited for him outside the dugout.
Alapag's final act?
He granted a request for a 'selfie' from a Senegalese journalist who, just moments earlier, had banged a press row table hard after an Alapag free throw came like an arrow to the heart of the enemy.
He has obviously turned into an Alapag fan.