A Championship Too Hard To Forget
I am a big fan of basketball. I love the game so much. I can’t recall a day that I didn’t visit websites that cater to basketball – particularly the NBA. It is through ESPN and FOX Sports that I keep track of the standings of my favorite teams, the performance of my favorite players, and the latest developments in the world of basketball. I get updates on professional basketball in the Philippines through pba.ph.
Lebron James is still my favorite player and it is quite difficult to accept the fact that he (and the Lakers) are not playing in the playoffs. But had he not suffered that groin injury, the narrative could have been different.
I also follow college basketball both in the US and in my country. My heart bled when Zion Williamson and the Duke Blue Devils were defeated by MI State.
I could not recall missing any FIBA basketball tournaments also especially when the Philippine team played.
I would either watch basketball games live (thanks to betting websites that stream them for free) or catch their highlights through Youtube.
I am into fantasy basketball as well. In 2016, I joined a Yahoo fantasy basketball league organized by a fellow expat here in South Korea. My team (M2 Trappers) lead by Lebron James won. For winning that tournament, I earned 80,000 won.
I also enjoy playing hoops and coaching/training a basketball team. I don’t have very fond memories as a basketball player though. I have always been a benchwarmer who would be called to play only when somebody needs to rest for a minute or two or when my team needs to send to the foul line a poor free throw shooter from the opposing team.
However, my being a basketball coach-trainer is a different story. It’s a colorful one.
Aside from teaching and writing, another thing that I do passionately is coaching a basketball team. I have coached basketball teams for school and inter-school competitions. Once upon a time that I was also a manager and coach of a basketball team in the barrio (a geographical unit smaller than a town ) where I am residing in the Philippines.
Some of the teams I coached reached championship rounds. There were times we ended up as runner-ups but of course there were times also that we emerged as champions.
What I consider as the most memorable of all the basketball championships in my collection is the one my team won during a sportsfest (in the college where I worked) many years ago. That time I coached students taking the course Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM).
It was a championship so hard to forget because it was too good to be true.
It was indeed an epic struggle!
I actually wrote an article about that championship run. It was published in the publication of that school. I decided to reprint the said article entitled “No Championship Could Be Sweeter.”
No Championship Could Be Sweeter
What inspired me to write about the championship which my team (BLUE) collared during the Sportsfest 2000 was not the desire to brag about it nor an intention to magnify it. We could brag about it should we decide to do so but there was no need for that. No need to magnify it either for winning the basketball men crown in the fashion the HRM team did it was in itself huge that need not be magnified. Writing about it is simply my way of giving tribute to the players who immortalized themselves in the memory of those who watched (as well as those who heard) how they bravely persevered in winning three (3) games in a span of six (6) hours en route to winning the title.
(August 23, 2000)
The BLUE team was loaded with talent making them one of the pre-tournament favorites. The team had 2 good point guards, a shooting guard/forward capable of shooting the lights out from beyond the arch, a lanky dependable center, and a formidable go-to guy who can play point-forward. Predictions had it that they will vie for the championship.
But predictions can go either way…right or wrong.
The BLUE team’s lofty billing (and their morale) were sent crashing back to earth when the BLACK team (Com Sci – Octoberian), the defending champion seeking to “three-peat” and composed mainly of the members of the school’s basketball varsity, dealt them an ego-bruising trashing.
All the hype about the BLUE team were gone. Just that and they were no longer regarded as title contenders. Suddenly, the BLACK team had no more competition to being the darling of the tournament and became the sole favorite to win the crown.
While the BLACKS developed a cloak of invisibility, the BLUES, with their defeat right on their first game, began to doubt their capabilities.
(August 24, 2000)
Such a doubt in themselves became very apparent when in their second game on the second day of the tournament, despite the fact that they had a relatively light assignment (against the GRAY team), they held only a 2-point lead at the half.
Before that game, I talked to the players, pointed out the mistakes which led to their eventual defeat to the BLACKS on their first game and asked them to avoid committing the same. We were literally on a cliff’s edge for the tournament format provides that 2 losses would boot a team out of the competition.
Somehow they responded. They made a conscious effort to avoid their loopholes in game 1 but the problem during the first half of game 2 was their lack of enthusiasm. They played a lackluster brand of basketball which was giving their opponents confidence. So, during the huddle when the second half was about to start, I started cursing and swearing and even called my key players names. I told them that they would become a shameful bunch of idiots should they lose the game.
Cursing and swearing and calling my players names come dead last in my repertoire of motivational methods. I was forced to use them for it was my intention to offend them, make them angry, and push them to prove that they indeed know how to play basketball.
For the first few minutes of the second half my players played like men possessed in both ends of the floor. While they scored an avalanche of points their counterparts struggled and had to bleed for theirs. At the end, the BLUES emerged victorious with plenty to spare.
(August 25, 2000)
The third game was very meaningful and integral. Not because we won over a formidable opponent (the GREEN team); not because I finally discovered the team’s best offensive and defensive combinations; and not because the players got their confidence back burying in oblivion the ghosts of game 1. It was meaningful and integral for what one of my players did (not in the playing court but before the start of the game). When I granted him permission to talk he reminded me about one missing ingredient to make the team stronger…PRAYERS. He asked if we could pray before the game. He put me in an awkward position because I’ve never done that. Yes I believe in God and I pray but I do it privately. I don’t know if it was his way of telling me that instead of cursing and swearing to motivate the players why not try praying to God instead. Praying before playing wouldn’t do the team any harm. Nobody objected to it. So, from then on, we would always have a short prayer in one corner of the tournament venue before entering the playing court.
For our second win, we claimed the scalps of the GREENS and faced the tall order of defeating the WHITES for the right to square off against the BLACKS (who enjoyed a twice-to-beat advantage) for the championship.
That night was almost a sleepless one for me. I pondered about the bleak prospects that await my team the following day. We had to beat the WHITES once the BLACKS twice so we could hoist the championship hardware.
Winning three games in a row was a tall order. Honestly, I doubted our chances. Defeating the equally-determined WHITES in the do-or-die game and the seemingly invincible BLACKS twice all in the same day was “mission impossible.” I believed it was probable for us to win the first two games. But when the third game comes, it would take super-human efforts from my players to win.
(August 26, 2000)
I was so disappointed upon seeing that morning that of my 14 players only 7 came. To make matters worse, one of my two good point guards, was one of those who did not come. I used to play both my point guards together during the 1st 5 minutes of the game and one of them not showing up affected my rotation. But we were at the point of no return.
I told the players to employ a half-court offense in every possession unless there’s a clear fastbreak opportunity. Not that they can’t run but with only 7 players, and with the possibility of playing a total of three games that day, they needed to conserve energy.
Though I predicted a win for us, the WHITES we knew were tough nuts to crack. We watched the previous day how they gave the BLACKS a scare before losing by just two points. But as it turned out, my players were tougher. Despite playing with only 7 men in the rotation, the BLUES won and primed themselves for the daunting task of defeating the BLACK team twice for the crown.
Our team was given by the tournament officials just half an hour to rest before we began with the championship game. We prayed, as usual, before entering the playing court. Then one more of my players came, not the good point guard, but an additional pair of fresh legs just the same that somehow deepened a bit our rotation.
While the BLACKS were busy with their pre-game rituals, I asked my players to just shoot free throws and catch-and-shoot from the 3-point line to conserve their energy.
I reminded the players that they were up against the defending champion with most of the members playing together for the past three years and that they were trying to nail another championship to complete a “three-peat.” I told the BLUES that only them are capable of spoiling the BLACK’s impending victory party. The following were my words for them before the opening tip-off… “You have nothing to lose but everything to gain. We’ve gone this far. Let’s go a bit further.”
Once more I asked them to use the game plan we employed against the WHITES earlier that day.
When the final buzzer for that game sounded, the BLUES raised their hands in triumph.
By winning against their first-game tormentors, the blue team effectively exorcised the ghosts of that defeat shattering at the same time the BLACKS’ cloak of invisibility. That was the first time in three years that that team suffered a defeat. At that time my players knew that they were capable of defeating the defending champions. The players of the opposing team recognized also that despite having only 8 players our team could defeat them.
The winner-take-all match was scheduled to be played at 1:00 PM giving both teams just one hour to rest. My players had a light meal and I bought for them energy drinks (Lipovitan). Then, we again prayed… harder… for we all knew that it would take a miraculous performance from them to win a third straight game (twice) against the BLACKS who had more players and fresher legs.
My players were very tired having played twice in the morning that day. Fatigue was one of the two formidable opponents they needed to contend with that afternoon the second one being the strong and determined team BLACK aching to avenge their defeat and continue their winning tradition.
However, neither fatigue nor the strong determination of their opponents could prevent the BLUE team from realizing their victorious date with destiny.
The BLUES vanquished the BLACKS, crowned themselves the school’s Sportsfest 2000 Basketball-Men champions and handed me my first (and sweetest) championship as a basketball coach.
Thank you Niño, Hector, Ramon, Irish, Edward, Ruel, Rommel, Rowell, Arnold, Jaysan, Francis, Ivan, Angelo, Audie, and Sir Jyx. But remember…it was GOD who made it possible for us.