MVP can’t turn his back on basketball

SBP chair Manny Pangilinan can't turn his back on basketball. (NPPA Images)

Businessman-sportsman Manny Pangilinan's passion for sports, particularly basketball, is legendary.

The driving force behind PLDT-Smart and a number of other major corporations in the Philippines, Pangilinan, often referred to as MVP, has bankrolled the Smart Gilas national pool program as president of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas or SBP,  as well as collegiate teams Ateneo in the Universities Athletics Association of the Philippines or UAAP and San Beda in the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA.

However, Pangilinan, who has infused his resources into eight sports where he feels we have a chance of winning internationally, made it clear  he cannot turn his back on a sport like basketball which the people love and enjoy, despite the fact that there are those who believe we don't have the size to match up against such giants as China and the Middle East and European nations not even counting the United States.

Pangilinan spoke to Yahoo! PH Sports following a mass and dinner for the Smart Gilas Pilipinas team that returned home on Monday after winning the 34th edition of the Jones Cup beating the mighty United States in a breathtaking final 76-75.

It was 14 years ago that the all-pro PBA Centennial Team under coach Tim Cone won the trophy with a clean sweep (6-0)  of all their games, beating hosts Chinese-Taipei in their last game, 82-72.

San Miguel Corporation chairman  Danding Cojuangco, who funded the San Miguel Beer squad under the brilliant American coach Ron Jacobs and reinforced by naturalized players Dennis Still, Jeff Moore and Chip Engelland,  beat the US with five collegiate players who eventually played in the NBA, in an epic overtime thriller where homegrown heroes Samboy "Skywalker" Lim and Allan "Triggerman" Caidic played a crucial role in the victory in 1985.

Jacobs had previously led a Cojuangco squad loaded with eight American players that included Still and Moore and Filipinos Willie Pearson, Ricardo Brown, JB Yango and Frankie Lim to victory in 1981, beating Sweden, who finished second, in the final game with France ending up third.

The recent victory was the first time a Filipino coach, Chot Reyes, had steered a team to victory in the coveted Jones Cup, although Reyes himself agreed that Jacobs and Cone may have been Americans but were "Filipinos at heart."

To Pangilinan,  basketball is "the love of the Filipinos and it's extremely difficult to turn your back on what they truly love."

MVP with the author at the victory party for Smart Gilas. (Photo by Ronnie Nathanielsz)

He added: "What we should do is really try our best to support  basketball and I think one day we will be Asian champions once again. That should be our dream, that should be our hope, that should be our faith."

Jacobs himself had previously stated that on a good day the Philippines was perfectly capable of beating the dominant power in Asia, China. In fact, Jacobs coached the Philippine team with naturalized players Still and Moore to handily  beat China in the ABC Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in January 1986.

Pangilinan noted that we must have vision and imagination to move our country forward in sports but made it clear that "we must also focus because there are sports that we could be good at and there are probably sports that we cannot be good at. Resources are limited so we just need to focus, concentrate and devote the relevant resources to those sports."

Turning to next month's Stankovic Cup in Japan, which is a higher level of competition than the Jones Cup with the national teams of several countries led by China, Iran and Lebanon  in the tournament, Pangilinan said the support of all the PBA teams is needed.

He noted that "the tournaments get tougher for the Stankovic Cup and the FIBA-Asia Championships next year which we have a good chance of hosting here in Manila for 16 national teams" after a visit by FIBA-Asia secretary general Hagoc who was impressed with the facilities at the Mall of Asia Arena along Roxas Boulevard.

Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner Atty. Chito Salud believes that one of the reasons why the Philippines was able to beat the mighty United States in the Jones Cup in a gripping come-from-behind victory was because Filipino players are "no longer awed by the Americans. This game has become so global, our players have become so competitive, our fans know the limits of our talents and until what point our team can manage to win."

Salud agreed that the Smart Gilas Pilipinas team made up of PBA players had no superstars but that they played for each other and played for the country. He said "that's how professional players do it, that's who those with experience do it and under (Head Coach) Chot Reyes, that's the way it's done."

Agreeing that the nationals will face a much tougher assignment in next month's Stankovic Cup, Salud said: "I believe it's time to put country above self. We have a year to go before the crucial tournament (FIBA Asia Championships which is a qualifier for the FIBA World Championships). Let's give our team owners the opportunity and the chance to convince their players to play and I believe they will."

SBP vice chairman Ricky Vargas admitted that he was not too sure about Smart Gilas's chances of winning the Jones Cup because "this team got together for only less than two weeks and I saw the Jones Cup as a way of bonding and a way of learning a new system. But working with professional basketball players they had the experience. I was pleasantly surprised."

Vargas conceded the Stankovic Cup "is not going to be easy. It's difficult but now we have a formula. You don't have to be a superstar. All it takes is to be willing to play for the country with all your heart. It's going to be tough but at least we have hope by winning the Jones Cup we were able to prove that it can be done."

Members of Smart Gilas doing a dance number. (Photo by Ronnie Nathanielsz)

Coach Chot Reyes whose masterful handling of the team with the assistance of former national coach Jong Uichico and Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio said the Jones Cup taught him a couple of things.

He said No.1: "the stuff that we wanted to do offensively and defensively can work in this kind of a tournament."

No.2: "It taught us that we can really compete with the best in Asia and I think going into the tournament our No.1 objective was learn a lot about the players and this tournament taught me a lot about the players we have."

The success in the Jones Cup was, according to Reyes, is "a real testament to the ability to sacrifice and kudos to the leaders like Gabe Norwood and LA Tenorio who were showing everybody on the team what it means to give up minutes, to give up shots, to give up a lot of things just for  the good of the team" even as he noted that there was not a single PBA Most Valuable Player in the squad.

Discussing the reality of being awed by having to play against Americans, Reyes said that "at the start of the game we were a bit awed (when the US team went ahead 6-0) but as the game wore on we understood the players."

Reyes told his team, "We play against them all the time in the PBA so let's go out and play our game." And they did in a gripping endgame that thrilled hundreds of flag-waving overseas workers in Taipei.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.