From the Basketball Court to my Bible Notes III: The Points we Lose to Win

28 Sept 2014

When the buzzer sounded out to signal the end of the Philippines-Kazakhstan game yesterday, it was to the cheers and shouts of the Kazakhstanis and groans, tears and sweet lemoning of the Filipinos. The Kazakhstani players were bumping chests and high-fiving each other, exuberance obvious in their body language. On the other side of the court, the Gilas players were a picture of defeat, despondency etched plainly on their faces. It was an emotion felt by every Filipino fan who watched the game. To say that there were tears blinked away, sobs gulped back, and expressions of disappointment smothered would not be an exaggeration. There was silence at our pad for a few minutes, broken only by an occasional muttered sayang. Plot twist: We won the game.

We won the game, but lost the tournament. We won the game, but with not enough points. We won the game. We won. We won a consolation prize.

Consolation prizes. There’s a reason they are called that way. They are supposed to console the loser, make him feel less of a loser, make him think he is still a winner. In many, if not most cases, they are worth something. The Gilas win over Senegal in the FIBA World Cup was worth a million ecstatic congratulatory tweets and fb posts. When we finally notched a victory after four consecutive close fights, it felt as if we were winning the championship, when in fact, we were already out of the top sixteen, regardless of that game’s result. On the other hand, the Gilas situation right now is clearly a case for the minority, a hollow victory.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m still a proud fan. I’m still behind my boys 100 %. I’ll continue to pray that they win the rest of their games for a fifth place finish. I’ll still mentally shake their hands and give them tight imaginary hugs for this win. And so will the majority of the Filipinos. We did not win Most Valuable Fans in the FIBA World Cup for nothing.

Maybe it is this depth of emotional investment which makes us acutely feel the disappointment of getting eliminated out of the tournament. There won’t be a podium finish for us this year, and here we were, gunning for gold. What makes us doubly disappointed is how close we came to entering the semi-finals. Up until the last five minutes of the game, we were able to maintain a double-digit lead. In a fourth quarter characteristic of us, we lost it. In the final 47.4 seconds of the game, we were up only by seven, and in ball possession. Attempts for threes were made, fouls were practically given away. When clock wound down to 0:14 and our lead was reduced to only two points, what transpired on the court baffled and weirdly enough, offended those who had little understanding of the game.

Marcus Douthit shot the ball in our own basket, essentially giving two points to the other team, in an effort to tie the game. It would have led to an overtime, an extra five minutes to gain back the eleven-point-lead we needed to bring the quotient factor system to our favor. One of the referees, whom the team captain and coach consulted prior to making that play, had initially said that it would be a valid two points. However, the Kazakhstan coach went berserk, rejecting the shot made by Douthit. As rules vary from tournament to tournament, a brief huddle among the referees ensued. Finally, the Iranian referee called it a violation, nullified the shot, and awarded two free throws to Kazakhstan. (At this point, my sister frantically googled for a downloadable copy of the rule book used in the Asian Games. It was indeed a violation in this case.) To further make the situation bizzare, the Kazakhstani player who took the free shots very obviously deliberately blew them, clearly intent on losing the game right then, avoiding the overtime the Filipinos were trying to force. The buzzer sounded out. The game ended. 67-65 “in favor” of the Philippines.

To one who did not follow the tournament, it would have seemed irredeemably stupid to shoot at your own basket. Equally idiotic to force a tie when you’re already winning. And what’s with that player in blue and yellow, messing up his free throws when those two points would have tied the game and give them a chance to win it in overtime? Here were two teams, scrambling for points for the first 39+ minutes of the game and giving them away/ refusing to make them on the last fraction of a minute. WHAT WAS THAT? To the detached audience, the game’s final seconds would have made absolutely no sense.

The Philippine team would have rather risked a loss in an overtime (a very probable loss, as record shows that the final five minutes are never our best time) than gain a victory with only a two-point margin. The Kazakhstan team would rather lose then, while they had the superior quotient and count on Korea winning over Qatar (which we were also counting on) than play in an overtime and risk losing that superior quotient. Both teams were focused on getting in the semi-finals, not winning the game.

In the process of getting over my disappointment, I reread what I had written about the previous game. I said I would accept whatever this game’s result would be, so I try. The disappointment won’t last, and pretty soon, I’ll get distracted by the next tournament. (NBA season starts soon, I see.) Reflecting on the weirdness of what just happened and the people’s confused comments on the internet bring me to this realization: Lots of things which don’t make sense may reveal their purpose yet in the big picture.

Many of us have things happening in our lives which seem to have been designed by an illogical, unjust god. But that is never the case. We have to have faith in a god who knows what He is doing. We all must have had a moment when we’re compelled to ask God “why?”, and the moment is always an exercise in trust. Rarely, God condescends to give us a reason, and rarer still are the times He gives it immediately. Often, it may be seen only in the big picture, when we have our sights set on the more important eternal treasures. Our limited human understanding leaves us wondering countless times. Hopefully, we learn to be content in accepting that our all-knowing God sees where this particular piece of puzzle fits in life.

What if today’s loss is a catalyst for a gold some day? It brings me great comfort to be assured that God is for me and if you’re His child, it should you, too. If life is a basketball game, I am glad to have God as my coach.

Advertisements