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.


From the Basketball Court to my Bible Notes II: The Plays and Prayers We Make

27 September 2014

8:38 pm

History repeats itself at our little pad. My sisters and I have collectively found a reason to post a status in our respective all but abandoned facebook walls. Three times this week, I have tweaked the broken antenna on our tv to no avail and endured headache-inducing picture quality to watch the Gilas Pilipinas play in the Asian Games. I don’t mind the headache nor the sore throat; the only one that gets me is the heartbreak.

We have suffered three consecutive losses in the quarter-finals, all of them close fights. Surely three choked games in a row is more than enough reason for me to feel choked up over this. I was honestly fighting tears when South Korea snatched away a win that was ours for more than three quarters. We fell from a sixteen-point lead to a two-point loss. I was shaking in the last five minutes of the game, in this unnatural September heat, when the opposing team was closing the gap in seemingly supersonic speed.

Throughout the second half, my sisters and I were saying “Please, God” over and over again. Every timeout, one of us would fall silent and bow her head in prayer. At some point I actually said aloud, “God, please naman. Third world country naman kami. First world na sila!” My sisters laughed at that. In my mind, I was reasoning out that when the game was over, we would still be poverty-stricken Philippines, with the crappy government and the corrupt idiot of a vice-president and the never-ending typhoons and the high poverty rates and they would still be economic superpower South Korea with their strong leaders and clean cities and great education system and cutting edge technologies. They don’t need this victory; our emotional country does!

In the laughter that followed my irrational desperate plea, I realized just how wrong, in so many different levels, it was to think that way. It is a prayer vaguely reminiscent of the ones I cried to God in bitterness after I got a rejection letter from the only company who responded to my application when I was looking for a summer internship. “GOD,” I had railed two summers ago, “my ChE life has sucked since day 1. It sucks, God, and I suck in ChE. Why would You choose to withhold this internship from me?”

It’s been more than a year and I still haven’t figured out what God’s reasons were. Most of the whys I asked in college were not answered by God the way I wanted Him to. For more times than I want to admit, I have channelled Job and challenged God to give me His reasons for the (often petty) crises I have gone through. I did get answers from God- answers that refused to address my whys, but addressed my nearsightedness and lack of faith, instead.

God let me see the ingratitude I was expressing through those kind of prayers. By focusing on that single plea, I was forgetting the favors He have extended to me over the course of my college life. I was acting as if the internship was a make or break, and I viewed it as the only way God could make my ChE life beautiful. I was looking at it as my source of happiness. It was wrong, idolatrous, even. I had a lot riding on that acceptance email- my sense of worth, my pride, my happiness-and when it didn’t come, it broke not just my heart; it shattered my pride. It wasn’t the best of experiences, but given my history with my pride, it was probably for the best. Scratch that probably. Knowing God, it was definitely for my best.

That’s something I can say when I remember that He is good and almighty. But often I am this self-focused creature who suffers from both memory loss and myopia. I forget the goodness of God. I forget that life does not revolve  around me. Worse, I forget to trust in God. I set my sights on earthly matters and conclude that God doesn’t care. I would rather wallow in my self-pitying tears than lay down my concerns at Jesus’ feet. Because remembering God’s goodness means admitting that He knows better than I do and understands what I cannot in my limited human capacity. It means waving the white flag and confessing that when my version of best conflicts with God’s, then mine is wrong because His is always, always right. It means forgetting my dreams, no matter how beautiful they may be, at least for the present, because they interfere with God’s plan for me.

Those humbling moments are plenty, and they are always painful. But those moments are also precious, because they  bring me closer to God. I relearn what it means to trust and how it feels to let go of what I think I want. I have a Proverbs 3:5 moment all over again. It is not easy to relinquish control of my desires but it gets a little easier when I am reminded if how God is always good, loving and faithful to me. He is never perverse and He does what He wants to do, which always ultimately works best for me. No, it is not easy, but it gets easier with every apparent defeat. It is not easy, but it is always right.

One more thing I remember writing in my journal amidst my drama was that God wasn’t one to withhold blessings from one who already has a lot. It was illogical, ignorant and self-centered to reason out that Korea didn’t deserve the victory by virtue of their better government.  It doesn’t work that way because there is no limit to God’s generosity. The life I live is testament to that. If there was, I wouldn’t have the right to ask more from God because I already have a lot. I have Him.

I have since come a long way from that day when I cried and cried to my mom over the phone but I keep the rejection email in my inbox still because I long for that day when I am so secure of my worth in God’s eyes, so over my college failures, so contented with my present life, so close to God, that I could read that impersonal “We regret to inform you that. . . ” and not feel a pang in my heart. And I believe in that day. I also believe that whether the Gilas advances to the semi-finals or not, it will be for the best.

We still have a chance to advance to the semis. It is but the slimmest of chances (Qatar has to lose in their games against Kazakhstan and Korea, and we have to win over Kazakhstan with at least 11 points) so I am amazed by the faith my fellowmen are exhibiting. A lot of people are saying “tiwala lang (just trust)” and “pray for gilas”. I consider this.  If I truly believe that God is good and He can give the gold to the Philippines this year, I must also believe that IF it doesn’t come, then it is God saying “no”, for whatever reason.

And I do believe. I believe in a God who cares for the Philippines. I believe in a God who cares about basketball. I believe in a God who could make us win against all odds. I believe in a God who listens to the prayers of his basketball-loving people. I also believe in a God who knows when to answer with a “yes” or a “no”. And I believe that He knows better than I do what this year’s Asian Games outcome should be and will be. And because I believe, I will accept that. Win or lose, I will remain Gilas Pilipinas’ faithful fan, while God- He will remain a faithful God.