In hindsight, officials and cooler heads should have seen it coming.
After what amounted to destruction of private property by the Australian national basketball team when it unilaterally removed floor decals at the Philippine Arena court on the eve of its game with the Philippines, and the response to it by the host country’s top basketball officials, it was clear that Gilas
Pilipinas was diving into the Fiba World Cup qualifying match with inflamed passions.
And when a scuffle ensued at midcourt even before the game started, the wick was lit. It didn’t help that the game Monday night at Bulacan’s cavernous Philippine Arena provided the perfect environment for a major explosion: An engaged home crowd. An opponent that allegedly dished out taunting trash talk dripping with racial undertones. A blowout game.
It was just a matter of time before the “basketbrawl” of the third quarter would happen.
Philippine coach Chot Reyes justified the home team’s behavior thus: “The reality is that [Daniel] Kickert was hitting our players during the warm-ups. He hit Carl Bryan Cruz, he hit Matthew Wright, [Roger] Pogoy, and he hit Calvin Abueva during the warm-ups. We already restrained the players before the game. We already told them, ‘Huwag niyo nang pansinin,’ when Kickert did all of those things at the start during the warm-ups. We already told them to focus on the game.”
“The foul of Pogoy on Goulding was an offensive foul, it was a basketball play,” Reyes added. “But (Kickert) was the one who came in and decked Pogoy. That was the fifth time. You don’t expect to do it to a team five times and not expect us to retaliate. Unfortunately, that triggered the entire brawl.”
Kickert’s unconscionable move on Pogoy is clear from the footage; Chris Graham of the Australian media outlet NewMatilda.com, for one, wrote that he is “calling bulls—t on Australia claiming victim status” in the brawl.
Still, it could be said, too, that the response of the home team, and the home crowd, went beyond bounds. It wasn’t just the players that descended into fisticuffs, Filipino fans also poured into the court and joined the fray, with a group at one point ganging up on an Australian player
already prone on the ground. Chairs and other dangerous objects flew around in the melee, along with unrestrained punches, jabs and kicks. Where were the security personnel? Why was there a complete breakdown in basic crowd control and protocol?
The shocking spectacle, broadcast around the world, appeared to have chastened the protagonists soon enough. Basketball Australia apologized for Kickert’s “unsavoury” behavior, admitted that its action ripping off the home team’s decals was “not the smartest move,” and said that it “deeply regret the incident that occurred … and our role in it. We don’t play the game in that spirit.”
Though some Gilas players initially heatedly defended their actions in online posts, Philippine officials and other players were soon offering their own apologies, apparently realizing the magnitude of the actions of the home team as both bearers of the flag and hosts to the Australian delegation. Japeth Aguilar sounded the most mature and professional tone, acknowledging the larger implications of the incident, which he said “could have been dealt with differently but emotions were running high.”
“In the heat of the moment, we just wanted to defend our brother,” he wrote on Instagram. “I admit that we acted on emotion rather than logic and this is regrettable because the situation could have been pacified and could have ended differently. There is no excuse for how we responded. As national team athletes, we are representing more than just ourselves as we wear our uniforms. How we acted last night is not a just representation of the Filipino people. For this, I’d like to apologize to my fellow Filipinos, to the Australian team, to their supporters and to basketball fans everywhere. Hopefully, we can move forward with humility, compassion and respect for one another.”
Malacañang has called the incident the “height of unsportsmanlike behavior.” It is now up to Fiba, the world governing body of the sport, to determine culpability and hand off penalties as it deems fit. But the Philippines’ national basketball program can take a cue from the contrite direction Aguilar has laid out, moving forward. There is a lot of damage to undo.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.