‘Bilog ang bola’

By Alex P. Vidal

“When a great team loses through complacency, it will constantly search for new and more intricate explanations to explain away defeat.”—Pat Riley

IN any competition, we must always expect the unexpected; anticipate a possible upset and a lopsided contest—and if defeat is inevitable, be prepared to walk in the boulevard of broken dreams.

When world basketball superpower, the Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan-led the United States of America (USA), settled for a dismal bronze after being humiliated by Argentina, 89-81, in the men’s basketball semifinals in the 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games, Filipino lovers of American Hoops hollered: “Bilog ang bola!” (The ball is round)

Pinoy soccer fans also succinctly offered as a convenient excuse the “Bilog ang bola” narrative when a little-known African team Cameroon upset the Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina in the 1990 World Cup.

It’s always a poignant reminder for all the lords of the rings that any ballgame is anybody’s game as long as they’re using the same ball during the match.

Like the recent Hanoi debacle involving highly touted Gilas Pilipinas men’s basketball team, which succumbed to Indonesia, 85-81, for gold in the recently concluded 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

The Philippines lost the basketball crown after three decades because, aside from the magnificent performance of the Indon dribblers, it’s “bilog ang bola,” what else.


The horrific upset could happen, and it finally happened.

As a matter of fact, we must give credit where credit is due: the Indonesians really came well-prepared ands finished the tournament a perfect 6-0, while Gilas brought home a silver with a 5-1 record.

Also because “bilog ang bola,” the Philippines had won 18 of 20 men’s basketball gold medals and were riding a 52-game winning streak dating back to 1997 before being conquered by Indonesia.

While other Southeast Asian countries routinely dominate other sports, men’s basketball had been the Philippines’ domain, thus Indonesia’s Muslim populace celebrated the biggest story in the Games that day like they won the Olympic gold.

For ESPN’s Sid Ventura, the conditions prior to last Sunday’s championship were ripe for a Gilas loss.

It’s tempting to blame the lack of preparation on this debacle, explained Ventura, since this version of Gilas had only around three weeks to prepare and didn’t practice as a complete team until the Ravena brothers flew in from Japan.


“But as early as the 2017 Games, the danger signs were already there,” observed Ventura.

He pointed out that a young Gilas selection backstopped by PBA players Christian Standhardinger, Troy Rosario, Baser Amer, Kevin Ferrer and Kiefer Ravena, nearly lost to Thailand in the group stage and to Singapore in the semifinals.

Everyone just forgot about that after the SBP fielded a PBA Dream Team in the 2019 Manila Games.

This Gilas team was flawed—only two pure shooters, lack of depth off the bench—but this lineup would won the gold as recently as seven or nine years ago.

Not so in 2022, where Indonesia was the perfect foil.

It had a coach who knew the Philippine style of play, a big, athletic naturalized player to shut down the paint and neutralize Fajardo, and a ton of players who could shoot well.

Fatigue likely set in. Ventura observed that coach Chot Reyes used only eight players, and one of them–Kib Montalbo—played only five minutes.

“So he was essentially rotating only seven players for the majority of the game,” Ventura pointed out.

“Towards the end, Indonesia just had more energy. They were quicker to grab loose balls, relentless off the boards, and stayed disciplined on defense. Would LeBron Lopez or Will Navarro or Isaac Go have made a difference? It’s hard to say for sure. But four Gilas players logged 31 or more minutes each. In contrast, Pejic rotated 10 players, with only two—Bolden and Dhyaksa–logging more than 30 minutes.”

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)