Less than five hours before Gilas Pilipinas began their 2017 Willam Jones Cup campaign on Saturday, the team gathered in a conference room at the Howard Plaza Hotel.
Meetings like this don’t occur too often. Usually, it’s just the coaches. Then they’ll discuss the gameplan with the players in the pre-game huddle. But Gilas coach Chot Reyes needed to put things in perspective for his boys. He wanted to remind them not only of the task at hand, but also of the purpose and the responsibility attached to it.
“We all know what’s happening back home – the strife, the problems, the issues that are happening in Marawi. Our soldiers are getting killed. It’s not a good situation. We are very blessed and we have to cherish this opportunity to represent the country,” the lead mentor told his young cast of players.
“We are not being asked to go to war and shoot guns. But you’re being asked to serve your country in a different way,” Reyes added. “And when you’re playing, that’s two hours that everyone watching at home can put aside all those problems and come together to cheer for their team.”
Bobby Ray Parks Jr. understands this very well.
“It’s just sad nowadays watching the news,” he said while shaking his head. “But we have an opportunity right now to be the frontline for our country, to be able to silence the war and try to bring peace for a couple of hours.”
Like Ray, some of the guys on the roster have played for Gilas before. Most of them with the Cadet team. They understand the gravity of putting on that Pilipinas jersey and fighting for the Filipino people.
As for Kobe Paras, he was just about to play his first official game with Gilas Pilipinas. As he prepped for it, he pulled out a marker and started writing on both sides of his game shoes. On one side, he wrote the names of his family. On the other, he scribbled two hashtags – #TWTBG, short for “the will to be great,” and #PrayForMarawi.
“I’m so proud of our soldiers out there,” the Gilas rookie said. “This is my way of honoring them.”
Basketball, the game that Kobe has been playing throughout his life, has become an instrument for him to repay his fellow Filipinos who have fearlessly fought for the flag. More importantly, it has also given him an avenue to do the same.
“That’s something that we should all remember,” coach Chot said. “We love this game. This is about basketball. But you know how it is in the Philippines, it’s never only about basketball.”
It’s true. For us Filipinos, basketball is far more than just a game. It’s a means of living. It’s a ticket to education. It’s a reason for a seemingly divided nation to unite towards a common cause.
Here in the Jones Cup, Gilas Pilipinas serves as our soldiers, the defenders of our nation. And even though they fell in their first game against Canada, our hopes should still stay high.
They just got wounded. They didn’t die.
Tonight, they rest and recuperate. They recover from the pains of today’s battle. But tomorrow they fight again. For flag, for country, for Marawi.