Gilas Pilipinas captured the Asian Games gold medal, marking a historic moment in Philippine basketball, breaking a 61-year drought.
With the son of a member of the last Philippine basketball team to taste Asian Games glory, Dickie Bachmann, Chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission, witnessing the proceedings at courtside, Gilas Pilipinas achieved an impressive victory over Jordan in the final, sealing a 70-60 triumph.
The celebration began well before the final buzzer, with the exuberant hometown crowd acknowledging the team’s triumphant journey. This win was a form of redemption, as they had faced a heartbreaking defeat in the Final Four just days before.
The Philippines’ last Asian Games gold medal came in 1962 when stars like Kurt Bachmann, Alberto Reynoso, Narciso Bernardo, Engracio Arazas, Manny Jocson, and Roehl Nadurata led the nation to an undefeated record in Jakarta, culminating in a resounding 101-67 victory over Japan in the final. Since then, the gold medal has eluded the Philippines, finishing as runners-up in 1990 and claiming bronze in 1986 and 1998.
In Hangzhou, Gilas Pilipinas managed to rekindle the fire within and overcome significant challenges, including heart-pounding one-point wins against Asian giants Iran and China. Their determination and unity culminated in a rematch with Jordan, who had bested them in the preliminary rounds.
The 2023 Gilas Pilipinas team, under the guidance of two-time PBA Grand Slam coach Tim Cone, made sure that six decades of waiting were long enough. They sought retribution against the Jordanians and ultimately regained their supremacy in Asian basketball.
Even with an eight-point lead and 4.7 seconds left on the clock, Jordan refused to concede defeat, fouling Chris Newsome, attempting to prolong the inevitable. Coach Cone’s persistent desire for a second chance against Jordan bore fruit, culminating in a golden victory, exceeding his own achievement of a bronze medal with the Philippine Centennial Team in the 1998 Bangkok Asiad.
Unlike their previous encounter with Jordan, where Gilas had to rally from an early deficit, this time, they set the tempo from the outset. A brief wobble in the second quarter was quickly corrected, with every player rising to the challenge in this championship bout.
Justin Brownlee, the hero behind Gilas’ improbable victory over China, played a pivotal role once again, contributing 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. Ange Kouame had a breakthrough game with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Chris Newsome added 13 points, while Scottie Thompson chipped in with 11 points.
For Jordan, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the way with 24 points, but his teammates struggled to provide ample support, especially Sami Bzai, who was limited to 3 points, and Fadi Ibrahim, who contributed 13 points, both of whom had been hot hands in their initial clash.
The first half saw the Philippines establishing a 28-15 lead as Jordan grappled with offensive struggles. However, Hollis-Jefferson sparked an 11-point surge with a crucial three-pointer during a 14-1 run, erasing the deficit and setting the stage for a thrilling contest.
Despite a halftime tie at 31-all, Gilas maintained their composure in the face of a roaring Jordanian comeback that had the Chinese crowd rallying behind the underdogs.
In the end, Gilas Pilipinas prevailed, writing a new chapter in the history of Philippine basketball. As the nation celebrated this remarkable victory, they looked forward to the bright future of basketball in the Philippines.