There was little left to fight apart from pride after Australia’s domination of Gilas Pilipinas saw them tout a 79-48 advantage with 4:01 left in the third quarter. No one expected the rest of the game to turn into one of the wildest scenes in the history of Philippine basketball.
It started with a hard foul by RR Pogoy on Chris Goulding. Then Daniel Kickert retaliated and all hell broke loose. When the teams were finally separated, it was clear that this FIBA World Cup qualifier game had just turned into a global media circus.
Watching from the media tribune, I saw the phones of my fellow journalists quickly shooting up in the air, trying to get the best angles of the melee. Others were frantically trying to tweet out what was happening, but most of us could not make sense of the melee.
From our point of view, it was clear that there were punches thrown from Filipino players and Thon Maker wildly tried to make contact with a few flying kicks. Fans in the arena also started to get into it. As if frenzied by the sight of their hardcourt heroes, some misguided fans started hurling water bottles onto the court.
Security quickly rushed to the edge of the crowd, trying to prevent them from devolving into an angry mob. More level-headed people in attendance quickly admonished those who threw the bottles.
The teams were soon separated, but the tension at the arena was palpable. Ejections were almost a certainty at that point. It was still unclear if the game would be able to push through after what happened.
Those present at the venue weren’t given the benefit of a replay on the big screens, but you could see groups of people huddled around mobile phones checking the live stream of the game. You could hear audible ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ that were more commonly heard in boxing or MMA events as people re-watched the brawl from their mobile devices.
The officials initially huddled around a monitor to view replays of the incident, but were eventually escorted outside by security to make their decisions from within the broadcaster’s OB van.
Former Philippine team standout Marc Pingris gathered the team together for a selfie on the court, which drew a lot of negative reactions over on social media both locally and abroad.
The crowd at the Philippine Arena, who were silent for the most part of Australia’s dominant performance, found their voice and cheered for the national team and even did The Wave at one point.
In an effort to calm down the crowd, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio addressed the crowd and appealed to them to show respect to their Australian visitors and announced that the game will continue.
“We appeal to everybody to please settle down, we didn’t want what happened to happen,” Panlilio said. “I would like us to respect the game, and make our visitors feel safe in the arena,” he continued.
SBP President Al Panlilio addresses the crowd, says the game will continue. pic.twitter.com/m4SZwB7qOx
— Paolo del Rosario (@paodelrosario) July 2, 2018
The referees returned to the venue, and delivered their ruling. The hand signal for a disqualifying foul is similar to how an American Football field goal is scored, and every time the referee’s hands went up there was a sarcastic cheer from the crowd.
The referee’s hands went up 13 times, as nine Filipinos and four Australians were ejected from the game. There were so many names to keep track of that the journalists were checking each others notes just to see if they got them all right.
After the ejected players left the playing court, the remaining Filipinos and Australian shook hands and met at center court. Fortunately, there were no more projectiles that were flung the ejected Australians way.
It was three against five on the court. There were some who were so surprised the contest was allowed to continue, that they repeatedly asked the person beside them if the officials were serious. The crowd already started making their way to the exits after the first two possessions of the restarted game.
After a few meaningless possessions, the Philippines’ players fouled themselves out of the ballgame to finally force the officials to end the game.
The two teams were locked in their respective dugouts for the most part, with media barred from entering the hallway where the locker rooms were. The local media officer then informed the press that there would be no post-game press conference from either teams, and that it was up to the players or team officials to talk to the media if they wished.
The TV broadcasting crew, whose production room was in the same hallway where the dugouts were, was instructed not to leave the hallway until the Australian team had safely boarded their bus. I was locked in that room before being allowed to leave during a three minute window.
As the replay of the fight became readily available, many of us were still trying to list down every moment of note. Even when many of us were done itemizing every punch, push, and kick, the replay still played on loop. It was still hard trying to process everything that had happened.
Carl Bryan Cruz, Matthew Wright, both who were ejected from the game, and Gabe Norwood came out of their locker room first and went into the hallway wherein the media were waiting for someone to talk to. Media didn’t initially press any of them for an interview, but approached Wright soon after.
“I think it was just a chippy game,” Wright told the media. “The main thing that happened is the hit Pogoy after the foul which was unnecessary.”
Other media members got a hold of Gilas head coach Chot Reyes, who defended his players. Reyes also called out Kickert’s actions during the pregame warmups, saying the Aussie big man pushed some of the Philippine players for crossing the halfway line during their round-robins.
“He (Kickert) hit Cruz, he hit Matthew Wright, he hit Pogoy, and he hit Calvin Abueva during the warmups,” Reyes said before detailing the events immediately prior to Kickert’s elbow on Pogoy.
“You have to be in the team, within out circle to really understand what went down,” Reyes added.
Coach Chot Reyes on the mixed reactions of fans and even basketball players on the incident: “You have to be in our circle to really understand what went down.” pic.twitter.com/MP4x8JC8vs
— ESPN5 (@Sports5PH) July 2, 2018
There was obviously no gag order from the Philippine players. Their statements about the incident started to spread on social media. Terrence Romeo and Andray Blatche defended their actions while Gilas veteran Gabe Norwood and assistant coach Jong Uichico also shared their thoughts on what transpired. Japeth Aguilar said his piece earlier today when things were more settled.
Kahit anong sabihin niyo nag lalaro kami para sa isat isa para sa kapwa natin pilipino higit sa lahat para sa bayan. Hindi niyo alam ang sacrifice namin Kung para sainyo mali tulungan namin yung kakampi namin sinasaktan problema niyo na yun basta kami walang iwanan tapos!!!
— Terrence Romeo (@tbvromeo) July 2, 2018
I wish wat happened didn’t but when u see a brother hit from the back of his head what do u do
— andray blatche (@drayblatche) July 2, 2018
Unfortunate series of events that took place tonight. Heat of the battle and emotions won out, but in the end we strive to show the best of who WE are.
— Gabe Norwood (@GNorwood5) July 2, 2018
Tonight, my emotions got the better of me like a father who cares about his sons. That does not excuse my actions and I apologize to everyone as in hindsight I should have not gotten involved. This is a painful but maybe necessary lesson for me.
— Jong Uichico (@coachjong) July 2, 2018
— Japeth Aguilar (@japethaguilar35) July 3, 2018
Panlilio went live on a TV news network after the game. He said that he didn’t believe that there would be any heavy sanctions from FIBA and criticized the officiating.
“The referees weren’t able to control, I think we had a very weak crew handling the game,“ Panlilio told CNN Philippines. “I don’t know what FIBA will do, whether there are sanctions. I don’t believe so,” he added. “The referees followed the rules by the book. People who left the bench to join the foray were thrown out.”
A wild finale to the third window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
Gilas Pilipinas and Australia figure in a heated altercation in the third quarter, forcing nine Filipino players and four Australians out of the game. https://t.co/toRCuyScDk pic.twitter.com/ETuoXyfTU9
— CNN Philippines (@cnnphilippines) July 2, 2018
On FIBA’s part, their media twitter account stated that the disciplinary committee will announce what actions they will take in the coming days.
Following the incident that occured in the third quarter of the Philippines-Australia game on Monday in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers, FIBA will now open disciplinary proceedings against both teams. The decision(s) will be communicated in the coming days.
— FIBA media (@FIBA_media) July 2, 2018
It didn’t take long for Basketball Australia chief executive Anthony Moore to issue a statement regarding the incident.
“Basketball Australia deeply regrets the incident in tonight’s match between the Boomers and the Philippines in Manila. We are extremely disappointed with what happened and our role in it.
“This is not the spirit in which sport should be played and certainly not in the spirit in which we aim to play basketball. We apologise to our fans and will await the penalties to be handed down.”
The SBP also issued a statement today.
— SBP (@officialSBPinc) July 3, 2018
They apologized for their role in the incident. “As hosts, we regret having breached the bounds of traditional Filipino hospitality. As the national team representing flag and country, we likewise extend our apology to the Filipino people.
Hours after the melee, I personally couldn’t wrap my head around what I had seen and I certainly won’t forget this anytime soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if that would be the same for any of my colleagues.
The clash between the Philippines and Australia always had the potential to be memorable, especially with all of the talent on show. But no one could have predicted or wanted their meeting in Bulacan to be remembered for all the wrong reasons