Moments of the Decade: Gilas breaks the Korean Curse

The final buzzer is nearing for 2019 and with that, the decade is coming to a close as well. Before the 2010s turns over into the 2020s, take a look back at the best basketball moments of the decade for the SLAM PH Team.

Photo from FIBA / Graphic by SLAM PH

I’m going to admit something only a few people close to me know.

I missed my Moment of the Decade.

No, I don’t mean that in the I-wasn’t-able-to-watch-it-in-the-arena-live way. I actually didn’t get to watch Gilas beat Korea in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship as it was happening. I was on a car on the way home from a work event during the game.

The worst part of this story is that I had the choice to watch the game live.

My event was in the World Trade Center, less than three kilometers away from MOA Arena. Even if I had walked the distance, I still would have probably reached the game as Jimmy Alapag was breaking Korea’s hearts. Instead, I chose to go the other way, back to QC, while 15,000 people in the arena and thousands more watching at home celebrated history.

I don’t have much regrets in life. But as shallow as it sounds, I regret not choosing to watch Gilas end the Korean Curse as it was happening.

I tried so hard to rebuild what I thought the experience would be.

I scoured Twitter and Facebook for every scrap of video I could find of the final minutes of the game. I watched every replay that I would catch running on TV. I watched the highlights package on YouTube several times, scrolling back to key shots to fully enjoy the now iconic calls by Magoo Marjon. I read nearly every article that came out. I analyzed the game with officemates, basketball-loving friends and even online strangers. I even bought myself a bootleg version of that white Gilas jersey.

I did all of that to fake an experience I never had. But in the end, I still felt like I an outsider looking in. Once you miss a moment, it’s gone. And no matter how much you try and relive it, you’re only getting fragments of the experience, never the full one.

Photo from FIBA

Even though I didn’t get to experience Gilas ending the curse of Korea, I’m glad that millions of Filipinos did. That shot by Jimmy and the subsequent big “BANG!” from Magoo opened up a new universe for Philippine basketball.

Ending the curse not only erased the memories of past failures, it also lifted the team to greater heights. That win removed a weight that the country has been carrying for decades and propelled Gilas back into the world stage, a peak they haven’t reached in 36 years at that point.

Our faith in our team was rewarded on that day. We already knew that we were the best team in Southeast Asia. We believed we were one of the best in Asia. Little did we know, our players would go beyond all that and prove that we were one of the best in the whole world.

Photo from FIBA

What makes that win the defining Gilas moment of the century is the fact that the echoes of that game can still be heard today.

That game is the reason why we celebrate Gilas wins so fervently and judge our the team so harshly. Once a new height is reached that means there’s a new floor for expectations.

Gilas is now expected to content at the Asian level regularly. They’re not the pushovers they once were. They’re now supposed to stand toe-to-toe with the Korea, China and Iran, not cower beneath them. They’re expected to be able to fight for a spot at the world level every chance they get. There are less moral victories for Gilas after that game.

At the same time, we celebrate their success so fervently because of that win. That was the start of the rise of Philippine basketball. That was a moment when different players, coaches, fans, officials, and teams all came together to back Gilas. Up to this day, whenever Gilas plays, the entire nation drops everything to support their team, hoping to be able to celebrate a big win like they did back in 2013.

Photo from FIBA

I made sure never to miss another big Gilas game, and because of that I’ve been able to watch several incredible moments since that game against Korea.

A few days later, I left my event early so that I would be able to watch the Championship Game against Iran. I stayed up to watch Gilas push Croatia and Puerto Rico to the limit before finally winning against Senegal. I hung out in the office just so that I can watch Gilas finally beat Iran in 2015. I watched Jayson Castro go up against Tony Parker in 2016 and team up with Terrence Romeo to down China in 2017. I rushed home from a family dinner to watch Gilas return to the World Cup earlier this year.

But none of those moments can still make up for missing Gilas breaking the Korean curse. That’s why I’m hoping that in the coming years, Gilas delivers a new moment to define the new decade. I’ll make sure not to miss that one.

From the Archives: We Are Gilas, Pilipinas

Moments of the Decade

UP Returns to the Final Four

Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals

Kiefer Ravena’s 2017 SEA Games Dagger

Isaac Go’s clutch three in the Season 80 Finals

Ginebra ends their championship drought

Ryan Buenafe’s Three-Peat clinching shot

The Decision