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.
Here’s the dirty, not so little, secret among sports writers that no one wants to admit: we all have our biases. It is simply impossible, even for the best of journalists, to not favor any team, or individual. There’s nothing wrong with it as long as you don’t allow your bias to affect your work.
On that note, I am admitting that I have a bias for the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. I’ve been an Atenean all my life. I entered the school as a six year-old in Prep and went down from the hill just this year as a 22 year-old. That’s just the surface level of it. Even when I outside of the school setting, the household I live in is a breeding ground for Ateneo fandom. My mom, grandmother, aunt, and uncle, all currently teach or have taught at least once in Ateneo. My brother and my cousin have both been Ateneans since birth. The fact of the matter was, the moment you are born into the Alarcon household, you’re probably going to end up rooting for the Ateneo Blue Eagles.
My childhood was filled with memories of watching games while wearing my Rich Alvarez or Rabeh Al-Hussaini jerseys. From the struggles of the Blue Eagles during the mid 2000s to the five-peat era, I stuck to my guns and remained an Ateneo fan. Yet for some reason, even with the history the Norman Black teams made, one unique memory sticks out in my head as the most memorable of my childhood. Oddly enough, this memory wasn’t the Ryan Buenafe shot, or even Kiefer Ravena hitting two dagger jumpers against UST.
It was the game of the Blue Eagles on July 31, 2009, the Feast of St. Ignatius, against the FEU Tamaraws.
This game was a big deal, specifically for the Tamaraws, as they were dedicating it to Mac Baracael then who was recovering from a gunshot wound he sustained a few days ago. But for 11 year old me, it was a big deal in a different way. I was finally watching an Ateneo game live as a young fan.
By my memory, the game was incredibly tight. I didn’t know what exactly happened — except maybe Rabeh capturing my heart then to the tune of 33 points and 20 rebounds — but I was sure it was intense. Why? As a fan, I was shouting Get That Ball at an unreasonable volume, while jumping up and down of my seat every time the Blue Eagles would score a basket. Pure, unadulterated energy out of a kid who was fully understanding an Ateneo for the first time.
Yet by the end of the game, that same kid who was exploding with joy moments earlier was subdued and in tears while the FEU side celebrated the win. FEU won, successfully dedicating the game to their fallen comrade. Tears were shed by the Tamaraws and their fans.
On the other end of the court though, a chubby kid was also crying in a sea of blue, as he raised his fist to sing the alma mater song. My tears continued to flow even as I entered the car with my mom and dad. I totally forgot how they even tried to console me. But I was sure of one thing; on the drive home, I had my earphones on and I had one song on repeat: the Song for Mary. I’m not even kidding.
This moment stood out because of the sheer emotion I showed, cheering and crying for the Blue Eagles. It was this moment was essentially solidified that I’d be biased towards Ateneo for life.
In 2015 though, and I was forced to push away those biases because of work. I was given a media pass, which meant two things. I was going to be able to watch UAAP games for free! Despite the excitement, it also meant number two: I’m a member of the media now.
Even if during that year I was working with the Ateneo website as my publication, I had to act like a media member. That meant being calm, not wearing shirts which showed support to specific teams, and most importantly, not showing bias to any particular team. That meant I had to stop openly showing my support for the Blue Eagles during the game. It was hard being a lifelong fan of the team up to that point.
Here’s another not so dirty little secret of sports writers, though. It’s totally possible to have biases, while also being a good journalist. The best writers are able to harness their passion for teams into the work they put in for their pieces. One’s heart should never get in the way of one’s objectivity.
So ever since 2015, I’ve been keeping my biases of the Blue Eagles under lock and key. Instead, I’ve been using that love to fuel my analysis of the team. Not once did I wear blue. I never even cheered during games.
Which made my experience of Season 78 of the Ateneo Blue Eagles even more painful. I was able to watch most of Ateneo’s games live, sure. I analyzed their performance as objectively as I could.
That’s why as I watched Mac Belo put away Ateneo with a putback during the Final Four. No tears were shed. No Song for Mary being played while I was on my way home. But I will be honest. Looking back, that year was difficult to watch. I definitely had emotions, but I just couldn’t show them. I had to keep it cool. It was part of the job.
That, calm demeanor would continue to be the same in the following seasons. Even when Ateneo beat La Salle to stop a sweep during Season 79. Even when Matt Nieto buried two clutch free throws to help Ateneo sweep Round 1 of Season 80. Even when the Blue Eagles downed the Tamaraws in the Final Four to make it back to the Finals. Even when Ateneo managed to beat the formidable Green Archers in Game 1 of their series. Even with Ateneo slowly rising to the top of the UAAP, I remained professional at all costs.
But, here’s something which shouldn’t even be a secret, sports writer or not: there comes a time when we can’t hold on to our emotions anymore. There will come moments when you simply have to let it go and you can’t hold it back anymore.
That moment came for me on December 3, 2017, when the Blue Eagles were set to play a do or die in the Finals against the Green Archers.
This game was a big deal, for both teams. For La Salle, it was an opportunity to get their first back-to-back championship ever since their four-peat run from 1998 to 2001. For Ateneo, it was the opportunity to win their first championship ever since the five-peat years. For me, it wasn’t supposed to be much of a big deal. I still wore a neutral shirt. I still knew I would remain professional while analyzing both teams play.
Little did I know, that wouldn’t be the case at all.
The game was tight from start to finish, because I knew what exactly happened. As an analyst, I focused on the sets and actions both teams were running as well as the counters both coaches were throwing. La Salle tried their best to run in the fast break while Ateneo continued to execute in the half court.
It continued to be that way up until the third quarter. The score read 66 all after 30 minutes of basketball. There was only 10 more minutes before a new champion would be crowned, or for sports writers, 10 more minutes before they’re able to finally finish that recap they have to submit to end this crazy season.
For some strange reason some fiber in my body pushed me to remove my Media ID once the fourth quarter started. I decided to go down to the Patron area to witness these last 10 minutes. I was going to watch the fourth quarter of that do-or-die game not as a sports writer. But as a fan. It didn’t matter to me that I was on the La Salle side. I had to watch the final minutes of Ateneo’s season.
Those 10 minutes went by like a blur, but it suddenly slowed down in the final minute of the game. I remember Andrei Caracut hitting a three to cut their deficit to 2, 82-80. Ateneo’s 10-point lead was whittled down to one possession. I thought to myself, “Was Ateneo seriously going to blow their chance at glory?”
I was stunned silent. I even didn’t bother to analyze what was happening or try to predict what set Coach Tab Baldwin would run. All I knew was, “Goddammit, Ateneo had to get a basket.“
Play resumed and it started off slowly. Matt dribbled it out, waiting for the perfect moment to attack. Hearts around the Araneta Coliseum were beating quickly, but the moment was all in slow motion.
Matt attacked. He dished off to Thirdy. Thirdy and Isaac ran the pick-and-pop. Thirdy kicked it out to Isaac.
Then time seemingly stopped.
The entire Araneta Coliseum could simply stop and watch as Isaac launched a looping three-pointer over the outstretched arms of Kib Montalbo. The ball took forever to reach it’s destination.
Then time suddenly came rushing back.
Emotions have this unique power, even though we try our best to control them at all costs. There’s no stopping your emotions once it decides to burst out of you.
This three by Isaac caused an extreme shift in with my emotions. I quickly went from utter fear to inexplicable joy. It wasn’t just me experiencing this range of emotions. On the blue side, Fans high-fived each other. Strangers were going crazy with one another. On the green side, they were stunned. Then, there was the normally composed Isaac. Even he couldn’t help but slap the floor with his two large hands before he bear-hugged Anton Asistio.
As for me? I couldn’t help myself. My emotions burst out of me in “enemy territory”. I was celebrating like crazy, jumping up and down, hugging it out with my best friend who was watching with me. It was too great of a moment to simply hold our emotions in.
The Ateneo Blue Eagles have now built a new dynasty. But the memory of Isaac’s three continues to live in the hearts of all Ateneans, even after all of the newfound success.
For the community, it was the shot which revived the winning tradition of Ateneo. The joy of basketball was back. It washed away the pain of Kiefer’s injury, Alfred Aroga’s block, Mac’s putback and La Salle’s dominance. The Blue Eagles were kings once again.
For me, it was the shot which brought me back to being that 11 year old kid who was filled with emotion and passion for his basketball team.
Since then, I’ve only immersed myself in sports media even more. I’ve learned throughout my years as a member of the media that I truly have to focus on being a sports writer by being objective with all of my takes. But, I will always have that moment when I was able to be a kid again, cheering loud and proud for Ateneo.