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Joy and pride as Philippines win Asian basketball gold again at last

Filipinos roared in joy and relief as their men’s basketball team ended decades of heartbreak by winning their first Asian Games gold medal in 61 years.

Many in the basketball-crazy nation of 110 million people were glued to the television and mobile phone screens as the “Gilas”, Tagalog for panache, eked out a 70-60 victory over Jordan in the final in Hangzhou, China.

At a watch party at a university hostel in northern Manila, the crowd erupted as the last Jordanian rally flamed out.

“I’m very happy. Proud, proud, proud Pinoy (Filipino),” sound engineer and basketball enthusiast Martin Andrew Guevara, 45, told AFP.

He and others said the victory made up for the disappointment of the FIBA World Cup co-hosted by the Philippines last month.

The Philippine team, ranked 40th in the world at the time, lost all three of their matches in the group phase and finished in 24th place in the 32-team tournament.

Philippines’ player Earl Thompson (R) is challenged by Jordan’s Sami Bzai (L) during the men’s basketball gold medal game between Jordan and the Philippines at the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou in China’s eastern Zhejiang province on October 6, 2023. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)

“It means a lot of course coming from the heartache from FIBA. This win is different. At least we have proven that we can do it,” Guevara added.

Francesca Gomez, a 25-year-old account manager for sports-related products, told AFP: “It’s very exciting because it’s the first time we’ve won in six decades… It feels like it’s been a long time.”

Underlining what it means to the country, President Ferdinand Marcos tweeted: “I know every Filipino is proud to be called one today.”

“Congratulations, Gilas Pilipinas, on this incredible feat!”

Few Filipinos are still alive who remember when a Filipino team led by the local legend Carlos “The Big Difference” Loyzaga, a 1.9-meter (6ft 3in) center, took the Asian Games basketball gold in Jakarta in 1962.

Many on social media even had trouble with the exact date.

“51 years in the making,” tweeted one fan, falling short by a decade.

Either way, it had felt far too long. AFP

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