Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
The most painful non-call in recent international basketball memory was literally a slap in the face. Gabe Norwood had an athletic steal, he intercepted a pass and was holding the ball. Then out of nowhere Xiaochuan Zhai leaped with a flying arm that landed with a hand hitting Norwood in the face. There’s no other way to describe it except as a slap on the face. It was so painful AND shocking, the ball flew out of Norwood’s hands. On TV there was one quick slomo and it was gone, the incident never to be seen again.
The referee was less than a few feet away from the action and saw exactly what happened. Not only did the ref fail to call a foul, he awarded ball possession to China. The game went on as if nothing happened. Norwood still had his hand on his face trying to figure out what happened when he had to get back on defense. It wasn’t just him the Filipinos at home watching on TV and anyone who loves basketball who saw the game, we were all in disbelief and we couldn’t figure out what was going on.
That strange, inexplicable non-call, in my mind encapsulates what China has done not just to the Philippines but also to FIBA and international basketball as a whole. It was one of the worst officiating I had ever seen. It was the worst in a string of many bad calls not just in the finals game but even during the quarterfinals and semifinals. The damage created is not just against the other squad, which is SMART GILAS, but actually more with FIBA. Their credibility to organize fair and honest games is now very much in question.
In the spirit of honesty and fairness, China really did outplay SMART Gilas in the FIBA ASIA Finals 78-67 last October 3, 2015 at the Changsha Social Work College, Chang Sha, China. They have the superior team on paper: 4 players with the height of 7 feet and above. They have a younger average age less than 25, ours is 30. The Chinese executed a consistent inside and outside, balanced offense. They were better with their free throws. For some reason SMART Gilas was awful at the line that night. The outside shooters we relied on in previous games like Hontiveros, De Ocampo and Castro faltered.
Fans know and saw the superiority of the Chinese squad. IF China had won without the awful officiating going against SMART Gilas, as painful as it was we all would have accepted it and moved on. The problem that has arisen is the huge doubt and question mark on that finals game most of all. WHAT would have happened IF the referees were fair? That’s the cloud that hangs over the FIBA ASIA Championship that China supposedly earned.
China as host nation had already given themselves advantages even before the final game began. The Phil team was not allowed to warm up on the court. Several of the coaching staff were not given tickets and hence not allowed entry inside the venue. Their electric bus stopped halfway through to the venue due to ‘lack of battery power’. Manny V Pangilinan himself via twitter provides the backstage information: iammvp.
For those who did get to watch the game, they know that there were so many bad calls/non calls apart from the most obvious one with Norwood getting slapped in the face. The farce began in the first quarter. In the 6:40 mark Yi Jian Lian dragged down Ranidel De Ocampo to the ground. And it was De Ocampo called for the foul. Kazakhstan ref Yevgeniy Mikheyev in the last 1:26 Calvin Abueva had a better boxed out position. And yet the over and back foul by Zhelin Wang was called on Abueva.
In the second quarter 7:55 mark, China tapped out the ball on a Gilas possession but the ref called it an over and back against the Philippines. Or sometimes a foul on China becomes a traveling call in their favor. Ref Mikheyev repeatedly warned the Phil coaching staff of complaining while the Chinese coaching staff with assistants would get off the bench together which is supposed to be illegal in FIBA rules.
One of the most obvious bad calls was 6:06 mark of the 4th quarter when Jason Castro was called for a travelling violation while he was dribbling the ball. There was a certain amount of disbelief and shock on Castro after the call was made. Any ordinary fan will tell you it’s an oxymoron; you cannot commit a traveling violation while dribbling the ball. And yet there it was an impossible violation called right before our eyes and ears.
It was not just the Filipinos who thought the officiating was bad but also the Iranians. PDI quoted Iran player Samad Nikha Bahrami, ““For sure, officiating will be on China’s side, like (what happened to us) today,” Bahrami said. “I wish you good luck (with the calls).”
To be honest, as a fan, as a Filipino, I was just happy SMART Gilas had actually gone that far to the finals. After losing to Palestine in the first game we had dramatic wins over Lebanon, Iran and Japan in the semis. Andray Blatche has successfully assimilated with our team. We have great young guys like Terence Romeo, Ranidel De Ocampo, Calvin Abueva, Don don Hontiveros. Finally, we have developed good team chemistry. Our star point guard Jason Castro is in the mythical team of the FIBA tourney.
Our team can hold their heads up high knowing that they won IN SPITE of the bad officiating they experienced from the quarterfinals to the semis. China on the other hand has the opposite, they have hollow victories knowing their government and organizers did everything they can to squeeze every advantage in their favor.
The end goal of sports like basketball is not to win but rather the bond of competition especially between nations, especially when countries are being represented. That’s what the Olympic spirit is supposed to be. Why would a superior team with a better chance of winning cheat and go through underhanded measures to win? It boggles the mind. Just like their reason for claiming a shoal hundreds of kilometers away from their coastline. Panatag is so near its clearly visible from our coast and yet China tells the world it is theirs.
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