As­ton­ish­ing res­ur­rec­tion

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION -

Ate­neo won a well-de­served se­cond straight UAAP men’s bas­ket­ball ti­tle on Wed­nes­day af­ter sweep­ing Univer­sity of the Philip­pines in dom­i­nat­ing fash­ion in the fi­nals. The re­sult was a fore­gone con­clu­sion even be­fore the sea­son started. Ate­neo was a con­sen­sus heavy fa­vorite for the ti­tle, and the Blue Ea­gles cer­tainly played the part. The Fight­ing Ma­roons, how­ever, came out and pro­vided a per­fect, dra­matic coun­ternar­ra­tive to what would have been a sea­son of bas­ket­ball en­nui. Ris­ing from the dust­bin of UAAPhoops, UP shook the bal­ance of power and brought life to a long-suf­fer­ing fan base.

Per­haps it was co­in­ci­dence that UP’s re­turn to bas­ket­ball rel­e­vance co­in­cided with re­newed ef­forts to turn the fi­nals into a packed, roar­ing cen­ter of a po­lit­i­cal state­ment. UP, af­ter all, has al­ways been known as the hot­bed of ac­tivism, and be­cause it was a pro­tag­o­nist in a cham­pi­onship se­ries that cor­ralled head­lines like a scrappy re­bounder col­lected loose balls, sev­eral sec­tors felt a rein­vig­o­rated surge of po­lit­i­cal adren­a­line.

Wear black, they urged, to make a stand “against im­punity, vi­o­lence and misog­yny,” ba­si­cally traits that nut­shell the op­po­si­tion’s charges against the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion.

It was the same call ac­tivists made in last year’s ti­tle duel be­tween Ate­neo and La Salle—one, it’s safe to say, that went gen­er­ally un­heeded. But stu­dent coun­cils of both Ate­neo and UP felt that maybe this se­ries had a lot more po­ten­tial to make a state­ment.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween sports and pol­i­tics has al­ways been a com­pli­cated one, high­lighted in the coun­try by Manny Pac­quiao, re­garded by many as the great­est Filipino ath­lete of all time and wellloved for his ex­ploits on the ring, but re­viled for the pol­i­tics he rep­re­sents as a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

The de­bate rages still on how to view Pac­quiao—as a box­ing rar­ity with his abil­ity to de­mol­ish op­po­nents across weight classes, or as a gar­den­va­ri­ety celebrity-slash-politi­cian who rode his fame to pub­lic ser­vice with­out the nec­es­sary skills and states­man­ship to nav­i­gate the gov­ern­ment world.

His­tory fur­ther re­in­forces the com­plex­ity of sports’ and pol­i­tics’ sym­bio­sis. Colin Kaeper­nick’s stand—or, more prop­erly, kneel—against vi­o­lence in­flicted on African-Amer­i­cans has been met with both jeers and cheers. A gi­ant sports ap­parel com­pany’s de­ci­sion to make him the face of its pop­u­lar cam­paign drew equal num­bers of fans and crit­ics (though sales were hardly dented). But such protests could make for his­toric mo­ments: At the 1968 Sum­mer Olympics in Mex­ico, African-Amer­i­can run­ners Tom­mie Smith and John Car­los raised their fists in a Black Power salute at the podium; they were sus­pended for their ac­tion, but are now for­ever in the sports an­nals. And, of course, there was Jesse Owens, whose record of four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics was it­self the protest—a blaz­ing re­buke of the no­tion of Aryan su­pe­ri­or­ity be­ing prop­a­gated by the man at the helm of that year’s games, Adolf Hitler.

In the United States at present, as long as Don­ald Trump is the US pres­i­dent and the Golden State War­riors are bas­ket­ball’s demigods, there will be no NBA cham­pion vis­its to the White House. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Lak­ers star LeBron James will never wa­ver in their op­po­si­tion to Trump.

The UP-Ate­neo call didn’t suc­ceed en­tirely in get­ting a coli­seum clad in black, but that shouldn’t be the death toll for sport­ing ac­tivism. And in the end, what­ever one’s pol­i­tics, what clearly mat­tered this sea­son was the cel­e­bra­tion of bas­ket­ball’s re­birth in that corner of the UAAP, where it was long thought to be dead. UP’s rise as an­other threat from Katipunan was a story of re­silience and in­spi­ra­tion—of a com­mu­nity ral­ly­ing as a sin­gu­lar force be­hind a team long bur­dened by heart­break sea­sons.

“You are cham­pi­ons in your own right and I am proud of all of you,” coach Bo Pera­sol told the play­ers as he hud­dled them one last time this sea­son.

For giv­ing the pub­lic, and not just the UP com­mu­nity, an as­ton­ish­ing res­ur­rec­tion story to cheer for in the last few weeks, UP’s reemer­gence as a UAAP power and a le­git­i­mate chal­lenger to its check­ered neigh­bor across the street de­serves to be cel­e­brated. But, as Pera­sol said, as lofty as this sea­son’s back-from-the-dead achieve­ment is, next year’s goals “will be even loftier.”

“When we get back next sea­son, it will all be about the fi­nals,” he said. Kobe Paras, the blue-chip prospect who will join the Ma­roons next sea­son, put it even more defini­tively: No more tears.

Now, that would make for one big UP fight.

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