China has always been the basketball hierarchy of Asia.
Out of 19 appearances in the FIBA Asia Championships, China won gold 15 times. They have produced international stars such as Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian and Sun Yu. They have qualified in eight Summer Olympic games (most of any Asian country).
Other Asian countries such as Iran (who qualified in the 2008 Summer Olympics when China was the host country) and South Korea (ranked 33rd in FIBA rankings) are always on China’s doorstep but can never find a way to knock them off that number one spot.
For the people of the Philippines, being the underdog is nothing new. Their passion for the game of basketball is right up there with some of the top basketball countries in the world (more people from the Philippines like the Miami Heat’s facebook page than the people in Miami). It is not uncommon to walk the streets of Manila (Capitol city of the Philippines) and see people playing pick up basketball on portable hoops in their flip flops.
So when Yao Ming’s Shanghai Sharks played their first of two exhibition games in the Philippines against the Philippines’s Gilas Pilipinas, it was more than just a friendly, it was a chance for the Philippines to finally be noticed in the Asia as a basketball country.
Before the game, Yao was asked about the secret of China’s success in basketball. Yao responded, “I have to reconsider whether or not to give this suggestion; you have to beat team China first.”
It was far from team China, but Gilas Pilipinas (a mix of national players and cadet players from the Philippines) took a huge step by taking down the Shanghai Sharks 80-72 in the brand new Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, Philippines on Tuesday.
“Personally, I want to see how the future of Philippine basketball will fare against taller and tough opponents,” said Philippines national head coach Chot Reyes.
The Sharks’ second match in the Philippines will take place Tuesday when they play a PBA (Philippines Basketball Association) select team at the Smart-Araneta Colliseum.