Bashing in Bocaue: One more take

A tome of opinions has been written about the free-for-all that marred the match between the Philippine and Australian national basketball teams last July 2 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan. In his social media post, veteran Filipino journalist and Resurgent contributor Neil Bravo weighs in on the controversial incident.

Alright, a lot has been said about this ‘Basketbrawl in Bocaue’.

The joint apology issued by both the Philippines and Australia notwithstanding, here’s just my two cents' worth. Being a Filipino residing in Australia, I have my heart for these two great nations whose sporting cultures are diversely rich.

We know that basketball is the sport closest to the hearts of Filipinos. In the case of Australia, basketball may not be in the same strata as their favourite pastime footy or rugby or even cricket, but they have been successful in just about any other sport, especially those that involve physical contact.

In short, Australians naturally love the banging. I would say they are built to be bullet-proof. That is why Aaron Baynes is thriving in the NBA, as well as Andrew Bogut despite his injuries, and yes, Luc Longley who has three NBA championship rings playing Michael Jordan’s ball grabber and hoop defender not to mention a wide body screen.

Look at Australia’s version of football and rugby, they do not use protective armour. Their bodies are made for physical contact.

Let’s go back to the Brawl in Bocaue. Let me simplify, instead of trivializing it. To which, I say, it’s not necessary to ask who took the first shot. I remember the fistfights back in the old schooldays where an instigator is ‘designated’ by a ‘referee’ in order to start one. Designating the instigator was important because if the fight reaches the knowledge of the school principal, the instigator gets the stiffer penalty. I should know, I went to some fisticuffs that started with touching the other boy’s ear.

Having said that, let’s not dwell on the floor decals. Let’s forget the warmups.

Let’s head straight to the game itself and deal straight with the issue.

We have a basketball game here. Now, from the day FIBA decided to make the World Cup Qualifiers into a home-and-away format, teams should understand the idiosyncrasies of this format when you play at home and when you are on the road. Home games give the hosts the built in territorial advantage. On the other hand, the road games give the visitors the challenge of playing in a hostile environment. Emphasis on hostile there. That is a given. In a home and away format, hospitality is not required to be generous. Those playing on this format should understand and submit to that because that is what it is. Plain and simple.

What is the implication then? One, you are going up not just against five people on the court. Two, you are also going up against the thousands in the stands whose jeers against the visitors could only make the environment as hostile as it can get. Three, it comes with it too the caution for visiting players to observe restraint without being meek. Simple rule. When you are not in your house, keep your aggression and intimidation level in check, even if that is your personality and strategy.

Now, to the game itself. Roger Pogoy hit Goulding hard. Did it happen while play was on progress? Yes. Are contacts like that so shocking to the senses in such a way that we have not seen anything like it in basketball? No. Definitely, we have seen far worse hits than that without naming names. Is it part of the game? Yes. Is it illegal? Yes. That is why there are referees to call it a foul whether or not it happens with or without the ball. The gravity of the contact has its equivalent penalty as defined in basketball rules. In short, it is basketball foul. The offender like Pogoy will get what he deserve—from a technical foul to ejection to suspension and fines and in extreme cases, a ban. I am not justifying nor sanctifying Pogoy’s unsportsmanlike contact. He deserves to be meted heavily according to basketball rules.

Kickert’s reaction on the other hand falls within the province of an unsportsmanlike conduct, committed in retaliation to what Pogoy did.

When a player like Kickert motions during a deadball situation and retaliates with a UFC-style hit, that is no longer a basketball foul. That is not even a second motion as he is not a party to the contact.

Now, since it happens in the house of the opponent, what in Kickert’s mind does he expect the hosts to do? Just watch him flatten the skull of Pogoy? Or applaud his MMA skills?

Let’s put it in a perspective. If you are a visitor and all of a sudden you assault the homeowner, would you expect the other members of the family to just let you kill their kin and disrespect their abode? It may not be an aggravating circumstance but what Kickert did was putting himself at risk. It was reckless endangerment.

Let’s reverse the situation. If it happened in Melbourne or in Perth where I reside (same residence as Luc Longley and Thon Maker), and Pogoy did that to Goulding after Matthew Wright gets hit by Goulding, would you think the rest of the Boomers will just let Pogoy get away with it?

Remember the “Malice at the Palace”?

Flashback to 19th November 2004. This was the Pacers–Pistons brawl at Pistons’ homecourt The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan which was regarded as "the most infamous brawl in NBA history" and the "worst night in NBA history". The Pacers were the visiting team in this case and of course, we know the reputation of Detroit in the NBA.

With 45.9 seconds left in the game, a fight broke out on the court between several players. After the fight was broken up, a fan threw a drink from the stands at Pacers player Ron Artest (later known as Metta World Peace) while he was lying on the scorer's table. Artest immediately charged after the fan, sparking a massive brawl between players and spectators that stretched from the seats down to the court and lasted several minutes.

It’s a good thing the Philippines-Australia match did not escalate any worse. In a way, Kickert and his mates are lucky it happened in Bocaue, not at the Araneta where the cavernous environs filled with Ginebra-type fans could collapse like a swarm of bees. It could have been catastrophic.

The point is, Kickert should know what is coming. As a visiting team in this home-and-away format, the swagger meter has different calibrations. The scales are not even.

Let’s go back a year before on the same day, 2nd of July. No less than Manny Pacquiao, eight-division world champion whose punching power is perhaps ten times than Pogoy’s, went to Australia to take on a then hitherto unknown former Brisbane schoolteacher Jeff Horn. Visions of Manny badly banged up, elbowed, pushed, shoved and wrestled by the brawnier Aussie are still fresh on our memories. Did Manny complain? Hell, no, He took the hits even when they were way beyond any book on the sweet science. Horn made true his promise not to lose in his own house at all cost. He would later lose to Terrence Crawford who also followed the dictum “not in my house.”

Yes, fellas. Not in my house.

Remember those four words because that is the essence of home and away.

If you still don’t get that. Look at FIBA’s marketing pitch for the World Cup. The slogan is clear: This Is My House (#FIBAWCThisIsMyHouse).

Perhaps you cannot totally blame the mindset of Australia and the Philippines because that is the basketball culture propagated by no less than the world governing body. The visiting team is the modern day conquistador. The hosts? Defender of the fort.

In this basketball culture, defense is not just a mandate. It is a moral obligation. The home team will have to defend their house which, to borrow the words of Greg Thomson of Fox News Australia (who branded the Filipino players as brain-dead dimwits and imbeciles), represents their flag, their family, and their nation.

Finally, I come to this conclusion.

If Pogoy did not hit Goulding, would there be a brawl? My answer is no. The result? Australia, judging by the wide margin at that point, will cruise to a well-deserved victory.

If Kickert did not hit him back, would there be a brawl? My answer is also a no. The result? Australia, judging by the wide margin at that point coupled with Pogoy’s impending ejection, will cruise to a well-deserved victory.

You see, the end in both instances would be the same—a victory for Australia and exchange of handshakes in the end.

Add to that, the adulation of the Filipino crowd for standing their ground amidst the heat and hostility of playing on enemy territory.

Australia won the game, but it lost its luster. It lost the celebration.

If only Kickert did not spoil their own party.

And now to the other ‘disturbing’ details.

The selfie? Marc Pigris, a former Gilas and a big brother to the team’s young members, took everyone for a selfie at the height of the heated confrontation. I understand Marc’s intentions. He simply wanted to calm the nerves of his younger brothers. Put a smile on their face and cool down. Look, in the history of calming down, has anybody calmed down after being told to calm down? Nah. But try asking for a smile, even forcing it, will surely melt any burning head. That selfie wasn’t meant to celebrate the fracas nor taunt or insult the Australians. It was more of pacifying an angry situation.

Did coach Chot Reyes tell his boys to thug the Boomers? In basketball, the language is so unique from high fives to hand signals, to bizarre play pattern names like zipper. When you say “cut him” it doesn’t mean amputating the opponent or mangling him. Chot used a language the team understands collectively. In this day of live coverage where anybody can listen in to the huddle, you‘ve got to be creative. Something you can scream and still conceal the play even with the cameras are on you and the world listens on what you are going to do next. Former Gilas Larry Fonacier, in a Tweet, revealed Chot has special words for them. Call it Chot-tuguese or anything but that’s how coaching evolves. Longley should know that. Phil Jackson, the Zen master, uses a unique chatter to fire up his players.

I have come to the end of this conversation.

The bottomline is, I do not condone the acts of the Gilas players, officials and the crowd which got involved. Those acts have no place in civilized society.

In fact, I strongly suggest that as a basketball federation, the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP) initiate meting out penalties for its misbehaving players and officials, and even file appropriate complaints to non-team members who were involved in the ruckus.

SBP being the basketball authority in the country should discipline erring players like a father to his children and not wait for FIBA to do it. It should protect its players, as well as that of visiting teams against aggression by those outside the team by resorting to legal means. If SBP does that, the world will restore all the respect it could have lost due to that unfortunate melee and solidify its rights to host the World Cup of 2023 which now admittedly sits on questionable ground.

Now, to the question: Have you lost your love for the Gilas? I haven’t. I can walk up to the streets of Perth wearing my colours proudly and I know, the Aussies, much like how proud they are for their beloved Boomers, will respect me for that.

This, after all, is also my house.