MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines finally witnessed Filipino-American NBA player Jordan Clarkson don the national colors in the 2018 Asian Games, but that almost turned out as a lost cause.
A week before kicking off its Asiad campaign on August 16, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) tried to move heaven and earth to get the Cleveland Cavalier to play for the country.
The marching order for the Philippine team was to eclipse its seventh-place finish in the 2014 edition of the continental meet, and having Clarkson meant a higher chance to achieve that.
Although still without assurance that Clarkson could suit up for the Philippines, national team head coach Yeng Guiao took the risk and included him in the final 12-man lineup on August 10.
"So far, wala pang maliwanag (nothing is clear) but we put him in the lineup just to make sure if all of those requirements are complied with, he has a slot in the team," said Guiao.
The NBA stated that it reached an agreement with FIBA to allow its players to participate only in FIBA-associated tournaments, and that didn't include the Asiad.
To counter the NBA's decision, Don Trollano – who needed to give up his spot for Clarkson – was placed back in the final lineup.
But Trollano's national team stay was short-lived as the NBA – surprisingly, just 3 days later – granted Clarkson on August 15 a one-time exception that allowed him to join the Philippine team in the Asian Games.
According to the NBA, it had a "lack of clear communication" with the basketball federations of the Philippines and China, which also had NBA players Zhou Qi and Ding Yanyuhang participating in the Asiad.
Best finish in 16 years
Since Clarkson arrived in Jakarta on August 16 – the same day the Philippines began its Asiad campaign – the Filipinos had to play without him against Kazakhstan.
Team Pilipinas, though, barely needed the four-year NBA guard as it waylaid the Kazakhs by 37 points behind the one-two combo of Stanley Pringle and Christian Standhardinger.
Clarkson finally debuted for the national team against China on August 21, and he rose to the occasion just as expected.
He chalked up 28 points off 5 triples to go with 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals only to see the Philippines crumble in the endgame en route to a heartbreaking 80-82 loss to the Chinese.
Pitted against familiar foe Korea in the quarterfinals, the Philippines needed a win to remain in contention for a podium finish.
But even with Clarkson, Standhardinger and Pringle doing what they do best, the Filipinos fell victim to the Korean curse yet again in an 82-91 defeat on August 27.
Although the loss relegated Team Pilipinas into the classification round, it still had a chance to fulfill its initial goal of besting its 2014 finish.
Behind Standhardinger, Clarkson and Paul Lee, the Filipinos thwarted a depleted Japan side, 113-80, on August 28 to advance to the battle-for-fifth game.
The Philippines then took care of business against Syria en route to a rousing 109-55 triumph on August 31 and wound up at 5th place – the country's best Asiad ranking in 16 years.
"I thought it was a no-win situation, I thought that we were just setting ourselves up to fail. But I was wrong, I was dead wrong," he said.
"These guys made a commitment, they played their hearts out and I have no regrets, I’ll do this again in a heartbeat." – Rappler.com
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.