Philippine basketball: Years of victories and heartbreaks in biggest stage

At a glance

  • The Philippine men's basketball team was basking in glory as a world powerhouse especially during the heydays of basketball Hall of Fame inductee Caloy Loyzaga in the 1950s and 60s.



The Philippine men's basketball team was basking in glory as a world powerhouse especially during the heydays of basketball Hall of Fame inductee Caloy Loyzaga in the 1950s and 60s.

Now, the gallant men of Gilas Pilipinas are tasked to carry the torch against the visiting opponents when the FIBA Basketball World Cup begins on Friday, Aug. 25.

Deep in the history of the national team are celebrations of victories and tales of painful defeats. When basketball sprung to prominence due to America's influence at the turn of the 19th century, the Filipinos fell in love with the sport. 

The newly formed Basketball Association of the Association assembled a team that was nicknamed "The Islanders" and was sent to the Berlin Olympic Games which introduced the first basketball tournament in 1936.

The national team competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.

Led by Charles Borck and Dionisio Calvo, the squad finished fifth and still the best performance to date by an Asian team at the Olympiad.


The golden years

The national team reigned supreme in the 1951 and 1954 Asian Games in India and Manila, outlasting elite teams of Japan, China and South Korea. 

1956 philippine team.jpg
The Caloy Loyzaga-led basketball team that finished with a bronze medal in the FIBA World Championship in 1954 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Under the care of coach Herminio Silva and with Loyzaga and Lauro Mumar manning the offense, the Nationals were the ultimate icons in the continent, and had the chance to shine even further in the World Cup set in Brazil.

Winning six in nine games, Loyzaga and company bagged the bronze medal in the cagefest, the highest achievement by an Asian team up to this point.

Loyzaga was named to the Mythical Team after finishing third in scoring with an average of 16.4 points per game.



The storm begins

The Philippines competed again in the 1958 World Cup in Chile, but only managed to finish eighth.

Philippine national basketball team in 1958 in Chile.

The squad then landed in 13th place in the 1974 Puerto Rico edition, and eighth here in Manila in 1978.


Return to the big stage


After failing to advance to basketball's biggest event in eight cycles, the Philippines finally ended the curse after the squad bannered by Jimmy Alapag, Jayson Castro, Marc Pingris, Ranidel de Ocampo, among others, defeated South Korea in the semifinals of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship here in Manila which served as a qualifying tournament for the 2014 World Cup in Spain.

2014 Gilas Pilipinas in FIBA World Cup in Spain. (Smart Gilas Pilipinas)

In Seville, Gilas Pilipinas, with naturalized player Andray Blatche in tow, had close encounters against Croatia, Greece, Argentina and Puerto Rico.

The Filipinos eventually saw the end of the tunnel in their final group phase game against Senegal, winning in overtime, 81-79, behind the heroics of Alapag.

The following edition in China in 2019 was the country's most disappointing performance in the World Cup after finishing the tournament winless in five games.

With renewed confidence and the backing of the home crowd, Gilas hopes to relive the greatness when it takes on the opponents in the FIBA Basketball World Cup this basketball-crazy nation is co-hosting with Japan and Indonesia.

Jordan Clarkson and Kai Sotto. (File Photo)

Jordan Clarkson is at the forefront of the dream team along with June Mar Fajardo, Scottie Thompson, Kai Sotto, Dwight Ramos, Rhenz Abando, Japeth Aguilar, Kiefer Ravena, Jamie Malonzo, Roger Pogoy, AJ Edu and CJ Perez.