“It was just beginner’s luck Ms! Right Dimas?” retorted one of my Grade X-5 students, a grin tugging at his lips, looking at his friend Dimas.
I ignored him, letting his words slide off like water off a duck’s back and sang “We are the champions, we are the champions”.
Dimas was rooting for Satria Muda BritAma Jakarta being Indonesian and I was, obviously, patriotic. He was chafing at the collar while I was giddy with high spirits. The Indonesians ate the dust of the Patriots who took home the trophy with a 75-67 win at the final match of the inaugural ASEAN Basketball League that afternoon of February 21. BritAma Arena at Kelapa Gading was packed with cars when the Camry slid into the parking lot yet spectators remained undaunted. They simply parked in front of the vehicles, and left the handbrakes disengaged. We were met by a scalper as we hurried towards the arena that made a killing in seconds. Published rate for the ticket was Rp35, 000 but he jacked up the price to Rp50, 000 – we were running late so we took the bait.
It was 10 minutes into the first quarter when we finally settled for the steps – we later transferred to another side of the bleachers for more comfortable seats. The Indonesian cheerers were fully stoked for the match particularly a group on the lower level of the arena. A megaphone intoned “Indo-ne-sia, Indo-ne-sia”, which the entire crowd recited to the loud booming sound of the drum reverberating through the arena and the rhythmic clapping. The first quarter was an emotional high for the locals as Satria Muda BritAm took the lead with the Patriots trailing by three or four points. It looked bleak for the Patriots for the second quarter too because they were still trailing behind – this time by six points.
I’m no basketball expert but it was very evident that Satria Muda BritAm’s Amin Prihanto and Alex Hartman were consistent three-point shooters and it was clear that the Filipinos were not good at shooting – or did the Patriots have something up their sleeves? On hindsight, they did apparently. Defense was part of the game plan and, what seemed to me, wearing out the key players of Indonesia before fielding the likes of powerhouse dribblers Warren Ybañez, Jason Dickson and Gabe Freeman.
Third quarter heated up as Warren Ybañez took to the court. It looked like Prihanto was to shadow him, get the ball and shoot. But the diminutive tornado proved too much for the Indonesian who fumbled and faltered as he tried to stop Ybañez in his tracks. His lay-ups were fast and furious, leaving the Indonesian out of breath and stupefied. The triumvirate of Ybañez, Jason Dickson and Gabe Freeman controlled the game with their fast-break plays resulting in an 11-point lead that unnerved completely the Indonesians.
And then that’s when the psychological warfare began. The spectators – 95 percent Indonesians – collectively decided to psyche out the Filipino players by booing when they were up for free throw shots or shooting. Goading the Indonesians was the emcee who also shouted “Indo-ne-sia” and not a cheer for the guest team. And then the hooligans came out of the woodwork. From where we were seated, a corpulent lout took to the railing and shouting goblok (Indonesian word for stupid) at Gabe Freeman. Further up, my friend espied several males flashing the dirty finger at Rob Wainwright, prompting one of the Philippine officials to register his protest at the officials’ table and a security officer was sent quickly to the upper level bleachers to control the unruly spectators. Adding fuel to the fire was the emcee (again) who, this time, asked his sidekick from across the court to interview people. A group of kids were asked first if they’d cheer for the Patriots; they chanted “Tidak mungkin” (No way) three times. Next question was lost on me but the answer wasn’t. He said “Play fair Philippine”. Meanwhile up in the bleachers, people were stunned to find out that we were Filipinos in a sea of locals. Fortunately, nobody cast an evil eye on us.
It really makes me wonder at how the nastier side of a personality can surface in games like basketball. Gone are the smiles and animosity for their fellow human being surfaces. Gentility is replaced by hostility and the smiles by smirks and snarls. Soccer is another area that triggers the more loutish behavior of Indonesian sports fans, I was told. It’s more than shouting goblok and other obscenities; it borders on physical violence. I wander if the sports arena uncorks a repressed side of the personality. And does the sports arena make it acceptable for people to turn into boors?
Amidst all of these, the Patriots remained unfazed even when Satria Mudah BritAma’s Youbel Sondakh charged at the Philippine bench like a bull on a rampage, interrupting the game for several minutes. He was jabbed accidentally elbowed on the face.
Both teams were aggressive in their play by the time the fourth quarter was underway. It was apparent that the game plan was still for Prihanto to subdue Ybañez but the point guard was simply outmaneuvered by Ybañez. Noticeably, the cheers from the Indonesian supporters were not as loud as before. The Indonesians were completely silenced – including the emcee – when the huge gap in the score couldn’t be bridged by the Satria Muda BritAm.
After the game, the Indonesians were still embittered by the lost their team suffered. As they left the arena, they were still muttering of how they were cheated of the trophy by the sly Filipino players. I wanted to say “Welcome to the game of basketball people! Where’s your sense of sportsmanship? Both teams played well. In fact, Satria Muda BritAma put up a tough fight against the Patriots.” But I didn’t. It was a nice game- fast-paced action and skillful players – and I wanted it to remain that way.
Photography by Alvin Tismo and Arnel Rigos