Ain’t over till it’s over

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Every now and then a sporting event lives by the very words the sporting world preaches: Don’t quit. Keep plugging.

Monday morning (June 20) in Manila (Sunday night, June 19 in the US), the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the mother of all comebacks, escaping a virtual death sentence in the NBA and giving that overused pep cry a shot in the arm: It ain’t over till it’s over.

The Cavaliers had famously fallen behind, 1-3, in a best-of-seven series against the reigning champions Golden State Warriors, and it wouldn’t have been an exaggeration of gamesmanship for the Oakland-based ball club if it had sent a priest to the visitors’ locker to administer the championship’s final rites. After all, in that part of the world, dropping into a 1-3 hole in the finals is a stumble from which no team has ever recovered. The NBA has seen resurrections from 1-3 deficits before - the Warriors just hurdled one in the West championship against the Oklahoma City Thunder - but none when the Larry O’Brien trophy was on the line.

Experts had dismissed the Cavs as goners, and understandably so. The Warriors were more than just defensive champions, after all: They were built on the same philosophy behind the success of those digital startups whose profits run the Golden State franchise. Their exquisite team play and their preference for and proficiency in the three-pointer redefined NBA basketball in close to two seasons of domination. With an organization firmly believing in advanced metrics, Golden State had every right to feel good about where it stood after four games: A 1-3 deficit was a championship black hole, and the team itself never lost three straight games all season.

By all standards, there was no scenario in which the Cavs would emerge winner. Except that they had LeBron James, who isn’t just any standard. In a basketball universe whose residents froth at the mouth with every jump shot by the Everyman-relatable Steph Curry, the reigning two-time MVP, James is the standard against which current greatness is measured.

It’s all over the sports pages and in the annals of basketball history now. James, a sure first-ballot Hall-of-Famer when his career is over, hitched his team onto his shoulders in back-to-back must-wins and then spearheaded a brilliant team performance in Game 7 to fulfill a promise to his hometown: In the stunned silence of Oakland’s regularly thunderous Oracle Arena, the Cavaliers grabbed the trophy to take home to Cleveland.

And an important life lesson was validated yet again: It ain’t over till it’s over.

Closer to home, the Cleveland miracle comes on the heels of an even more improbable rally, when the San Miguel Beermen won the Philippine Cup, the PBA’s crown jewel, after trailing 0-3 in the series against Alaska.

It proves the importance of plugging on in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversities. With the Philippines at the threshold of two important sporting events, these games are the stuff of what coaches talk about in locker rooms to pump up their athletes.

Gilas Pilipinas takes on world heavyweights in an Olympic qualifier that Manila is hosting, with six nations battling for a lone berth at the Rio Olympics. Because the cast of opponents includes Olympic vets France and Canada, Gilas Pilipinas finds itself in the same spot as the Cavs four games into its showdown against the Warriors even before the first ball has been tipped. Some say even worse.

After the basketball qualifier, the Olympics unfolds in Rio and the Philippines’ quest to finally nail a gold medal will again be the central narrative of its delegation to the quadrennial meet. And like every Philippine participation in the Summer Games, Filipino athletes open their bid at a disadvantage. A cash-strapped sports program, ineffective leadership, and needless association infighting have already chipped at the athletes’ will even before the opening ceremonies.

But that doesn’t mean we’d be foolish to keep our faith in Gilas Pilipinas and our Olympic representatives. If there’s anything the Cavs - and the Beermen - have proven, it’s that one keeps fighting as long as there are meaningful battles to fight.

The Olympic qualifier and the Olympics are 1-3 deficits that Gilas Pilipinas and Filipino athletes have to face. Those are tall odds - but then odds are meant to be overcome. If perhaps we can reach somewhere deep inside us and summon an inner LeBron, there’s no telling what level of greatness we may reach. Inquirer.net