A tale of two endings 21 years apart

Editor’s note: Sev Sarmenta was on call for two of the biggest moments in Asian Games basketball history, both involving the Philippines playing in the semifinal against the host country. One ended in despair, while the other ended in triumph. I asked Sir Sev to write about the contrast of both moments. – SV

When you cover sports live for broadcast or streaming, you’re in the moment.

You want to cover all the right points and bases: the score, the time and the context. You’ll miss a few essentials.  I used to fret over numbers and facts and figures I missed or bungled in the course of the match that you’ll see in print or in the online reports.

Inquirer sports editor Francis Ochoa reminded one night after a PBA coverage: You’re in real time, Sev. You don’t have the luxury of editing along the way of a live coverage. So I’ve learned to just try my best, trust my preparation and look forward to my broadcast partner helping me out.

I review my coverages when I can to see how I can be better. It’s great that there are clips on You Tube and the different sports platforms.  I cringe with all the mistakes and smile when a good moment and right call happen. 

There’s one I don’t particularly like to review but fellow broadcaster Noel Zarate always introduces me in his broadcast workshops with a spiel about my call of the Philippines loss against South Korea in Busan in the 2002 Asian Games.

When people ask me about Busan, I don’t dwell on the crucial free throws some of the players missed that could’ve changed the game and secured our spot in the finals. I think about the lethal shooting of Koreans who have from the time of the deadly Shin Dong Pa, Hur Jae and others have broken our hearts time and again.

And in the end, Lee Sang Min hit a three off a broken play at the buzzer to give South Korea a one-point win.  For this piece, I reviewed my call and I said, “Korea will go to the gold medal round.” 

My partner in that game Chino Trinidad and I did not need social media to tell us how painful that loss was. We walked the empty streets of Busan on the way home, hurting all over.

Fast forward to 21 years later.  

The sports broadcast business model has changed as commentators do the bulk of the coverage in the studios in Manila. For many years now, the international feeds are sent to the TV5-Cignal-One Sports studios in Mandaluyong and we comment on the games there.  The preparation is the same, the energy given is just as what you would bring if you were in the venue abroad.

Coach Mark Molina and I were assigned to do the Philippines-China semis game. Mark and I knew that Gilas needed something special to win to get to the gold medal round. It was going to be challenging since Gilas survived Iran’s comeback from 21 points down to get into the semis.

And the fatigue showed in the first half.

But you do these games in real time as I said.  On cue in the second half, Gilas and Justin Brownlee clawed back from 20 points down to have a chance in the end game. The two booming threes of Brownlee completed the comeback and gave Gilas the lead at 77-76, 23 seconds remaining.

As the teams stepped out of the last time out called by China, I briefly recalled the nightmare of Busan and made a quick prayer that hopefully history would not repeat itself badly for the Philippines. Our editor Sid Ventura later reminded me days later that coincidentally 23 seconds remained as well, just as in Busan before Lee hit that dagger three.

The last Chinese play unfurled. After reviewing the video again, I know I am hoping too much that I fail to name the Chinese players who run a great play for hopefully a winning shot. I failed to name Zhang Zhenlin as the last shooter.  Zhang misses a wide open jumper.  Gilas wins 77-76.

All I said was “The Philippines will go to the gold medal round!”

An eerily similar statement from two decades ago but with a different country scoring the victory. We were going to play for the gold. There’s no question that the 2023 version sounded happier and better for all of us.

As we all know, Gilas Pilipinas went on to take the gold against Jordan, ending a 61-year wait.

I did the game for the Pilipinas Live streaming platform and saw a masterfully crafted win done by a whole team. 

The pressure is even more immense when you do the Philippine basketball team games. Almost everybody’s watching and everyone wants to win. You want our team to win but you also want to be fair. As a broadcaster, you try to keep your emotions in check but when you win you just let it all hang out.

And you do it in real time and in the moment.

Sev Sarmenta has been a sports anchor for nearly 40 years and has covered numerous sporting events, both locally and internationally.


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