Gilas Pilipinas left for Beirut a little past midnight Tuesday to battle Lebanon in the fourth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
The Filipinos are overflowing with talent.
Composing the squad are Gilas mainstays Dwight Ramos, Thirdy and Kiefer Ravena, Kai Sotto Ray Parks and Carl Tamayo as well as Philippine Basketball Association standouts Jamie Malonzo, Japeth Aguilar, Roosevelt Adams, Chris Newsome, Calvin Oftana and Scottie Thompson.
Kai Sotto was also there together with Utah Jazz star Jordan Clarkson.
Wait, who — Clarkson?
Yes, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas was successful in bringing in a legitimate National Basketball Association campaigner in Clarkson to serve as naturalized player for Gilas, who are looking to redeem their shattered pride in the international stage.
We don’t know the exact figure, but the federation definitely broke the bank in hiring Clarkson.
Aside from paying his salary for a two-week tour of duty, the SBP also covered his accommodation, allowance, and insurance just in case something happens to him that will jeopardize the remainder of his contract with the Jazz.
Just so you know, Clarkson is entering the third year of his four-year, $50-million deal. He is set to earn around $162,195 per game in the upcoming NBA season, which means that his time, effort, and of course, body at this stage of his career are very valuable.
Sideliners told me that when Clarkson campaigned for Gilas in the 18th Asian Games four years ago, he banked in P30 million. If that’s the case, he definitely commanded north of that amount in his second stint for the Philippines.
But do we really need Clarkson against Lebanon and Saudi Arabia?
On the court — no need.
But from a marketing perspective — definitely.
Look, by virtue of being the host country, Gilas Pilipinas had already secured a spot in the FIBA World Cup next year. It doesn’t really have to go hard in the Asian Qualifiers because, as I’ve said, the World Cup spot is already in the bag.
The World Cup is the real battle — not the Asian Qualifiers.
Bringing in Clarkson — and coughing an obscene amount just to put him in Gilas uniform — is no longer necessary. It’s like killing a fly with a machine gun.
But since we’re in a different situation now with Gilas suffering a string of international misfortunes, the federation is pressured to pull out the biggest weapon in its armory to send a strong statement that the Philippines should not be taken lightly.
Clarkson’s presence inside the court will definitely bolster its image, helping the federation win the hearts and minds of the Filipinos heading into the world’s biggest basketball stage.
A Filipino-American cager with a clean-cut, altar-boy image in the NBA is a perfect marketing tool that will help the federation drum up support and raise funds that will cover the enormous bill attached to the country’s World Cup hosting.
His mere presence is enough to unite the divided basketball community and prompt corporate sponsors to rally behind the national team.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes drew flak when he said that they don’t really have to win over Lebanon.
Sure, it will boost their PR and silence his haters, but it’s not really necessary since their overall program is focused on the World Cup, not on the Asian Qualifiers.
Somehow, he is right.
But still, having Clarkson reporting for duty in a meaningless tourney only means that the SBP is serious in redeeming its pride and assembling a strong team for the World Cup.