HANGZHOU, China — The rivalry that first saw light in the Philippine Basketball Association will erupt in the 19th Asian Games when Gilas Pilipinas battles Jordan in the gold medal match of the men’s basketball competition on Friday at the Hangzhou Olympic Centre Gymnasium here.
Action starts at 8 p.m. with the Filipinos shooting for their first Asian Games gold medal since 1962 in Jakarta against a hungry Jordanian side that is looking to win its first crown.
Jordan is also chasing a piece of history. Its best Asian Games finish was fourth in 1986 in Seoul and 2006 in Doha before emerging seventh in 2010 in Guangzhou and 2014 in Incheon.
This year, the Jordanians have a handsome chance of finally snaring the title as they are powered by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — a naturalized American who is drawing comparison to the late Kobe Bryant, not just because of his looks, but also because of his leadership, versatility and ability to make his teammates look good.
With Hollis-Jefferson at the helm, Jordan crushed the Filipinos in their first meeting, 87-62, to gain the momentum that they used in ripping Chinese Taipei in the semifinals, 90-71.
But Jordan’s road to the title will not be easy.
Gilas Pilipinas, a team that is already being celebrated back home for making it to the finals for the first time in 33 years, has all the motivation to win after absorbing a bitter loss to the Jordanians in the preliminaries. The setback cast a lot of doubts on their ability to advance to the medal round, but it also fired up the Filipinos to pull off a thrilling 77-76 escape of China in the semifinals.
Gilas coach Tim Cone admitted that winning the gold medal over the same team that beat them is their ultimate goal.
“Our goal is to win the gold,” said Cone, who was barely five years old when legends like Caloy Loyzaga, Kurt Bachmann, and Ed Pacheco gave the country its last gold medal in the Asian Games. “But we also said at the very beginning that we wanna get back and play Jordan. We wanna get back and play Jordan. Now we’re back and we’re going to play Jordan in the gold medal match. Let’s see what we can do on Friday.”
All eyes, however, will be fixed on Hollis-Jefferson and Bronwlee, who will slug it out not just for the title but for the bragging rights of emerging as the best player of the tournament.
The 35-year-old Brownlee has been the gold standard among imports in the PBA as he led Barangay Ginebra San Miguel to six titles with three Best Import awards.
But his dominance was snapped when Hollis-Jefferson came over as he powered the TNT Tropang Giga to the Governors’ Cup title past Bronwlee and the Kings while running away with the Best Import plum.
Hollis-Jefferson underwent naturalization with Jordan in July and was able to suit up in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Manila in August.
Now, he is in the Asian Games, hoping to lead his new country to its first title.
Cone said they will be ready.
“Good thing is that we’ll have a full day of rest and we can spend some time adjusting,” said Cone, the Ginebra coach who is also finding a way to stop Hollis-Jefferson when he suits up for the Tropang Giga anew in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup starting 5 November.