The Blue Eagles: At the cusp of making history
Not even Hollywood would have come up with a better storyline.
When the 75th UAAP season started, we envisioned a quest that was to be historic and monumental. It has turned out to be just that, with some added drama.
We knew that this would be Coach Norman Black’s valedictory ride. We knew that five key players (Chua, Gonzaga, Salva, Slaughter and Sumalinog) would be in their final run as well. None of the teams in the “modern era” has achieved five straight championships, so we knew that this quest would be special.
When we envisioned a tough battle, though, it was with the thought of having the Archers, Bulldogs, Tamaraws and Tigers posing the toughest challenges.
As it turned out, the biggest challenge was one that came from within.
As we write the final chapter on what will be an amazing run (“Win or lose, it’s the school we choose”), it would be nice to look at how it all began.
In 1994, when the league began with the Final Four, the Blue Eagles finished 6th and missed the Final Four. Ateneo did not make it to the Final Four until 1999.
That was the year some old-timers refer to as the turning point—the “Mr. Destiny moment,” exemplified by the transfer of the King Eagle in waiting to the archrivals no less. This was a wake-up call of sorts, as Ateneo began participating more aggressively in the team buildups and active recruitment of players.
There has been no looking back since then. The Blue Eagles has been in the Final Four every year for a league record of 14 straight Final Four appearances, eight championship appearances, and five championships (hopefully six!).
It has produced, since then, three Rookies of the Year (Jai Reyes ’05, Ryan Buenafe ’08 and Kiefer Ravena ’11), three league MVPs (Rich Alvarez, ’00-’01, Enrico Villanueva ’02, Rabeh Al Hussaini ’08), and five Finals MVPs (Larry Fonacier ’02, Nonoy Baclao ’08, Rabeh Al-Hussaini’09, Ryan Buenafe ’10 and Nico Salva ’11).
It is not by any coincidence that this renaissance in Ateneo basketball began when the “MVP” of its sports program— team benefactor Manny V. Pangilinan—took an active role in the team.
The sudden disengagement from the Ateneo of MVP, the near resignation of Norman Black, and now the uncertain future of the team, has added spice to an exciting season. It is in these tough times that the mettle of the team is tested, and it has shown toughness thus far.
Though the disengagement will have an adverse effect on Ateneo’s basketball program, credible witnesses attest that MVP will continue to support the team until the end of this glorious Drive for Five.
As in law, apart from contractual obligations, there is sometimes the higher calling of a natural (or humanitarian) obligation, which is enforced not through force of law but through no force at all. Indeed, it would be fitting for MVP to see this historic quest through.
After all, as we say it in legal parlance, the Blue Eagles are not the proximate cause of MVP’s “complete and total disengagement” from the Ateneo; the problem lies elsewhere.
As I write this piece, the Blue Eagles will have the chance to wrap it up in two straight games—avoiding a sticky and potentially dangerous “winner-take-all” Game 3 battle against the unpredictable Tigers. Will the Blue Eagles claim the title based on their “clear legal right” of four years past, or will they suffer the “grave and irreparable injury” of coming so close?
Will the Blue Eagles go against the proscription against the establishment of a (basketball) dynasty, or will the Tigers claim “equal access” via the equal protection clause? Will the Blue Eagles reverse a precedent that was set in 2006, or will they suffer “double jeopardy” in the hands of their 2006 tormentors? Will they bring home the bacon on Thursday night or wait for their “last clear chance” in Game 3?
These are all unknowns—because in sports, like in law, it is difficult to predict outcomes with certainty. One prepares, builds his case and executes his legal strategy, but the rest is left elsewhere, be it in the hands of the judge or a fortuitous event. But success favors the prepared, as the saying goes.
Fides servanda est, as we say in law. “Keep the Faith!”
(The author is a law professor at the Ateneo de Manila University. He may be contacted at [email protected])
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