The aftermath of the massive bench-clearing brawl between the Gilas Pilipinas and the Australia Boomers in their Group B encounter in the 2018 FIBA World Cup qualifiers has only seen finger-pointing, more trash-talking and polarized fanbases. As the basketball world looks on, some are asking what set everything on fire.
Chaos at the Philippine Arena
The favored Australians were leading 79-48 with just four minutes left in the third quarter when the chaos broke out.
Gilas player Roger Pogoy collided with Australia’s Chris Goulding, who was guarding him. With Goulding sprawled on the ground, his teammate Daniel Kickert retaliated against Pogoy with an elbow to the face.
Kickert was repaid in kind with a massive shove from Gilas’ naturalized player Andray Blatche and a sucker punch from Jayson Castro. Players on the Gilas bench swooped in to get a piece of the action, rushing onto the court to join the fracas which had by then spilled to the photographer’s area.
ESPN5 sportswriter Yoyo Sarmenta provided a breakdown of the skirmishes that took place at the Philippine Arena that night.
Tried to break down the Gilas-Boomers brawl from the video. Obviously might miss a few things but here's what I've deduced. Whole thing happened (surprisingly) a little over a minute. Stoppage of play lasted nearly half an hour. pic.twitter.com/61xoNDWgj8
— Yoyo Sarmenta (@yo_sarmenta) July 2, 2018
A total of 13 players were ejected following the melee, nine from the Philippines and four from Australia. The only Filipinos left on the floor when the dust settled were four-time PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, national team veteran Gabe Norwood and Gilas newcomer Baser Amer.
International sports news outlets, still reeling from news hours earlier about LeBron James’ move to the Los Angeles Lakers, picked up on the chaos at the Philippine Arena.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) July 2, 2018
Fans and sports reporters alike have likened the brawl to the “Malice at the Palace“, the infamous free-for-all between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers in November 2004 that saw fans and staff get dragged into a fight that was supposed to be between players.
The NBA has "Malice in the Palace." We have "Suntukan sa Bulacan." ?
— Pio Garcia (@PioVGarcia) July 2, 2018
Who fired the first shot?
Reactions to the melee have since been largely polar. Some PBA players left off the Gilas lineup have condemned the chaos on court.
Among those is all-star guard Chris Ross of the San Miguel Beermen.
— Chris Ross (@cmross6) July 2, 2018
Terrence Romeo, one of those involved in the scuffle, in a series of tweets explained what went through the Gilas players’ minds as the chaos unfolded. For the GlobalPort star, looking out for one’s teammates was a sufficient reason for getting into fisticuffs.
Kahit anong sabihin niyo nag lalaro kami para sa isat isa para sa kapwa natin pilipino higit sa lahat para sa bayan. Hindi niyo alam ang sacrifice namin Kung para sainyo mali tulungan namin yung kakampi namin sinasaktan problema niyo na yun basta kami walang iwanan tapos!!!
— Terrence Romeo (@tbvromeo) July 2, 2018
Fans appear to be divided into those criticizing the national team for its participation in the carnage and those who understand why the Gilas players lost their temper.
“Sino bang nag-umpisa? ‘Di ba sila!?” – Some tweets
As if that justifies what just happened. Nakakahiya.
— Professional Heckler (@HecklerForever) July 2, 2018
No judgement on our #Gilas players should be passed by people who were not in the situation. I feel they just defended each other. Australian team already disrespected our country when they ripped off decals on the court. #LabanPilipinas
— Chris Tan (@ChrisDTan) July 2, 2018
For the men behind Gilas, it was Australia who fired the first shot even before the open buzzer sounded.
National team coach Chot Reyes recounted in an interview after the game that Australia’s Kickert had harassed a number of Gilas players during the warmups, earning their ire.
Even before the ill-fated matchup, Gilas backer and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangililnan criticized Australian staff for removing court decals from the Philippine Arena. He posted documentation of the incident on his Twitter account.
Aussie team ripping our/Fiba logos on the court of Phil Arena w/o asking permission. We will not back down. Those stickers go in. Regardless. pic.twitter.com/LMwyiBNtG4
— Manny V. Pangilinan (@iamMVP) July 1, 2018
The Australians reasoned out that they removed the stickers thinking it might pose a safety hazard to players.
FIBA has announced that it will be opening disciplinary proceedings for both national squads. There has been no update as of this writing.