Before COVID-19 happened, Paul Lee only had good memories of Wuhan
BEFORE it became known as the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, Wuhan had long been conquered by Paul Lee.
For the Magnolia Hotshots star, the capital city of Central China’s Hubei province was where one of his biggest moments as a player happened, beating the Chinese national team with three clutch free throws in the endgame to reward Gilas Pilipinas with the bronze medal in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup.
Lee cherished the special moment, coming just a month before Gilas Pilipinas embarked on its return to the FIBA World Cup after a 36-year absence.
He remembers it well like it only happened yesterday.
“Sobra. Pagdating sa basketball yung memory ko masyado akong matandain. Kumbaga lahat natatandaan ko yung nangyari talaga,” recalled the 31-year-old Lee of that memorable night six years ago.
Lee, playing his first stint with Gilas, was put on the spotlight in the Filipinos’ battle for third place against the host country when he was fouled while shooting from three-point range at the buzzer and the Philippines trailing, 77-79.
With no time left, the Gilas guard trooped to the line with the mindset of an assassin ready to pounce on his prey. But even before pulling the trigger, he knew the Chinese were dead.
“Pinasok ko lang sa isip ko na panalo na. Claimed ko agad sa sarili ko na panalo na,” said Lee, sharing how confident he was of making those three dagger free throws.
“Yung kumpiyansa ko pagpasok ko sa free throw line, buo. Kasi hindi naman yun ang first time ko na mag-shoot ng free throws, yun nga lang iba yung sitwasyon kasi may pressure talaga,” he added.
The predominantly Chinese crowd inside the Wuhan Gymnasium jeered Lee on top of their voices, hoping to distract the Filipino to make just a single mistake and save their beloved team from the jaws of defeat.
Cool, calm, and collected, Lee was not about to let the host party at the expense of the Philippine team.
“Nakatulong na nag-take time ako na i-relax yung sarili ko. Nag-focus lang ako sa first free throw kasi pag na-shoot mo yun, yung kumpiyansa mo tataas kaagad,” he said. “Mas dumali na nung na-shoot ko yung pangalawa, kasi it’s either overtime or panalo na.”
It ended right there and then as Lee hit the final and game-winning free throw, sparking a wild celebration on the Gilas bench as the national team hero was mobbed by jubilant teammates.
The winning margin was the first and only time Gilas led China in that game.
The host had nothing to blame but itself.
It had all the chance to ice the game after Ranidel De Ocampo was called for a foul, giving the hosts two free throws to seal the win with 6.7 seconds to go.
“Up by two sila. Sumablay yung una niya (free throw). Ewan ko kung sinadya niya bang isablay yung pangalawa para hindi na kami makatawag ng timeout,’ said Lee, who finished with nine points.
Japeth Aguilar grabbed the rebound and quickly flicked the ball to a streaking LA Tenorio. Harassed at the backcourt, the Barangay Ginebra guard managed to protect the leather, and spotted Lee near the three-point line, who wisely faked two defenders before going for the shot.
“Pa outside na siya (Tenorio) nung na-relay niya sa akin yung bola. Doon na nangyari yung na-foul ako,” said Lee.
And so it was six years after when Wuhan came back to his consciousness when the dreaded COVID-19 suddenly appeared like a thief in the night and spread its deadly venom.
“Nung pumutok yung COVID crisis, nung sinabi yung Wuhan, lalong na-refresh yung memory ko,” said Lee.
Asked what he’ll remember most whenever the city of Wuhan is mentioned, the former University of the East said it in just two words.
“Bronze medal,” Lee said.— Source: Gerry Ramos / spin.ph