In difficult times, Puerto Rico’s women’s basketball team makes history
Despite losing their final two qualifying games to powerhouses Australia and France, the team still qualified for their first-ever Olympics.
Last summer, Puerto Rico had the world’s attention as the populace took to the streets calling for the resignation of then-Governor Ricardo Rosselló in the aftermath of Telegramgate.
The controversy lit a fire under a people still weary and in need after 2017’s Hurricane Maria, and Rosselló eventually resigned on Aug. 2 after a major public uprising.
Unfortunately, the world spotlight found Puerto Rico again at the end of 2019 and into 2020, as a series of earthquakes struck the island, including the biggest its seen in a century at 6.4 magnitude.
The earthquakes and subsequent tremors left at least four people dead and thousands homeless and without power across the island. Smaller tremors and aftershocks occur to this day.
It’s set off yet another scramble from the diaspora community in the U.S. to get aid to Puerto Rico in the absence of help from the U.S. and further negligence from the island’s own government.
In such times, it’s hard to find bright spots, but Puerto Rico’s women’s basketball team may have just earned one.
Rather than another summer of upheaval and strife, Boricuas across Puerto Rico, the U.S. and world will be able to cheer on their women’s basketball team as it plays in its first-ever Olympic games in Tokyo this summer.
For “Las Magnificas,” the journey to Tokyo 2020 began back on Nov. 14, 2019 in FIBA’s Americas Pre-Qualifying Tournament. That day, Puerto Rico’s women blew out Caribbean rivals Dominican Republic by 50 points.
They carried the performance to a hard-fought, four-point loss to Canada before eking out a two-point win over another Caribbean rival in Cuba, 83-81.
Their 2-1 record in the pre-qualifying tournament was good enough to send them to Bourges, France, for one of four Olympic qualifying tournaments.
The draw pitted them against three formidable opponents in Brazil and two of the top teams in the world in Australia and France.
To qualify for the dream, the team would need at least a third-place finish in their group.
They took a big step towards that dream after beating Brazil in overtime in the first qualifying game. The team overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game at the end of regulation. They won the overtime by just two points.
Despite the surprise victory, the team still had to play two of the world’s best in France and Australia and hope Brazil wouldn’t pull off an upset of either one of them.
In the end, the women lost to Australia and France, but so did Brazil, meaning Puerto Rico still qualified for its first-ever Olympics on Feb. 9.
“It’s a dream come true,” Luis Miranda, general director of Puerto Rico’s Women’s Basketball League, told EFE.
That’s especially true for veteran guard Pamela Rosado, who has represented the island on the court for 17 years.
Her leadership in this Olympic-qualifying run cements her place as one of the island's and region’s best players. But she’s not about the accolades or recognition, instead just representing her country is enough.
“What we obtain at the end isn’t important,” she said in an interview with FIBA before the pre-qualifying tournament. “The beautiful thing about this is that we work together for Puerto Rico.”
The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin on July 24 and run through Aug. 9. The group stage of the women's basketball tournament starts on Monday, July 27 and the gold-medal match is Sunday, Aug. 9.