Monday, March 3, 2008


EVER SINCE James Naismith invented basketball in 1899, this sport has taken great leaps and bounds and has been popular ever since, in almost all countries and in all continents (except Antarctica). The sport has made tremendous growth and development (and popularity) since the founding of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States whereby the game's standard has been raised to a higher and a much competitive level by such immortal greats as Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Earvin "Magic" Johnson and His Airness - Michael Jordan.

Basketball is basically a big man's game and is well suited to Europeans, Americans and some peoples of South America, Africa and Asia where height and heft is an advantage. This game was brought by American colonists in the early 1900s here in the Philippines and it quickly gained acceptance by the islanders due to its simplicity and accessibility with regards to equipment and playing field as compared to another American invention and import - baseball.

The Philippines, despite a population having only an average height of only five feet and three inches (5'3") earnestly played basketball with such passion, ardor, skill and heart that it became champions many times in basketball in the Far East Games of the 1920s up to the advent of World War II, beating taller and bigger teams like China and Japan.

The "islanders", as they were called, placed seventh in basketball in the 1928 London Olympic Games (its highest finish since) and, at one time, 12th in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. In the World Basketball Championships, the forerunner of the FIBA Cup, Filipinos have been running roughshod over bigger and taller teams by placing third in 1954 and fourth in 1956.

Here in Asia, we were masters of the game in the Asian Games from 1950 up to 1961 and in 1969. The last international title we held where we sent native-born cagers was the 1975 Asian Basketball Championships, from whence the core of that squad became the pioneers of the second basketball professional league in the world - the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).

The Filipinos would talk about basketball in much the same length and breadth the Italians and Brazilians would talk about football or England about cricket. It is the staple of all topics whether you are in Malacañang, in the schools, in the slums, in high-end villages, even in combat zones.

Every generation, every child aspires to play basketball just like their idol and it is a common sight that you would see pick-up games or grassroot leagues played in makeshift basketball courts right on the streets, on dirt and grassy fields, on mountainsides and on anything that is almost flat and has space.

I belong to that generation wherein basketball is played in makeshift courts, and playing in a covered court or gymnasium is considered a luxury. I was fourteen when I started playing basketball. We were so damn good then in dribbling the ball in pot-holed and gravelly fields that when we played in cemented courts its as if our feet have wings. Much more so in a wooden parquet-tiled court.

At 14 and at 5'4'' I was tall enough to play point guard and developed the skill to dribble efficiently in both hands. I also developed a good shooting touch from all angles and, being a left-hander, opponents find it difficult to defend against me whether I'm shooting a jumper or scoring on a lay-up.

But by 17, I grew to 6'1'' so fast that I find it hard to execute my moves as a point guard. The added weight stretched and slowed me so much and that I was not accustomed to play in a higher horizontal level leaving me gasping and disoriented due to the rapid change of my growth hormone. Although I shot and made long jumpers, I was forced to play an unfamiliar position of center, my teammates contending that there wouldn't be anyone to snare the rebound if I miss those long jumpers. And they were right.

In the early 1980s, PRT gyms are quite exclusive and expensive and it would have helped me in developing my stamina and my strength, but, I opted to change gears: I played and practiced soccer instead, for a year, wherein it helped me gain my speed, my agility and the total control of the game once more.
In 1982, I tried out (and got accepted to play) with the University of Southern Philippines (USP) Panthers but went to play instead with the Cebu State College of Science & Technology (CSCST) Builders after my school records in another university got snagged. I hogged the bench that year where we were winless, but in my second year as a Builder, I averaged 7.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association (CAAA) where we notched a win at the expense of the Cebu Technical School (CTS) Scanners. In that year I could never forget the 60-152 lashing our team got from powerhouse University of the Visayas (UV) Lancers, who eventually won the CAAA, the Zonal Championships and the National Students' Basketball Championships.

For the next two years we logged two wins against CTS and a win against USP. We also became champions in basketball competitions of the Association of Vocational Institutions of the Philippines (AVIP) in Region 7 twice and, in 1986, CSCST represented Region 7 during the State Colleges Universities Athletic Association (SCUAA) held in Tacloban City, wherein we placed third behind Region 3 and the National Capital Region. During my last year, we snatched two wins: against Salazar Institute of Technology (SIT) Skyblazers by a wide margin and, again, CTS.

By the time my eldest son was born in 1989, I hung up my sneakers from competitive playing. Sometimes, I got invited to play in basketball tournaments by some teams, but the zest for the game was now missing and I have to oblige their invitation by showing up in some games and practices (and the free uniforms!). I thanked God for protecting me from injuries that many have incurred and incapacitated their playing careers and I took care not to experience those injuries now late in my age. What skills I have learned and studied I will pass on to my sons, Gringo and Cherokee.

Definitely, there are no more basketball games for me, but there is the TV where I tune in to and watch with millions of other Filipinos of the country's greatest of all pastime - BASKETBALL!

Document done in AbiWord 2.4.6, Trebuchet MS, font size 12.

No comments: