Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Saturday, December 24, 2005

PBA Swap-meet

In the sometimes-bizarro world of the Philippine Basketball Association, the best players have the least job security.

The import players -- usually American players from decent Division 1 programs with varying levels of international experience -- dominate the competition. They rack up 30- and 40- point games pretty regularly, and occasionally manage outlandish statistical feats like quadruple doubles of points, rebounds, assists and steals/blocks.

PBA teams, like Janet, don't care about last week's triple double. It's all about "What have you done for me lately?"

Teams and coaches expect their imports to put up these numbers, but despite their acknowledged importance to the teams, it's normal for foreign players to get cut after one bad performance.

The way teams treat their franchise players here is the exact opposite to the way American college and pro teams treat their stars. After a poor shooting night, a coach in the United States usually drops all the de rigeur supportive cliches: "We need to have confidence in our guy," "I know he'll make them when it counts," and "His shot just wasn't falling."

In the PBA, they sing a different tune. "We're evaluating our options" or "We'll see who we can get by next week," a Philippine pro coach might say after his import clanks his way to a 20 percent shooting night.

The process of replacing imports -- handled with about as much care as changing a spare tire -- is mind-bending. The players know they can get the hook at any time, but the teams give them very little advance warning and don't really discuss the import's chances of staying on the team with the player.

The days after a bad game must be harrowing for foreign PBA players, like bombing at amateur night on Showtime at the Apollo -- everybody's waving you off the stage, and it's only a matter of seconds before the Sandman comes out to sweep you away with the push-broom.

Even the PBA's leading scorer is currently on the chopping block. He's averaging around 27 points per game, but he had a horrendous shooting night (1 for 10 from the line; 4-21 from the field) and now his team is fishing for replacements. When they found a guy, they didn't tell the current player until about five hours before his potential replacement flew into Manila.

If you don't like this slab of beef, we can pull another one out of the freezer! How does Dickey Simpkins sound? I got some fresh Ace Custis in here somewhere.

When the team called their somewhat-unsuspecting import to break the news, they offered as consolation the opportunity to keep his roster spot by outplaying the new ringer in practice. I'm still shocked the player didn't hand over the keys to his hotel room and hop on a plane back to Milwaukee. He accepted the deal, and the team is practicing with both guys -- from the perspective of the team, it might be more appropriate to call them slabs of meat or circus animals -- and trying to evaluate who will give them a better chance in the playoffs.

Note to readers: I apologize for being vague regarding the players' and teams' names. I'm writing about the players and teams involved in this situation for a publication in the States and I don't want to publish too much of the story online before I sell the official version.

As the import showdown unfolded, I could hardly believe the seemingly underhanded way the players were jerked around. I was feeling pretty indignant on their behalf, but everyone involved was strangely blasé about it.

I asked around, and their nonchalance was due to the fact that imports are shipped like this all the time in the Philippines. The Santa Lucia Realtors, one of the worst teams in the league, have had four different imports during the 16-game regular season. The Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings just dropped Sean Lampley for former Auburn stud and one-time Golden State Warrior Chris Porter.

The PBA's market for imported star players isn't much different from Manila's frenetic food, clothing and craft markets and pawn shops -- picking up a new 6'5'' swingman with hops and SEC credentials isn't any harder than buying pirated DVDs or a papaya bigger than your head.


Anonymous Kevin/Brooklyn said...

One bad game and you could be out?
Man, can you imagine this kind of policy in our NBA? Guys would be rotating like kids at a birthday party, looking for a chair to jam their butt in when the music stopped. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Cultural relativity is the name of the game. If that's the way it's run, the imports coming in must know that they're only as good as their last game.
I'd like to get hold of one of these contracts for imports just fgor the fun of it. Must be a no-sue clause in bold & italics right up front. Sensitive players need not apply. Sure is an eye-opener to us U.S. observers. Thanks for the heads-up on this part of their pro game over there.

4:53 PM  

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