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

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ham comes to Manila!

Nothing would make me happier than to report that Patrick Renna, the youthful virtuoso who lit up the silver screen as Hamilton "Ham" Porter in The Sandlot was spotted touring some of Quezon City's seedier karaoke/girlie bars on Kamias Road. Sadly, that did not happen.

The truth is almost as good. I've written previously about the unpredictable careers of American ballers playing as imports in the PBA. Well, today I returned from a week-long furlough in New York to find out that the Talk-N-Text Phone Pals hired NBA veteran Darvin Ham to join their team for game three of their 5-game quarterfinal series against the Air 21 Express.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

At what point does the farcical terrain inhabited by PBA imports officially qualify as an alternate universe? Summer tournaments in the Bronx have tougher roster rules than this. The PBA should stop calling the players imports and refer to them them using the more accurate title of ringers.

I was told there was a deadline after which new imports couldn't be added, but if that date isn't set at the beginning of the playoffs, what good is it? Ham replaced Damien Cantrell (the great white hope of PBA imports, who was averaging a respectable 19 points and 17 rebounds) with the series tied 1-1.

Who will the teams bring in for a series-clinching game five? Latrell Sprewell is still waiting for a contract, and some creative lawyers might be able to whip something up that includes enough multi-million dollar incentives and sweeteners to feed the legendary hunger of the starving Sprewell family.

Somewhat ironically, Ham -- a member of the 2004 Pistons championship team -- had a miserable first game. He scored only 16 points on less than 37 percent shooting, and was clearly outplayed by opposing import Shawn "the Incredible Bulk" Daniels, who looks primed for a career in competitive eating once his basketball days are over.

Ham's undercooked (!!!) performance wasn't really that surprising, however. Most replacement imports who fly across the world and try to drop Shaq numbers 2 days after arriving in Manila fall flat. As far as Ham's body was concerned (assuming he flew in from somewhere in the Eastern Standard Time Zone), Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. tip-off in Manila felt like 6:30 a.m. Having lived through Philippines jet lag myself, I can say that for almost two weeks it's nearly impossible to stay awake between 5 and 10 p.m.

Needless to say, Ham was not breaking backboards like he did in his Texas Tech days or showing off that amazing reverse 180-degree dunk he did in the 1997 NBA dunk contest in his PBA debut. In fact, Ham looked bummy. It's probably unfair to expect a guy who spent most of the last 9 years playing 15-20 minutes per game with nothing to concentrate on but hustling, defending and rebounding to show up and remember how to be a dominant scorer.

But that's what they expect here, and Ham's meager output, along with a few embarrassing strips and blocks from Daniels' quick hands and a loss for Talk-N-Text probably have the team managers thinking about another replacement.

Their expectations may be unfair, but their logic isn't entirely off: If you you wake up every morning and kiss an NBA Championship ring, you probably shouldn't be getting beasted by a player I've described as a black Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

The highlight of the messy, turnover-ridden game was a Philippine broadcaster, who had a ball clowning both imports -- Ham for his lackluster performance and Daniels for his incredible bulk. This line, which the sportscaster said when their respective coaches subbed Daniels and Ham into the game simulataneously, brought it all together: "Where there is Ham, Shawn Daniels is never far behind."

Ahoy, Bison! How'd you like to be a Purefoods Chunkee Giant?

I'm looking forward to what NBA journeymen and former NCAA All-Americans the PBA can call upon for the finals in February. The anticipation has me giddy! Who will they resurrect? Bison Dele? Joe Forte? William Avery? Sergio McClain? Alaa Abdelnaby? Lenny Cooke? Corleone Young? Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf? Anderson Hunt? Donald Williams? The possibilities are downright tantalizing.


Anonymous NYC Teacher said...

Hey, this PBA stuff is better than watching the Knicks. Maybe we could ship a few of them over there.
How much do these suckers get paid, anyway?

11:08 PM  

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