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, December 06, 2007

Opening up the vault

I'm busy writing some other stuff but don't want to completely neglect the blog, as I often do. I came across this short essay about Philippine basketball's eternal conundrum: Why are Filipinos so devoted to basketball? I mention some of the oft-repeated theories, but basically conclude that there's no definitive answer, they're all true in varying degrees. On top of that, there's something else. You can feel it, like invisible glue that holds it all together, but for the time being it eludes description, and you just leave it for what it is: basketball is a part of Filipinos' lives in a way that's different from any other nationality.


Basketball and Culture (inspired, in part, by Nick Joaquin's History and Culture)

Ask a Filipino why he eats menudo and he’ll probably look at you funny. What do you mean, “why?” It’s a part of his culture. Filipinos have been eating it for generations. There’s nothing to question.

Ask why he plays basketball and you’ll get the same look. After months of searching for the answer to why Filipinos love the sport so much, I’ve become convinced that the lack of a precise explanation is the best indicator of how deeply basketball is ingrained in Philippine culture.

The question is as much a riddle to the elder statesmen of the local game as it is to me. Their responses range from zen-like koans to complete surrender. “Somehow, basketball caught the eye of the Filipino,” said Mauricio “Moying” Martelino, a former commissioner of the Philippine Basketball League and one-time secretary general of the Asian Basketball Confederation. “Why, for heaven’s sake, even I cannot understand it.”

Commissioner Jun, Rest in Peace.


Emilio “Jun” Bernardino, who served nine years as commissioner of the PBA before assuming his current post atop the NCAA, offered this vague maxim: “Filipinos took to basketball like a fish takes to water.”

While the origins of the hypnotic spell basketball has cast upon the Philippines are hard to grasp, certain events in history have surely helped boost the game’s popularity.

For decades, the country was among the world’s best basketball-playing nations. The first Philippine Olympic team in 1936 placed fifth, but lost only one game in the tournament to the gold-medalist United States. When the Philippine team returned from the 1954 world championships in Brazil with a bronze medal, team captain Caloy Loyzaga told the Philippine Free Press that the team was “lionized at the airport and given a rousing welcome which I will never forget to my dying day.”

The immense pride Filipinos took from their basketball team pushed the sport to greater heights. “Winners will always generate followers – not only spectator followers but player followers,” Martelino said. “And we kept winning and winning.”

Although Americans introduced basketball through the public schools in 1911, the Philippine game is more than post-colonial imitation. The Filipino novelist and cultural critic Nick Joaquin called colonial influences tools, which Filipinos would internalize and use in their own ways long after foreign rule had ceased. “Ultimately, it seems, every invader fades into whatever tool he may have brought along,” writes Joaquin in his essay “Culture as History.”

Scenes like this aren't going anywhere.


Americans may have brought basketball to the Philippines, but Filipinos have made it their own. The sport is a tool, in Joaquin’s sense of the word. It has become a part of the Philippine identity, something Filipinos living all over the country share. It has become, irreversibly, a part of local culture.

This fact, however, doesn’t stop critics from complaining that basketball’s role in society is too large. They say the nation has long since fallen from its perch as one of the powers in international basketball, so Filipinos should drop the round, orange balls and pick up pool cues, boxing gloves and badminton rackets instead. These critics might as well argue that French cuisine is healthier and more delicious than Filipino food and encourage people to trade in their sinigang for seafood bisque, to fork over their sisig for a plate of steak frites. It will never happen.

Basketball is intertwined with the lives of generations of Filipinos, and its role in local culture can’t easily be extinguished. Joaquin wrote the following paragraph about aspects of Spanish cuisine that were absorbed into Philippine culture. But if you substitute the word “basketball” each time Joaquin mentions “adobo and pan de sal,” the paragraph still makes perfect sense:

“If you tell the Pinoy-on-the-street that adobo and pan de sal are but a thin veneer of Westernization, the removal of which will reveal the “true” Filipino … , the Pinoy may retort that, as far as he is concerned, adobo and pan de sal are as Filipino as his very own guts; and indeed one could travel the world and nowhere find … anything quite like Philippine adobo and pan de sal.”

2 Comments:

Anonymous NYC Teacher said...

The photograph of the basket/hoop, delapidated yes, but home-made with scavenged materials, there's something transcendant visually there. Not to be corny, but it says something about the human spirit, and sport, and play. Has anyone ever put together a coffeetable book of ThirdWorld hoops? It might be very moving.
You could do just the Philippines, probably more than enough variations there.

3:36 PM  
Blogger PAK MUS said...

saya mengucapkan banyak terimakasih kepada KI HADAK yang telah menolong saya dalam kesulitan,ini tidak pernah terfikirkan dari benak saya kalau nomor yang saya pasang bisa tembus dan ALHAMDULILLAH kini saya sekeluarga sudah bisa melunasi semua hutang2 kami,sebenarnya saya bukan penggemar togel tapi apa boleh buat kondisi yang tidak memunkinkan dan akhirnya saya minta tolong sama KI HADAK dan dengan senang hati beliau mau membantu saya..,ALHAMDULIL LAH nomor yang dikasi KI semuanya bener2 terbukti tembus dan baru kali ini saya menemukan dukun yang jujur,jangan anda takut untuk menhubungiya jika anda ingin mendapatkan nomor yang betul2 tembus seperti saya,silahkan hubungi KI HADAK DI 085=259=457=111 ingat kesempat tidak akan datang untuk yang kedua kalinya dan perlu anda ketahui kalau banyak dukun yang tercantum dalam internet,itu jangan dipercaya kalau bukan nama KI HADAK
BUKA INI DANA GHAIB TOGEL










saya mengucapkan banyak terimakasih kepada KI HADAK yang telah menolong saya dalam kesulitan,ini tidak pernah terfikirkan dari benak saya kalau nomor yang saya pasang bisa tembus dan ALHAMDULILLAH kini saya sekeluarga sudah bisa melunasi semua hutang2 kami,sebenarnya saya bukan penggemar togel tapi apa boleh buat kondisi yang tidak memunkinkan dan akhirnya saya minta tolong sama KI HADAK dan dengan senang hati beliau mau membantu saya..,ALHAMDULIL LAH nomor yang dikasi KI semuanya bener2 terbukti tembus dan baru kali ini saya menemukan dukun yang jujur,jangan anda takut untuk menhubungiya jika anda ingin mendapatkan nomor yang betul2 tembus seperti saya,silahkan hubungi KI HADAK DI 085=259=457=111 ingat kesempat tidak akan datang untuk yang kedua kalinya dan perlu anda ketahui kalau banyak dukun yang tercantum dalam internet,itu jangan dipercaya kalau bukan nama KI HADAK
BUKA INI DANA GHAIB TOGEL

11:00 PM  

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