Manila Vanilla

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

My Photo
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

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Dream is Dead

Reporters. They're always checking the facts. It's usually a good thing, but this time, with Salt Lake Tribune reporter Steve Luhm checking out the Karl Malone-to-Red Bull rumor, it's just a killjoy.

Luhm called Malone at home to see what was really good. The Mailman's response: "Steve, I don't know what you're talking about." Then a pause. "Steve, you know me, don't you? Do you think I miss it that bad? No. Hell, no."

Well, it was fun while it lasted. As for Luhm, nice job reporting, but you could have filed the story without all the cheap shots at the Philippines. But, you know, what else do you expect from somebody who lives in Utah?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Mailman Cometh?

The mailman, as in an employee of the Quezon City postal service, rarely comes to my house. Or, perhaps he does come, but by the time he arrives my correspondence has already found its way into a trash fire in the Nia Road shantytown next to the post office. None of it matters, because the real Mailman -- Karl Malone -- may be coming to Manila.

Yee-haw! Karl's coming to town and he's bringing enough Rogaine for everybody.

I'm rushing to get this post out because it's only a matter of days before this fairly ridiculous rumor gets shot down. For the time being, however, this story, originally published in the Manila Bulletin and then reprinted in the Salt Lake City Deseret Morning News and on Insider's NBA rumor page, has enough suckers biting that I want to get my piece of the pie before reality turns it to vapors.

The PBA's Red Bull franchise is reportedly negotiating with Malone to suit up as the Barakos' token American in the league's import conference, which begins later this month. And what a token he would be -- one of the NBA's 50 Greatest players, the league's second-leading career scorer and arguably the best power forward in NBA history.

Let's say this up front before getting ahead of ourselves: when Red Bull GM Tony Chua says the team is "awaiting [Malone]'s decision," it could mean anything. It could mean the Red Bull coaching staff was sitting around a few buckets of San Miguel Beer somewhere in Pasig City and one of the coaches said, "Hey, Karl Malone would be an awesome import!" And that was the end of it. Someone could have actually reached out to Malone or his agent, but not gotten much farther than that.

Or, Malone could actually be considering a trip to the Philippines. Money wouldn't be a factor, since the PBA caps imports' contracts at $12,000 per month, with under the table incentives that can push earnings up to about $20K. But Malone is married to a Filipina, and it's possible that she could be encouraging him to take Red Bull's offer. If that's the case, the Philippine legislature may take a break from the latest round of corruption hearings about the president's role in a ridiculously bloated broadband contract to add Malone's wife to the list of National Heroes. Bringing Karl Malone to the PBA would be that big.

From the NBA to the NRA to the PBA. There's some good possum-huntin' here in the Philippines.

And then there's the X-factor. Malone has always been something of a wild card. Everything about him seems to defy the conventional image of an NBA superstar: from his down-home Louisiana persona, which is reminiscent of Forrest Gump's pal Bubba; to hobbies like hunting, cattle ranching and professional wrestling; to Malone's ride, an 18-wheeler that he used to drive and make actual deliveries in during the off-season; to his endorsements, which include Rogaine and the NRA; to a wardrobe that is home to several cowboy hats and Malone's legendary draft-day suit; and finally, his NBA pals like John Stockton, who everyone seems to hate. Malone is just different, and maybe, just maybe he gets it in his head that playing in the PBA and living in his wife's motherland for six months would be fun, and he follows through with it.

So, pretending that Malone actually does choose to play for Red Bull, what would it mean?

1. The Mailman would pose for roughly 50,000 cell phone pictures per week. His first month in town would likely rival Beatlemania, and he would be consistently mobbed in public. The percentage change in Filipino babies named Karl could be quadruple digits. People in PBA circles are still geeked over the season that former Chicago Bull Dickey Simpkins spent in the league, and that was 4 years ago. I'm sure that other PBA players will run to the sidelines after the game to get their cameras and pose with Malone and their families. I wouldn't be surprised of some players even figure out ways to pose with Malone during the actual game, most likely during time outs or on the foul line. There would undoubtedly be some awkward moments, particularly for the Mailman, who might have a hard time figuring out why the guy who has been holding him by the jersey, kneeing him in the back and grabbing his index finger when he tries to jump for a rebound is now asking him to say Cheese and hold his baby.

Malone's signature short tie from the 1984 Draft will be selling like hotcakes at Shoemart.

2. This raises another question. The attention and fanfare Malone would receive off the court would absolutely be matched by the attention opposing teams would give him on it, only during games, at least, there would be none of the affection. The good coaches would devise elaborate schemes to harass and stop him, while the less clever ones would just toss out a zone and tell everyone to cheat towards Malone. Every team would trot out their aging, burly enforcer, whose only concerns would be provoking Malone and pounding him under the boards.

Just how good would the 44-year-old Malone be in the PBA? My guess is that he'd be very good. Although 44 is very old for professional basketball, Malone had one of those human muscle physiques that looked like it would stay chiseled into perpetuity. He also seemed like the kind of guy who wouldn't let his body go the way of the Barkley after retirement. He probably won't be too quick out there, but I don't think his conditioning would be an embarrassment. His offensive game would be a great fit in the PBA. I could see him scoring between 20 and 30 per night on mid-range jumpers alone, then picking up a few more buckets inside.

If the PBA's only other unlimited height import conference, back in 2005, is any indication, then Malone won't be competing against anyone who's likely to make him look bad. The talent pool for players taller than 6-9, where most teams recruit for an unlimited height conference, is smaller than at 6-6, and teams in 2005 had a tough time finding big guys willing to fly across the world and play for less money than they'd make in Europe or even China. It was a big-stiff convention and teams had the highest turnover rate of imports of any conference in the last seven years. Red Bull, the team that Malone would be going to, set a dubious record by cycling through 10 imports during a 16 game season, and a couple other teams nearly matched them. If the league sees a similar shortage of imports capable of running and chewing gum at the same time, Malone shouldn't have too much trouble.

But still, if Malone has any doubts about his ability to come in and dominate this league, he should stay away. Two years ago, when 9-year NBA veteran Darvin Ham led Talk-N-Text to a quarterfinal loss against Air21, he was lampooned in the press. He left the country bitter and angry over the way the media pounced on him, which he compared to the kind of propaganda one might see on a "bin Laden tape." The expectations on a league MVP like Malone will be outrageous, and if he doesn't expect to win the best import award and deliver a championship for Red Bull, he may want to save himself the headache.

Yeng Guiao: Like, Redman, he's not to be fucked with or played with. Photo by Patrick Michels.

3. The Guiao factor. It's no secret that Red Bull coach Yeng Guiao is a tad on the volatile side. Sometimes, when you watch him prowl the sidelines and stand there glaring at his players with his arms crossed, you think he's just an intense guy who wants to win. Sometimes, then he attacks the scorer's table, audibly threatens referees and clotheslines opposing players (as he did in the 2007 All-Filipino semifinals to DonDon Hontiveros), you think he's straight-up unhinged. Occasionally, Guiao, who is the vice governor of Pampanga province, gives the impression that he will have his private army "salvage" (martial-law era slang for killing someone and dumping them in the Pasig River) anyone who gets on his bad sign. Disclaimer: I'm pretty sure Guiao doesn't have a private army, and I'm positive he wouldn't have anyone killed. I'm just suggesting, in a silly way, that he is a demanding coach with a reputation for challenging his players in a bold manner.

So would Guiao step to the Mailman? Nevermind Malone's wrestling credentials (he once took on Hulk Hogan and Dennis Rodman in a tag-team match). But would Coach Yeng call out one of the NBA's 50 Greatest? If he was disappointed with Malone's performance, would Guiao replace him? My guess is yes. And it will be interesting to see how a player of Malone's stature would respond in those situations.

4. The Red Bull factor. PBA followers may notice some irony in Red Bull's potential hiring of Malone. The franchise, which is rumored to have financial problems stemming from a lack of support from Red Bull's international side, is known for developing talent and selling it to wealthier teams in extremely uneven trades. Their enabling role in last season's trades that sent rising star Enrico Villanueva to San Miguel and established vet Rommel Adducul to Purefoods, with Red Bull receiving chronic castaway Don Camaso is the most notable example of the team's habit of propping up revenues at the team's expense. For them to turn around and sign the biggest name import the PBA has ever seen would seem uncharacteristic, although the team actually wouldn't have to pay more for Malone than any other import.

As an aside, it's a pity that the Mailman could not end up with the Air21 Express, a team representing a local FedEx-style courier company. He delivers!

5. Malone, teaming up with Fil-Australian center Mick Pennisi, to form a high-low tandem that, depending on how you look at it, would be one of the most fearsome or most funny the PBA has ever seen.

If Malone and Rodman don't battle beneath the boards at Araneta, maybe we can get them to wrestle.

6. A possible ripple effect, in which Malone inspires other calcified, NBA greats to join him in the Philippines to relive the glory days. I'm mainly thinking of Dennis Rodman, who never seems to miss an opportunity for a publicity stunt. Rodman and Malone took their rivalry, which was formed in the late-'90s NBA Finals match-ups between the Bulls and Jazz, to the mats of the WCW (thank you, YouTube). Why not take it to the PBA? With some luck, Rodman could convince other past-nemeses -- can you say Frank Brickowski? -- to join the fray.

7. Finally, it would give me my choice of fabulous clips in newspapers and magazines across the nation and add another rich and ridiculous chapter to the book I'm writing about Philippine hoops. I'm all for it. Bring the Mailman to Red Bull ASAP!