Saturday, October 16, 2010


We could barely make out our one-time basketball idols at the Sandburg Middle School gym in Alexandria, Virginia.

They included Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) stars Yoyoy Villamin and Billy Ray Bates of the fabled Crispa Redmanizers; Eddieboy Mendoza and Manny Victorino of Great Taste; Tim Coloso of Anejo Rum; Rickey Relosa of Alaska; Ricky Magallanes of San Miguel Beer; Richard Bognot of U-Tex; Alwin Espiritu of Talk Tex; and Ato Morano who played for Coke.

The event was organized by PBA alumni Ricky Magallanes, who's settled in Northern Virginia. The one-time coach of the Philippine and Vietnamese national teams is also the founder of Edge Basketball Sports Management and Training which conducts basketball clinics here.

Most of the former PBA stars settled in the East Coast, particularly in New York and New Jersey.

Perhaps the newest arrival was Victorino who still counts the length of his stay in Rahway, New Jersey by the months.

“We still get together to play basketball when we have the time, especially during weekends like today,” Villamin told us, adding he was now engaged in the construction trade in New Jersey.

“Life’s alright so long as you’re not too picky about work,” the former Redmanizer explained.

Generations of Pinoys, myself included, rely on their favorite PBA stars as a point of reference in their lives.

There was a tinge of nostalgia watching them play against “select seniors” of the Fil-Am Youth Basketball Association (FYBA) which promotes the sport among Fil-Am school-age kids in Metro DC.

The Crispa-Meralco rivalry, for instance, looms largely in the memories of my grade school years that was later supplanted by the Crispa-Toyota rivalry when we stepped up to high school. There’s much I’d prefer to forget about that era (if I hadn’t already), but those basketball games – especially Crispa’s grand slam campaigns – wasn’t one of them.

Playing 3x3 or with a full-court complement, we pretended to have the point-making accuracy of an Atoy Co or Bogs Adornado, or aerial acrobatics of Freddie Hubalde (certainly the cause of one sprain too many) or the blocking prowess of a Philip Cesar. It was as irrational as a people nursing dreams of world titles by crashing bodies with 7-foot behemoths.

Basketball’s pervasive influence on Filipinos piqued the interest of a young journalist from New York, Rafe Bartholomew, who joined us in Virginia.

He told us his book “Pacific Rims” (published by NAL Hardcover and released last June) was the product of more than three years of research, although the actual writing took him 8 months.

He said a Sports Illustrated article on how basketball was played in different countries, including the Philippines, was the germ of his book.

He hanged out with PBA players, politicians, the neighborhood “tambays” and even played some games in rural fiestas, in a quest to understand the Filipinos’ deep-rooted affinity to the sport.

Bartholomew spent so much time in the Philippines, he conversed with Victorino in grammatically impeccable Pilipino with an American twang.

Chicago Sun Times columnist Rick Telander said Bartholomew “turns the Philippines into a hoops carnival, teaching us as much about this complex nation as any history book.”

Book author James McBride (The Color of Water, Miracle at St. Anna, etc.) said Pacific Rims “is more than a front row seat to a body-twisting, triple-clutching, no-look passing basketball world in flip-flops.”

We asked Bartholomew if he’s figured out, in his years of immersion in Philippine basketball, why we love it so much? He just smiled.


  1. this is cool, i want Billy Ray Bates to come to my gym in New York. i'm doing a filipino league in long island.