Philippine Society. Politics. Rants. Critiques.

My Thoughts on Basketball in the Philippines

| Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Filipinos love basketball. It is indeed the most popular sport in the islands. Less than a week ago, Lakers edged the Celtics in the deciding game for the 2010 NBA Finals.

Basketball, not soccer, is the most loved sport by the Filipinos. Come to think of it, the sport is a clear manifestation of the American influence. After more than a century of its creation by the Canadian physical education instructor, Dr. James Naismith, basketball has reached the globe and we were never spared.

It was introduced in the islands, less than a decade after its initial creation by YMCA. Years later, we developed the oldest professional basketball league in Asia which is the PBA (the Philippine Basketball Association) in 1975. The Toyota-Crispa rivalry, as many old-timers would agree, is one of the notable rivalries in the league ever.

I grew up conscious of the game’s popularity. I grew up to the headlines of the Gordon’s Gin-Alaska rivalry. In my high schooldays, I and my friends would play at their home-made court just beside the highway in South Cotabato. Basketball is a national obsession with makeshift rings visible at town plazas, parking lots, sidestreets, forest clearings, or even in mountains of Maguindanao. All this time, we had been passionate of the sport.

We were once Asia’s greatest team. In the 1954, the Philippine Team with Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga steering, placed third in the FIBA World Championship. It was during the time when the sport is not as popular as it is now in the world.

Right now, Philippine basketball is at its dark days. As time goes by, I realize that we loved a sport that is “not meant for us”. For a very simple and logical reason - in basketball, “Height is might”. In basketball, height is an advantage.

The average Filipino height is 5 feet and four inches. Yes, we have a lot of good and nimble players but they are no match to the giant ballers in the West. Very few have the height of or more than six feet. That is the same reason why even though we had been competing in the Olympics since 1936, we just couldn’t get any medal. From last year’s FIBA Asian men's championships, we even placed NINTH. It may be embarrassing but I am not surprised.

“Import” players usually outshine the locals in our basketball leagues. We keep on getting players from abroad yet we can not “export” Filipino players to play in other leagues overseas. We, Asians as we are, will never outplay the giants.

And it seems I am not alone with this view. Hall of Famer Carlos Loyzaga, the greatest Filipino basketball player of all time, once said there is too much importance given to basketball when there are other sporting disciplines where the Filipino can excel. Sports critic and former POC president Julian Malonso also agreed that basketball is not the game for Filipinos.

Let’s take a look at Japan. Baseball, and not sumo wrestling, is their favorite pastime and it seems they are doing pretty well. A multitude of Japanese batters are superstars in America’s major league baseball. It is time for us to switch our focus out of basketball.

I believe we should instead concentrate more on sports where we have better chances of winning, like the sweet science of boxing, billiards, bowling, golf, tennis, chess, or soccer. A sport that does not have height as a factor that is our only chance in the world of sports. Period.

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