Friday, February 18, 2011

Baller for Life: My Basketball Story

For the last 25 years (or should I say, ever since I understand what I watch in TV) I have followed a lot of sports from basketball to football (soccer), from rugby union to rugby league, from netball to American football, from boxing to billiards, from tennis to cricket, the list goes on. I supported many teams that caught my attention, some I supported to these days while I changed my allegiance from one team to another in other sports.

As a Filipino growing up in a basketball-crazed Philippines, it is natural for me to love basketball. Basketball is part of the Filipino culture and something you grow up with. We cannot just presume that basketball not meant to be for Filipinos because we lack the height. That is just wrong mentality. Sure, we do not have the height but Filipinos are born to dribble basketball just as Europeans and South Americans are born to kick football, Indians are born to bat a cricket ball, and Kiwis are born to hold a rugby ball. It simple as that its part of being a Filipino. Even some of our top athletes in other sports play or watch basketball during their spare time. Of course, that does not mean there is no room for other sports for Filipinos to excel in. That is another wrong mentality and you cannot certainly say that to Filipino sporting legends such as Paeng Nepomuceno, Efren “Bata” Reyes, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, Paulino Alcantara, and Manny Pacquiao.

Anyway, back in my high school days in the Philippines, I never get the chance to play for my high school basketball team since the school built makeshift class rooms in the school’s basketball court because the some of the old buildings were going to be demolished. In addition, during the time when the Moro rebels attacked my province, they need space for the refugees.

My High School Football Team
When I moved to New Zealand, I was able to play for my high school basketball team and did not play as many games as I want because the school sports co-ordinator was very disorganized that we ended up having one of my classmates as coach. My friends and I then tried the Canterbury Basketball Association Under-20 league and just like the high school basketball team, it was much disorganized as well. However, I am more of a footballer in my high school days in New Zealand and my team reached two consecutive finals in a row but that is another story.

During my football playing days, basketball was not my number one sport. I watched the Spanish La Liga and the Champions League, I supported Real Madrid’s original Galacticos and the number one sport I watched on TV then was not even the NBA, its rugby. The local Crusaders rugby team went unbeaten in the first time I watched the Super Rugby competitions and supporting the team to these very days. Of course, just because I lived in a distant land of New Zealand that does not mean I did not look back to my home country. Since I cannot relate much of the local club sports in the Philippines anymore, I started supporting the national teams. I join a website voicing for the Philippines to send all-pro national team to the FIBA-sanctioned tournaments. I became a fan of the Azkals (national football team) way before the moniker “Azkals” was invented and I was a fan of the Philippine Volcanoes (national rugby team) when most of the players are migrants from other countries living in the Philippines.

Talking about national teams, just because you do not like a certain sport like basketball (because you prefer football) that does not give you the right to bash the Philippine national basketball team. Same thing applies to basketball fans who do not understand football. Regardless of what type of ball the players are dribbling or kicking as long as that national team carries YOUR Flag and Country you have to support it. It is your NATIONAL TEAM.

Anyway as I was saying football was my number one sport in high school and I love watching it to this very day, but despite all that, my love for basketball came crawling back. It never goes away simply because I am a Filipino. After high school, my friends and I played pick-up basketball in different basketball courts but all that change when we meet group of Filipinos playing basketball. We meet new friends and get to play the game we love. We ended up playing for a newly formed all-Filipino basketball team. The team’s name was Christchurch Pinoy Rebels Basketball Team. Little did we know the team attracted many basketball-loving Filipinos in the city that we ended up having two teams in the second year. We played an all-Japanese team in a three game series (some of my teammates intentionally started a brawl just to see how it is like). We then represented Filipinos in Christchurch and Canterbury during the 2005 Labour Weekend tournament (a Philippine National Basketball Championship for Filipinos in New Zealand). We finished fifth but it was a great experience.

Christchurch Pinoy Rebels at the 2005 Labour Weekend tourney

Me at Edgar Center in Dunedin
In 2006, we started the year touring the Southern City of Dunedin and played the Filipino team over there. The stadium staffs disrupted the game because we made too much noise. Around that time, there was a netball game (Canterbury Flames vs. Otago Rebels) just in the next court and that was an official game for New Zealand’s netball championship. So the stadium owner decided to move our game to another court. I always thought our game took some of the netball audience attention. Anyway, we ended up merging the Christchurch and Dunedin team to play against the Otago Wildcats Masters Basketball Team. The Otago team was a team of ex-pros and yes, we were wasted. A lot. Lol!

Playing for the College of Arts Football Team
Later that year, we have the Gawad Kalinga-sponsored Christchurch Filipino Sports Festival (later to be renamed as the Christchurch All-Filipino Cup Basketball League). The basketball team finished fourth but our mixed volleyball team dominated and won the volleyball tournament. That was one of my busiest weeks ever since I was also playing for my University’s College of Arts Football Team in an Inter-College Tournament. Anyway, I played my last games for the Pinoy Rebels at the end of the year in a pre-season tournament.

Christchurch Pinoy U-22
At the beginning of 2007, I have no idea if I ever going to play again. I tried to distance myself from some people and I ended up playing for Christchurch Pinoy Under-22 Basketball Team. I was the oldest in the line-up but I was not really needed. We ended the season with a third place finished and a bronze trophy. We missed the final after a buzzer-beating attempt missed the target. Still, I was glad that the two Pinoy Rebels teams (my former club) made it to the finals. I also played for my university’s varsity team and since we hosted the New Zealand University Games, the team manager made sure to put all the veterans in one line-up and the rookies in the other line-up. My all-rookie team did not do well but at least we won the University Shield that year.

University of Canterbury All-Rookie Varsity Team
Later in 2007, we formed a Filipino Students Society (FILSOC) in my university with members from different educational institutions in Christchurch. Though, the main objective was to unite young Filipino intellectuals we ended up forming a basketball team for FILSOC. We named the team FILSOC Lizards Basketball Team and we dominated the pre-season tournament despite having only six players at that time.

By 2008, the team was one of the favourites after a strong showing in the pre-season and a very young line-up. We loss our first game to my former team Christchurch Pinoy and we ended the season a disappointing 7th place due to least committed players not turning up while only 5-6 players turning up every game. Whenever we played, it was a high scoring game compare to the other games where we are not playing. Still our opponents ended up winning the game simply because we do not have a bench and if we do, the one poor guy ended up playing for different positions throughout the game just to relieve the starter. Despite the poor finished, some of our players were nominated to some individual awards. Anyway, during this time I found out that some Filipinos in the league were sore losers. One guy from another team won an individual award went outside and threw his trophy without even appreciating the hard work and efforts of the organizers. It was disrespectful.

After the awarding ceremony, we build up for the inaugural South Island Filipino Sports Festival and the team was loaded with too many players. We ended up third equal in the tourney and missed the finals. The core of the team disbanded after that and it was never been the same. The remnants of the team tried to play one last time in an import-laden tournament later that year and we finished fifth equal. That was the end of FILSOC.

In 2009, I have no team at all and watching in the sideline while my friends were playing was just too much to bear. I was glad that they won a tourney but at the same time felt left out. I decided to focus on my studies for the rest of the year and not to play basketball anymore. I was just contented watching NBA and ANBL, and supporting the Philippine national team and the New Zealand Tall Blacks.

In 2010, not much happening at all, just like the year before. Anyway, at the end of 2010, a friend of mine asked me if we can form our own team and that story is for another entry…

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