Winless in Doha

Winless in Doha

FEBRUARY 1, 2007

Brown men can’t jump. Those with above-average vertical leaps can neither dribble nor shoot. The athleticism of the Malay race, if it is really there, is suited for sepak takraw, not basketball. The embarrassing loss of the Philippine national basketball team in Doha, Qatar, (winless and scared shitless after the tournament), is just the latest on a long, long list of meltdowns in international basketball tournaments.

The tattooed basketball mercenaries from the United States and Trust Territories and elsewhere can’t be of much help. They are here because they can’t make it as benchwarmers in lousy NBA teams such as the Atlanta Hawks. Stints in the CBA? Hardly. Life in the minor leagues in the US (USBL, NBL etc.) is too tough: flea-invested hotels, lousy food, creaking team buses, pay of a McDonald crew. These mercenaries have found a heaven here. Plus, they get all the leggy girls in town.

The Manila Times special report on basketball was excellent journalism. Something has to be written about the passion—and obsession—toward a team sports that has become the second national pastime after politics. Only in this hapless country of ours does basketball, a sports where we always miserably fail, intersects with politics and popular culture to a level beyond comprehension. Basketball stars shine in politics. Politicians manage and own minor basketball teams. Basketball lemons, in oversized shorts, are lionized and get the treatment of rock stars.

The bigger basketball teams are owned by the tycoons, basketball fans themselves.

Question. Is there hope for Philippine basketball? Can we at least recapture the decent standing we used to have in international tournaments? Is too much focus on basketball (to the detriment of sepak takraw and other games suited for Malays) justified?

There is only one answer and the nabobs and high priests of Philippine sports should get this. None. Wala.

We are a hopeless case. If Philippine basketball were a car, it is a Torana. The competition are Modenas and Targas. Or, at the very least, S-Class Benzes and 7-series Bimmers.

Forget basketball. It is not for brown men who cannot jump, dribble and shoot with elementary decency.

There is nothing more embarrassing than our never-ending failures against Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan in regional tournaments. Their players are blue-collar workers who play basketball after office hours, after their 8 a.m. to 5 p. m. jobs. They are not lionized and pampered, the pampering goes to their baseball and football stars (basketball is a minor game in the two countries). Yet, our national teams padded by the tattooed mercenaries can’t beat these office workers cum basketball players in international tournaments. Forget about China. Unto itself, it is a Great Wall in basketball.

Why? What is at the root of these tragic and never-ending embarrassments in a sport we so love?

Genetics is our primary curse. Just look at Indonesia, where many of our forefathers came from during the great Asian migration. Indonesia has over 200 million people, which in theory offers a vast pool of possible basketball greats. Have we heard of an Indonesian team playing in the elite World Basketball Championship? Is there an Indonesian in the NBA? Is there an Indonesian playing for an elite commercial team in Europe such as Benneten Treviso or Real Madrid? Zero. Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia have to admit to the fact that they do not have the body parts to be basketball greats.

But wait. You may remind me of the story of former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley, who was awkward and gangling, but made history as one of the greatest collegiate players in the US NCAA. John McPhee, the great writer, even wrote a book about Bradley’s collegiate life at Princeton that focused on both his extraordinary basketball discipline and sense. Bradley was later drafted by the New York Knicks, played professional basketball for 10 years and helped the Knicks win big.

Bradley, of course, was short on athleticism. But he had an extraordinary sense of basketball, an extra-brilliant mind and extracourageous heart. I have read most of the books written about this basketball great and Rhodes scholar. And the books he himself wrote about life, politics and public policy. He should have been US president.

Can you say the same of our basketball lemons here?

Marlen V. Ronquillo


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