Inspired by the unabashed enthusiasm for (and tireless research into) Philippine basketball by Rafe Bartholomew in his recent book Pacific Rims, Filipino writer Asterio Gutierrez imagines a real-life kapre, 7’6” Bolado de Makiling, as the “first ever full-blooded Filipino to play in the NBA” in his fantastic* short story, “The Big Man”.
A DVD of the entire season was released by Solar Sports in partnership with the NBA, which sold out within two months (and perplexingly, has not been reissued). Entitled A Season of Bolado, it features every one of his games—to which, amusingly, the film’s writers each gave nicknames. It begins, of course, with “First Blood at Phoenix”. Played November 3, 2004, it broke Bolado‟s own PBA debut record as the most-watched event in Philippine television history, and kicked off the trend of live sports broadcasts becoming promotional draws at cinemas, bars, and even fine dining restaurants.
… Before Stoudemire [premier NBA center, formerly of the Phoenix Suns, currently with the NY Knicks] even had the chance to lower his forearm, Bolado whirled to the center of the lane and lofted a jumphook. It hit the bottom of the net clean. While hardly anyone cheered at Atlanta—it was just another basket in the second quarter, by a reserve no less—the entire Philippines erupted. Globe and Smart broke down for an entire fifteen minutes. Magandang Tanghali Bayan was interrupted by a newsflash and never resumed. Both AM and FM stations looped Bolado’s Magic Sing hit Tuktok ng Bundok well past midnight. It would become one of those cultural watershed moments, akin to the Eraserheads rising to the stage to the opening bars of Alapaap at their reunion concert, and Charice Pempengco entering frame on Glee. He would end up with four points and two rebounds; the game ended up contested up to the last minute, so he did not enter in the fourth quarter to pad his numbers. But as the rest of the DVD episode list showed, greater things were still to come.
Pure imagination, yet every word rings true.
Kudos and thanks to Aste for sending me a copy (and for writing it, of course!). “The Big Man” appears in the recently-published collection Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 6– look for it in your local bookstores!
(*in both senses of the word)
In celebration of this special time of the year,* we delve into a meditation on basketball and the Filipino national identity.
I’ve previously posted about Rafe Bartholomew’s excellent book on Philippine hoops, “Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball.” Sometimes, we need to see ourselves through a foreigner’s fresh eyes** to recognize what is uniquely ours.
People have always struggled to define their essence, their soul, or whatever one wishes to call it. For Filipinos, basketball is part of that evanescent core.
(Emphasis mine.) I am tired of hearing that we do not have a national identity— of course, we do! Would the same people claim that there is no such thing as Filipino food, either? Bartholomew aptly quotes Filipino novelist and cultural critic Nick Joaquin:
If you tell the Pinoy-on-the-street that adobo and pan de sal are but a thin veneer of Westernization, the removal of which will reveal the “true” Filipino… the Pinoy may retort that, as far as he is concerned, adobo and pan de sal are as Filipino as his very own guts; and indeed one could travel the world and nowhere find… anything quite like Philippine adobo and pan de sal.
(Emphasis mine.) As Bartholomew perceptively points out, “Basketball, another colonial import, has also become as Filipino as the Pinoy’s guts.”
Our history is a colonial one, so it only follows that our identity will be too. Perhaps it is time to stop rejecting that (admittedly) hard truth; time to stop looking for a non-existent purely Filipino core. Heck, even “Filipino” itself is a colonial name.
Capturing our identity is extremely difficult and frustrating— I sometimes even lose sleep over it. But instead of denouncing the lack of it— or worse— disowning it (“No, I don’t have a Filipino accent— I’m educated!” or “That’s so masa!”), I humbly invoke— this Holy Week— the Serenity Prayer:
May we be granted
the serenity to accept who we are,
the wisdom to know who we can be,
and the courage to change who we will be.
(*the NBA playoffs, of course!)
(**Not of a parachutist-journalist, but a “connected critic”— one intimately involved in the lives of his subjects, but also able to observe from somewhat detached vantage point. [from Mary Pipher’s “Writing to Change the World”])
I am wildly enjoying Pacific Rims, Rafe Bartholomew‘s account of his immersion into Philippine basketball, and inevitably, Philippine society and culture. Early in the book, he lays down a spot-on observation of the difference between what the Philippines appears to be (in foreign eyes) and what lies beneath:
On my way home I looked out the window at the steady procession of McDonald’s franchises, KFCs, and 7-Elevens. Many foreign visitors to the Philippines saw Manila’s ubiquitous chain restaurants as a sign of the country’s extreme Americanization, but there was another side to the city. For every American restaurant, there were a dozen roadside barbecue stalls selling grilled skewers of isaw (pork intestines), helmet (chicken heads), and betamax (cubes of coagulated pork blood that resemble the ancient video format’s tapes). The hard wooden benches of buses were crammed with breast-feding mothers and construction workers who had washcloths tucked into the backs of their shirts to soak up sweat. This wasn’t a country where one foreign culture simply dominated its native counterpart, but a place where Spanish and American colonial influences mixed with the imprints of Chinese and Malay merchants who had been trading in the Philippines since before the archipelago even existed in the eyes of the West. A dizzying array of ingredients made up the Philippines’ cultural brew, and they blended over time to form something uniquely Filipino.
On the flip side, when I first moved to “America” (five years ago), what struck me most was how familiar everything seemed to be, yet how different everything was. The dissonance remains.