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 week*, our poem for (Good) Friday combines theology and basketball like only a Filipino poet can:
“After Reading Aquinas”, by Asterio Gutierrez
They say we fear what we do not understand
but it isn’t his Summa Theologica that scares me
so much as his six-foot-eight, 350-pound frame
that some say was just 8% body fat. The same
was said of Shaquille O’Neal and we all saw what he did
to every center who stood in his way of proving
he could win a championship. If we were to meet
in heaven I’d swear I’d understood him perfectly
but then again would God really save me
after I’d just compared St. Thomas to Shaq!
It has been said, succinctly and accurately, that Filipinos have lived “three hundred years in a convent, followed by fifty years in Hollywood.” The question now: Whither next?
(First published in the Philippines Graphic. You can find more literary work by Aste on his online archive. His latest short story, “The Big Man”, will be published in Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 6, and will be featured on this blog, shortly after the book comes out in June— look for it in your local bookstore!)
(*This year, Holy week also happens to be the NBA playoffs opening week. Special, indeed!)
To do my part, I have created an open and interactive companion book list for this blog. If you are looking for a good read, or simply want to familiarize yourself with Filipino authors, please check it out here— better yet, leave a bookmark, I promise to add more books as I discover them.
For a peek into what I am currently reading, check out my Reading List. Happy reading!
In my previous post, the first (of many) on Miguel Syjuco’s wise novel “Ilustrado”, the protagonist (also named Miguel Syjuco) wonders if his mentor, accomplished Filipino author Crispin Salvador, had “grown too soft for a city [Manila] such as this, a place possessed by a very different balance.” It continues:
Wholly different from the zeitgeist lining the Western world, with its own chaos given order by multitudes of films and television shows, explained into our communal understanding by op-ed pieces and panel discussions and the neatness of stories linked infinitely to each other online.
(Emphasis mine.) Miguel wonders whether this has kept Salvador from going back.
This is my favorite passage from the book. It put into words what I implicitly know, what I have slowly and deeply internalized over my years of living in the West. For me, it got right to the heart of the question: “To return or not to return?” It assured me that I was not alone in that respect.
I work as a scientist.* But more than that, I engage the world as one. I observe, organize, ask, and analyze. I need to give order to the chaos. Even if— deep down I understand— it is an exercise in vain. Hence, this blog: making sense of being Filipino, of who I am and who I can be– book by book, link by link.
I humbly invite you to follow along…
(*Yes, this observer is also an astronomical one.)
Dear Reader: I am eager to hear from you— care to share your precious thoughts?
Miguel Syjuco’s novel “Ilustrado“ won the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize as an unpublished manuscript. Published in 2010, it garnered much-deserved international attention and acclaim.* A bricolage, it builds the character of Filipino author Crispin Salvador through excerpts from his impressive body of work (including a 2,572-page memoir, short stories, novels, essays, even interviews).**
The novel, like many good ones, is a voyage of discovery. The protagonist, also named Miguel Syjuco (and whose life trajectory closely parallels the author’s), returns to the Philippines to investigate Crispin’s untimely death (was it suicide or murder?). On his way from New York to Manila, Miguel wonders what has kept Crispin from returning home:
Could it be that he had just grown too soft for a city such as this, a place possessed by a very different balance? Here, need blurs the line between good and bad, and a constant promise of random violence sticks like humidity down your back.
(Emphases mine.) I confess, I often wonder the same about myself.
Indeed, in our impoverished country, need blurs the line between good and bad. I have resigned myself to this sad reality. I have used it to rationalize our “damaged culture.” But now, I am beginning to change my mind. Yes, need can turn good people into bad, but greed does that too. Perhaps the right question to ask is: how much can we attribute to need (environmental), and how much to greed (personal)?
The shameless greed and corruption of our politicians are universally and endlessly lamented over. But corruption in our country lurks in almost every place you (dare to) look. Journalist Maria Ressa nails it: “Corruption is endemic. It infiltrates so many aspects of our lives.” Addressing 500 medical sales representatives of the global pharmaceutical company MSD (known as Merck in the U.S.), she asks them to look in the mirror: “it’s not easy to be both successful and ethical in our country today” but “I KNOW you can do it.”
I urge you to listen to the full speech, “How Good People Turn Evil: Corruption in the Philippines” (the full manuscript is here). A tour de force, I guarantee it is worth your time today. By clearly and boldly naming the unnamed, she renders it un-ignorable. She trumpets a call to action, within it a transformative message: in each of us lies the power to say NO.
(*Recent awards include New York Times Notable Book of the Year and Amazon.ca’s Books in Canada First Novel Award.)
(**Apparently, many readers were fooled into thinking that he [Crispin Salvador] was a real person, warranting his own Wikipedia entry (which has since been revised). I’m not sure how much of this should be credited to Ilustrado‘s verisimilitude, and how much to the gullibility of some readers. Surely, it takes both.)