MANILA, Philippines – Seattle, Washington is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. When the sun and sky kiss as day turns to night, the image of the Emerald City’s skyline manifests as a sight to behold, illuminated especially by the beauty of a skyscraper known as the Space Needle, which looks like it can very well fly to the mysteries waiting out of this planet’s horizons.
It can also be wet, cold, and brutal. As majestic as the heavens seem from the city’s vantage point, more often than not, it’s population of nearly 800,000 Seattleites look above and watch a colorless view dampened by rains and chilly weather that can fall to as low as 5 degrees Celsius.
Halfway around the globe, during a particularly humid afternoon spent in Quezon City, Manila, Sam Dowd is an image of a young man at peace; one who at that very moment, was updating his growing list of Instagram followers with an image of Celebrity Sports’ swimming pool.
A few weeks ago, he helped lead the UP Fighting Maroons to success in a PCCL tournament held in Naga City. After proving triumphant, Sam experienced first-hand what it was like to be adored by the die-hard UPMBT faithful, which has grown to the furthest corners of the country.
He was hugged and high-fived, praised and loved, but also humbled and shocked. At one point, he felt his butt get grabbed.
“At least buy me dinner first!” he harmlessly jokes while recalling the tale. Dowd has many tattoos, most of which hold notable meaning from the unique journey he’s been on. One of the tats, located a few inches from his heart, displays the word “love.”
He didn’t mind the attention, even the physical aspect of it. He was just happy to be there.
After all, this wasn’t supposed to be how his story would go.
“People would be like, ‘Do you regret what happened to you or do you regret any decisions?’” he says, narrating a snippet from his past.
“No, I don’t.”
It did not take long for Sam, or as close friends like to call him, “Sammy,” to find a connection with his new team.
“I belong,” he told himself when he knew he’d officially play basketball for University of the Philippines – his third stop of collegiate hoops.
Dowd quickly built strong relationships at his new home in Dilliman, which is one of the few homes in his life he’s been able to rely on for long-term security.
He sits back, but listens to every word muttered by Renan Dalisay, the chairman of Nowhere To Go But UP, who excites him with a description of UP fans at games who scream their hearts out when the UAAP season is at its peak.
Moments later, an arriving Ags Uvero greets him with a smile, curious about Sam’s experience in the team manager’s home town.
Bo Perasol raves about Dowd’s determination when queried about his new player, who will likely take over the reins of distributor from Jun Manzo in Season 83.
“Ang ganda ng storya niya (He has a good story),” promises assistant coach Ricky Dandan. Sam has started developing chemistry with Kobe Paras, Bright Akhuetie and Ricci Rivero; that’s essential for the task they have ahead.
“The first impression I got from UP was basically family and the camaraderie around it,” Sam proclaims. “Just how passionate they are about taking care of their own. It was basically a perfect fit.”
That should come as no surprise.
Before he was old enough to learn how to drive, Sam was forced to learn how to live by himself.
The trials of his life started at an early age, when growing up with a father who was in and out of prison and a mother who had a gambling addiction put their family in a constant state of financial crisis.
Nights were lonely and sad, resulting in tears running down his cheeks. They were in poverty, which meant there wasn’t always food on the table, their lives depended from paycheck-to-paycheck, and his address changed frequently.
“And just changing schools – it was hard to get a stable education when you’re moving back and forth,” Sam recalls.
His parents split up, but he didn’t feel welcome in either of their homes. They often told him just as much, leaving Sam no other choice but to ask friends if he could crash for the night. Most of the time, the door was left unlocked for him when he’d have no choice but to finally go home, until one time when he was only 12, and the door remained shut.
He called their phones repeatedly. They didn’t answer.
He got the hint.
“The feeling was like my life [was] spinning, like in a panic,” says Sam. “What do I do? Where do I go? Who can I call? That’s where I struggled at.”
Sam did the only thing he could – walk. Seattle busses weren’t operational late in the evenings. Besides, what money would he use to pay for the fare anyway? So he walked the cold and dark streets, stopping at friends’ homes, pleading for a roof to keep him dry.
“There were people [who] put their hand of help and let me stay throughout the night during school and stuff like that, but it wasn’t every night,” says Sam.
“I’ve heard ‘No’ a lot, from different people, from families, from my friends’ parents. I’d hear conversations of them saying, ‘I don’t want this kid around my kid because I feel like he’s a bad influence.’ They felt like I was a bad kid because I would come to their house really late.
“[Me] coming and knocking on their door like, ‘Hey, can I stay the night? I’ll be out in the morning,’ kind of raises a lot of questions if you’re a parent, which I didn’t mind and totally understand. But my reasoning of going to someone and asking for help is because that’s all I can do.”
During the day, Sam had food and somewhere to go when he went to school, and playing AAU basketball also allowed him a reprieve from the bad hand life dealt his way. But on certain nights, all he heard was “No,” so he slept in the streets.
“I slept outside, slept on the ground, and it was cold.”
Sam received the type of support that proved consequential to his future by overcoming his fear of embarrassment and mustering up courage to open up to his AAU teammates about his daunting situation. Rather than spending nights in the streets, or finding an area in school to sleep, he crashed in their rooms, sometimes for weeks.
Dowd eventually found temporary lodging with the Hopkins family in Spokane, Washington, but when it was time for him to move on again, he put his faith on a promise made to him by a senior from his high school.
Matt Miller once met Sam, then a sophomore, and upon learning of his difficulties, offered his place if Dowd was ever in need of a safe haven. Afraid he’d be back in Seattle’s streets, Sam reached out to Matt, and found a new place to stay.
“Great guy,” was how Sam described Matt. “Played football and baseball. Us young guys looked up to him. He took care of his friends.”
Little did he know, the Millers’ home wasn’t going to be just another temporary fix.
Ron and Jill Miller welcomed Sam the summer before his junior season and treated him as one of their own. With his optimistic and upbeat energy filling their house, the Millers grew fond of their new family member and decided it was meant to be for the long haul. Half a year later, Ron and Jill were granted legal guardianship of Sam, who finally had the chance to live like a normal teenager.
That meant Sam had food on the table, rather than eating what remained from what his high school had to offer.
That meant he had a bed to sleep on every night, compared to not knowing whether he’d crash on a mattress or the road.
That meant he got to focus on academics and basketball, instead of having both come second to human survival.
He graduated high school – something that seemed impossible for a time – and chose to let go of the anger in his heart by inviting the biological parents who shunned him to his graduation. His mom and siblings showed up. His dad did not. Nevertheless, he still had a father – and another mother who loves him – that were present that day.
“I used it as a stepping stone for us to build our relationship. From there, it’s been good,” he says about his biological folks.
“Now my dad’s doing his catering business in Tacoma, Washington. My mom’s living in Vegas and she has a family. I think they’re both happy. I think we’re both just trying to communicate as much as possible and we know everything’s not going to be the same, but I forgave them and they forgave me.”
Dowd’s next 4 seasons were split playing basketball for Northern Idaho and then Idaho State University, a Division I US NCAA school in the Big Sky conference. He played less than 10 minutes a game as both a junior and senior, but his story was always an inspiration for the people he met – so much so that he won the NCAA’s Most Courageous Award.
In April 2019, he attained a Filipino passport from the Philippine embassy in San Francisco, California after being urged by his cousin, Jaime Malonzo – a UAAP Mythical 5 standout from La Salle – to try out hoops in the Philippines, where he would also meet his mother’s relatives.
With the help of Tumakbo Basketball, a group that connects Fil-Am players with Philippine collegiate teams, Sam was on a flight to Manila 6 months later. He then worked out with Adamson University, Davao of the MPBL, and the Alaska Aces.
Eventually, he was introduced to Perasol, who saw a player who could help fill the void from key departures in his line-up.
“Their history,” Sam answers, when asked what else enticed him to the University of the Philippines. “I mean, just winning one game and throwing a big bonfire, and then from there, it just kept getting better.
“They went through adversity and they struggled and now reaching the Finals and Final Four consistently, I want to be part of that. I’m happy to be here.”
How he got here wasn’t easy, because the ordeals he battled along the way tested every bit of his resolve, sometimes to unimaginable limits.
But as for any regrets? Like he said, he doesn’t have any.
“I believe every decision I make,” he states with passion.
“I believe God has a plan for me. I wouldn’t change my past for it, because I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
Dowd is an underdog, but that doesn’t stop him from believing that greater things are meant for him.
More importantly, he sees his story as something that can motivate those in need of inspiration.
It looks like he’ll fit in his new home just right. – Rappler.com