Shooting hoops, a Filipino passion

Lois Joy Guinmapang

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The average height of Filipinos have not kept them from embracing basketball - a sport made for giants

MANILA, Philippines — If there’s a sport that has wooed entire generations of Filipinos, it’s none other than the crowd-drawing, adrenaline-pumping contact sport, basketball.

Played from the largest coliseums to the humblest alleys, basketball has been ingrained in the routine of every Pinoy – withstanding the test of time; unrestricted by barriers of place, age, and social class.  

All the players really need is a hoop, a ball, and they’re ready to go.

Cultural phenomenon

Invented at Massachusetts by Coach James Naismith of the Young Men’s Christian Association, basketball was first played with 2 peach baskets and a soccer ball.

It was brought to Filipino consciousness on the dawn of American colonial rule, and the sport easily flourished, gaining an avid following among the natives because of its simple, fun, and highly competitive nature.

Journalist and basketball enthusiast Rafe Bartholomew details the Filipinos’ infatuation with the sport in his book, Pacific Rims, where he chronicled his journey with the Alaska Aces throughout a season’s run of the Philippine Basketball Association League.

Bartholomew has seen how Filipinos have taken the sport to another level – how they choose to play basketball in a no-frills, no-nonsense way in their worn flip-flops; shooting hoops at makeshift rings made of spare car parts attached to old, wooden backboards.

He has seen how basketball has become so many things for so many people – how it has evolved to something more than just a sport.

Bartholomew shared in an interview with Asia Society Online that basketball is a unifying link for all Filipinos, especially during the time the Philippines was truly rising as a nation.

“Basketball was one of the things that people had in common across different geographical regions and linguistic regions,” he said. “There are more than 100 distinct languages spoken in the country.”  

He shared that basketball, along with Catholicism, successfully crossed those linguistic and regional boundaries.

Besides serving as a tool for national solidarity, basketball has also become a rite of passage, an advertising tool, and a stepping-stone in both the political and entertainment planes.

In his book, Bartholomew wrote that that when boys reach adolescence, they begin to explore their neighborhood, looking for a place to belong.

It is during this time when the boys discover how basketball teaches them “masculine virtues” such as teamwork and aggression.

Local basketball professionals have also starred in various commercials, endorsing height-enhancing supplements, chocolate drinks, even processed meat products.

Collegiate leagues have gained so much popularity that even products without a direct connection to the sport, such as soda-floats, broadband sticks, and chicken bucket meals, bear a league’s title.

Basketball stars are also staple guests on television shows.

Some, like Chris Tiu and James Yap, have become household names because of their showbiz presence. Tiu has even been absorbed in a major network, hosting TV shows completely unrelated to basketball.

A stint in basketball has also paved the political careers of Freddie Webb and Robert Jaworski, who clinched legislative positions in national government.

Leagues for everyone

Despite the average height of Filipinos, nothing has kept them from excelling at basketball.

Filipinos have raked in international awards since they’ve learned to play the sport, which makes sense, since most boys learn the ropes at the age of 5. They even enroll in summer clinics and participate in their local barangay leagues.

Philippine teams have lucratively dunked and dribbled their way around the continent, bagging medals from the FIBA Asia Championship, the Far Eastern Games, the Asian Games, and the SEA Games.

For the youth, basketball today is synonymous to the annual games held by the University Athletic Association of the Philippines and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. 

From being just a national pastime, the sport gave birth to friendly, school-spirit fuelled battles – popular, income-generating competitions that foster camaraderie and build up budding athletes.

National competitions such as Liga Pilipinas, the Philippine Collegiate Championship, and especially Palarong Pambansa also serve as a breeding ground for players of all ages who plan to join the PBA.

Jerry Codiñera, one of the PBA’s 25 Best Players of all time, describes Palarong Pambansa as one of the top three elite competitions in the Philippines.

He played in the games for 3 years, participating in those held at Tacloban, Tugegarao, and Manila.

Being previously involved in baseball, Codiñera said it was after Palaro when he truly focused on playing basketball, since his coaches were also telling him to concentrate on one sport.

Codiñera encourages aspiring ballers to play to the best of their ability, saying they have to be ready because the Palaro really is a “tough, tough competition.”
“If you make it, do not quit. Do well in your studies,” he advised.

His parting words of wisdom?

“If you have the opportunity to go to Manila and compete, if you get invited to the UAAP and the NCAA… Grab it.” –

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