Three Mondays ago, it was the middle of my semester break from school as I was getting set for aa transition from academic life to going into the workplace for my practicum. I was surfing chnnels on TV, when I got to the National Geographic Channel, it was about 5 minutes to 9pm. The 8pm show was finished, they showed a promo that Pinoy Hoops is coming up next. I got curious about what’s with it, so I did not switch channels as I sit back on the sofa and prepare to watch what is to come. Little did I know, I was in for a treat unlike any other.
Photo ©National Geographic Channel Philippines
“Pinoy Hoops: A National Obsession” is a three-part documentary series that was shot in 2011 shown within a three week period. It shows the travels of Rafe Bartholomew, an American sports journalist and “hoop nut” as he goes for a journey across the Philippines to explore the very roots of Philippine basketball as he seeks to discover why is the country obsessed with the sport despite the fact that Filipinos lack of height as it is an important aspect of the sport especially on the international stage like the Olympics and FIBA Basketball World Cup. At the start of every episode, Rafe tells something about himself, from his beginnings in New York to writing the book “Pacific Rims” which I also read and I will also have something about it on this entry later, and the fact that he was a one-time soap opera star on Philippine TV.
The first part of the documentary, focuses on the grass roots of Philippine basketball, where Filipinos form basketball courts on any place and surface from abandoned hotel halls to dirt fields in the mountains, to streets outside their homes and even near sanitary landfills. It tackles street ball within the country as it serves as a mean to keep people away from unwanted vices especially in rough conditions most of our countrymen are living into. It also states that footwear like shoes or slippers is not necessarily required whenever playing on the basketball court. It also states a myth where deep in the mountains, the military and the communist forces drop their arms and play basketball over dirt surface courts. Another distinct fact is basketball karaoke where basketball highlights from NBA players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, etc. are put into the karaoke which is another Philippine pastime. As well as their obsession with basketball video games like NBA 2K played on coin-operated machines.
The second part goes inside the Philippine Basketball Assocation, it was the 2011 Commissioner’s Cup Finals between the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters and the Barangay Ginebra Kings (now known as Barangay Ginebra San Miguel). It showcases the history of the league which is the second oldest professional basketball league after the NBA. It goes inside the Ginebra lore starting from the days of “The Big J” Sonny Jaworski who was made “Never say die!” the battle cry of the Ginebra faithful over the years and made it the most popular franchise of the PBA. It also stated that unlike the NBA where franchises are representing locations, PBA franchises are based up product names. The second part also gave an all-access pass of the Finals, from both Talk ‘N Text and Ginebra’s practice sessions as well as the games itself. Back then, Talk ‘N Text was coached by current Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes and Ginebra was coached by one of Reyes’ assistants in the national team in Jong Uichico. It showed highlights of Game 4 which Talk ‘N Text won to take a 3-1 lead, Game 5 where Ginebra kept their season alive, to the title-clinching Game 6 victory of Talk ‘N Text. It also showcases the life of a PBA import as they got into the life of TNT’s import during the conference in Paul Harris. The PBA sets height limits for imports (people of different nationalities other than Filipino) which is a distinct feature of the league as compared to other professional leagues around the world.
The final part focuses on four individuals where basketball plays a huge role in their lives. First was Sharon, who is a saboteur hired by different teams to distract opponents in games using different methods which I cannot state here in whole. Tony Lu, the PBA’s legendary photographer who covered the league from it’s humble beginnings to the present, the documentary got into his house where it was stacked with game photos, unorganized but spanning decades. Mang Tom, Alaska’s practice coach and a former PBA referee where they went to the ruins of his old house that was destroyed by Typhoon Ondoy in 2009 and will soon be demolished as it was bought by a development firm as well as his new home up north in Bulacan, and finally JC, the MVP representing Quezon City playing in inter-barangay leagues and his hopes that basketball will bring him a better standing in life. The final part describes what happened to the four as Sharon and Tony Lu continued on with their jobs, Mang Tom retired and is now with family, and JC was given a athletic scholarship.
As I watched Pinoy Hoops, I noticed that he wrote a book about Philippine basketball called Pacific Rims. I wanted to the read the book for myself, so I went out to look for and buy the book. It took me a couple of days of searching through different bookstores across the city, then on a Sunday before the last episode of Pinoy Hoops, I finally was able to secure and buy the book.
Photo ©Rafe Bartholomew
“Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball” is a book written by Bartholomew in which he writes about his earlier travel to the Philippines as a scholar in 2005 where he went deep inside the story behind the Filipinos love affair for the game of basketball. He spent three years in the country, where he got an all-access pass of the Alaska Aces in the PBA during their Fiesta Conference run in 2007, back then Tim Cone (the legendary coach of the Alaska franchise, is currently the head coach of the San Mig Coffee Mixers) was the head coach. The Aces were led by Willie Miller and import Rosell Ellis. San Mig Coffee was known as Purefoods, Petron was still the San Miguel Beermen, the Tropang Texters were called as the Phone Pals. Rain or Shine was still known as Welcoat, and the Red Bull franchise was still relevant. It also shows his search for the history of the sport from the time of the American occupation of the archipelago to the golden years of Philippine basketball to it’s role during Martial Law with the introduction of the PBA to the time of the legendary imports like Billy Ray Bates and Norman Black until the Fil-Am/Fil-Sham controversy which was a issue in politics. Outside of the league, Bartholomew travels around the country to explore how lives of the Filipino people changed with basketball from stories of good basketball courts being built even in the most remote areas of the country to their lore of watching the sport whether it’s a simple barangay league or watching the PBA live at the venue or the NBA on television where he also stated that the country has a basketball-devoted cable channel in Basketball TV (BTV).
What touches me the most about Sir Rafe Bartholomew was he did took the time to learn the Filipino language, during the entire Pinoy Hoops documentary, he was speaking the language fluently, as he was talking to people throughout the course of the story. No wonder, people gave him a nice Filipino name in “Paeng Bartolome” and “Kuya Raphael”. He really wrote a great book in Pacific Rims and an excellent documentary in Pacific Rims. One cool thing about him, was during the course of watching the documentary as well a reading his book. He is a very approachable person on the web, as he was replying to my posts about him on Twitter which in turn for me is a great thing to experience.
As many people who watched the documentary said three episodes weren’t enough and I definitely agree with them. Even with that being said, I thank Sir Rafe as well as the National Geographic Channel in the Philippines for pulling off this wonderful treat for the Filipino audience. I really hope they can pull off another opportunity to shoot another documentary about Philippine basketball especially the country is back on the international stage as they qualified for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.
Someday, when he comes back for a book signing, I will definitely have him sign my copy of the book and take a picture with him.
Basketball will always have a special place in my heart and soul.