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13,705 km. Red Nation versus the world.

Today is the right time to put the inspiration onto clockwork and lay it all down. I am going to break the wall on this one.

So first of all, what’s with the 13,705 kilometers? Well, it is the distance from my hometown of Quezon City, Philippines to Houston, Texas. Houston is home to my favorite NBA team for a long time in the Houston Rockets. For all the years I have been a member of Red Nation (for starters it is how Rockets fans are called collectively), I have seen the ups and downs of the franchise. In some times, great moments and sweet victories. Most of the times bitter heartbreaks and tough defeats. Yet despite all of that, even though I am far from Houston, I passionately support this team wherever I go in my life.
 
In a country where the game of basketball is a way of life for many of its citizens, it is no surprise that the NBA has a very huge following here in my home country. However, the Rockets does not have a huge following among Filipino NBA fans. I remember vividly last year, when the announcement came the NBA will be playing a preseason game and the teams playing in it were announced (Rockets and the Indiana Pacers), most Filipino NBA fans wanted another set of teams instead, teams with a huge following. China, who has been hosting NBA preseason games for years since Rockets legend Yao Ming entered the league has been getting the teams with huge fan followings.
 
It is no surprise though, that people root for teams that have either a decorated franchise history or a transcending player/group of players who is/are making a huge difference not only for their team but for the league as well
 
Over 30 NBA games are shown on a weekly basis with the different networks that carry NBA programming. Some of the Red Nation family (especially those from the US) were surprised when I told them about it. The Rockets get a good share of games shown on TV here (Unfortunately for me, I can’t watch them all since I’m missing a network that carries the a good chunk of Rockets games. Still, I get to see on TV at least 50% of the Rockets games in the regular season and most of their playoff games). We also got the NBA Café Manila and recently the NBA Store opened their largest branch outside of the United States (It was always a struggle for me to find Rockets gear since most sports stores sell gear from teams with huge followings in the country, now it will be easy for me to find and avail them). In addition, NBA League Pass was made easily available in the country through mobile phone carrier Globe Telecom with their offering to Postpaid and Prepaid subscribers to make it available.
 
I was at the preseason game when it happened last October 10, 2013 as it was a chance to see my team live and in living color. I remember vividlyDwight Howard got the hostile treatment from the fans in attendance since his former team the LA Lakers have a huge following here. While ex-Rocket now Lakers guard Jeremy Lin got the warm treatment from the crowd, for the obvious fact that we Filipinos hope that someone will make the NBA like Lin who is Asian has done. Filipinos were happy when NBA veteran Andray Blatche was naturalized and donned the PILIPINAS jersey at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. But of course, the dream that still hangs in the minds of Filipino basketball fans is to see a home grown Filipino player to play in the NBA.

This season, the dynamics have changed for the Rockets. They have taken over from the Miami Heat who lost LeBron James to free agency when he decided to return home with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season as the most despised team in the NBA today. It may not be at the same level as the Heat have encountered in the last four years, but the hate is real on all sides from both the media and the fans. 

Think about it, both of their superstars have been heavily criticized by the general NBA concensus. James Harden who has been called out as a star who can’t play defense. Yes, YouTube has that script covered with a viral video about his documented defensive lapses. Dwight Howard who has gotten the ire of fans especially of those from Los Angeles and Orlando has been called out for not being too serious in-game. At the start of the season, fans picked up immediately when Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant called him out for being “soft” as the Rockets were cruising to victory in LA

But not only the superstars has gotten the ire of fans and the media, guys like Patrick Beverley who has been called “dirty”, who can forget especially those from Oklahoma City, when he caused Thunder star point guard Russell Westbrook to miss the rest of the playoffs that disrupted the Thunder’s title hopes in 2013. Trevor Ariza, after he was acquired by the squad was called by most NBA fans a “downgrade” after the Rockets let previous starting forward Chandler Parsons walk off north to the Dallas Mavericks. And finally, recent acquisition Josh Smith who was waived by the Detroit Pistons has been ridiculed for his poor shot selection.

The criticism doesn’t only extend to the players, it also extends to the coach and the front office. Head Coach Kevin McHale who has yet to lead the team out of the second round has been criticized for his poor player rotation options especially in key situation, which personally I find it fair enough. Finally the General Manager in Daryl Morey who has been the “god” in the NBA when it comes to using analytics to determine the player personnel to join the squad. It has been ridiculed from traditional player recruitment where they look more into the background and pedigree of a player before pursuing an offer for their services.

With all the criticism and hate this team has endured throughout the off season and into the current season. I could have left and supported a team with a large following. I could have made more friends who share the same passion with the team as I do. I could share moments good or bad with a lot of people. I could have avoided all the earth shattering criticism and hate pointed out on the team. I could have said “I’m not from Houston, I’ll root for someone else.” and join the train to a beloved team today (say Warriors, Thunder, Mavericks, Raptors, Bulls, you name it).

But in the end, I will stay on with this team and I will seize the moment. This is the first time I will ever experience my team this ridiculed and criticized by many fans on a massive scale. So I will enjoy it while it lasts. Right now, the team has been playing great basketball, they have kept in touch with the best teams in a highly stacked Western Conference. This team faced the injury bug early into the brand new season and have shown resilience by winning games. Sure there have been a few terrible losses, but it’s part of the grind of a 82 game season.

James Harden has been playing like an MVP so far this season as he leads the league in scoring, and has significantly improved on his defensive game thanks in part to his stint at the FIBA World Cup with Team USA. Dwight Howard has been playing well and staving off the injury bug wisely. Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley and Corey Brewer have been doing it on the defensive end as well as hitting their three point shots. Donatas Motiejunas has been a revelation all season long as he gave up shooting threes for an improved and high percentage post game. If the team can get contributions from Jason Terry, Josh Smith, Kostas Papanikolaou, Isaiah Canaan, Nick Johnson and Joey Dorsey. This could be one of the teams to beat come playoff time.

We don’t know yet how our team will fare at the end of the season, we could see them get home court advantage in the playoffs or not, we could see another disappointing first round exit or go all the way to carrying the Larry O’ Brien title to Houston. As anything can happen in our beloved NBA

We don’t know how long will this moment in the franchise history of the Rockets will last. But right now, I’m savoring the moment. 

I hope the rest of the people who are a part of the Red Nation family stay with this team throughout every game, every win and loss that may come the rest of the way. Who knows? The time may come now.

Because it’s simple, it’s real. From 13,705 kilometers away, I’m a soldier of Red Nation and we’re going against the world.

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