The relationship between the Philippines and the USA has been a fraught one, but one American export enjoys nearly unconditional love in the nation of islands: basketball. Despite generally lacking what some, foolish, observers believe is a key measurable for basketball, height, Filipinos actually adore, and play the game at levels of devotion usually attributed to celluloid Indiana.
Don't believe me? Then believe Rafe Bartholomew, who wrote one of my favorite sports books ever recounting his experiences revolving around basketball in the Philippines, in his book Pacific Rims. Honestly, if you aren't familiar with the subject, you won't believe it until you read it. Get the book, if you love basketball you won't regret it. The sheer love and devotion to basketball is like nothing you've seen, even in a land where the game is played at its highest level. Hoops there are like soccer/futbol in Brasil, only more interesting. (No, I'm unpaid to say that, I bought the book.)
The Philippines have been playing basketball longer than nearly anyone outside of North America, with the game coming to the islands around 1898, through that bastion of not-exactly-casual basketball the world over, the YMCA. The Phillipine National Team formed in 1913. By contrast, the mighty Spanish National Team only formed in 1935. (As part of a cozy relationship for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Spain was good even then, they won silver.)
Back to modern times, the Rockets and Pacers were greeted at Ninoy Acquino airport by a big crowd, and the arrival of the NBA teams made front page news. Lest you think this is the equivalent of front page news someplace like Luxembourg, the Philippines have a population of around 100 million, larger than any single European country, or about 10% smaller than Mexico. Stories about the Rockets, and I suppose, the Pacers, are everywhere, and the teams have seen (very polite) crowds where ever they go.
We Rockets fans should be proud that our team, with its history of players with Southeast Asian backgrounds, was selected to play in Manila. (Though they weren't selected to play in Shanghai, where Rocket icon Yao Ming owns a CBA team. Perhaps this has something to do with American Jeremy Lin's Taiwanese Christian heritage? David Stern will never tell.)
All this to say, despite being an exhibition game, this is a big deal, for the Philippines, for the NBA, and for the Rockets. Let's do what we can to support the Rockets, and the large and growing population of Filipino and Filipina Rockets fans on The Dreamshake. (Come for Jeremy Lin, stay for the most exciting and lovable team in the NBA.)
Anyhow, watch the game, leave a few remarks here and marvel at the worldwide popularity of the NBA.
And a shout out to our Pinoy readers! Please use this link to cover the story, the game, whatever. We want to hear from you about the Rockets in Manila. We hope to see Manila calling here at The Dreamshake soon.