I was telling some friends how competitive the PBA has been this season and some said, "Pare, hindi na kami nanunood ng PBA, hindi na Pinoy ang naglalaro!"
Obviously, the bitter pill from the turn of the century still leaves a hint of distaste for many "former" PBA fans. It was in the late '90s that the so-called "Fil-foreigners" started joining the PBA, a time when there were no concrete rules for their entry. They came, said they were part-Filipino, and began playing, only to leave unceremoniously when their real identities or nationalities were revealed, or were about to be revealed. Rob Parker, Sonny Alvarado, Davonn Harp (among others): The fakes! They had so much talent, they were exciting to watch, but, the bottom line is, they are not Filipinos and, thus, are not eligible to play in the PBA. Harp was even named Rookie of the Year in 2000! What a shame.
Most PBA diehards know what happened in 1999, a year when Eric Menk and Danny Seigle produced amazing statistics for their teams, but lost out to the great Benjie Paras for MVP honors. Paras played splendidly that season, coming back from injuries, a lackluster couple of years, to post good, not great, numbers. Stats-wise, Menk and Seigle were superior, but there would not be any Fil-Am MVP that season. Local basketball just was not ready for that yet.
I cannot, however, understand the dislike or non-support for the PBA based on the fact that some fakes tried to play in the league some years back. Sure, maybe league officials were unable to fix the problem quickly enough, but, in a country where people tend to forget so easily, why is it that so many are still staying away because of the fault of a handful? In my mind, these would-be basketball fans are missing so much, since the PBA is really having a banner season, with so much talent on the rise, and older, steady veterans still strutting their first-class wares night-in and night-out.
Through the years, some of the PBA players that grew up in other countries became MVPs. Asi Taulava ('03), Menk ('05), Kelly Williams ('08), JJ Helterbrand ('09), and Jimmy Alapag ('11) won the top individual award and, many say, Danny Seigle should have won at least once. I agree. At one point, he was practically unstoppable on offense for the San Miguel Beermen. Injuries slowed him down in past years, but he has experienced a renaissance this season, particularly beginning in the 2nd Conference, with the Barako Bull Energy. I, again with Quinito Henson, covered Barako Bull vs Barangay Ginebra last Friday, 29 June 2012, at the Big Dome and Seigle played well, despite his team's loss. He even had enough energy to emphatically slam the ball through the hoop on one play, which he used to do quite often some time ago. He is averaging almost fourteen points a game and looking sprightlier than he has in some time.
So, is it correct that "hindi na Pinoy ang naglalaro sa PBA?" Of course not! About three-fourths of the players are home-grown, coming from all over the archipelago. Sure, a bunch of players grew up abroad, mostly in the United States. Some of them, like Seigle and Jay Washington, are ultra-talented big men, some were part of the Smart Gilas program and represented our nation in international tournaments (Chris Lutz and Marcio Lassiter), while others play sparingly, but can contribute when given the chance (Shawn Weinstein, Josh Vanlandingham). Some do not look like Filipinos at all, but have proven their lineage to the satisfaction of our government (Dorian Peña and Mick Pennisi). Some are "Filipino-looking" (whatever that really is), but cannot speak much Filipino (Helterbrand and Alapag, both MVPs). Many cannot even sing Lupang Hinirang, our national anthem. Are they Filipinos? Of course they are! The proper authorities determined that at least one of their parents was Filipino at the time they were born, which makes them Filipino, as per our basic law of the land, the Constitution. Many have fought for flag and country on several occasions, and have fought hard. If these players are still not Filipinos in the minds of some, there must be something wrong not with the players, but with the non-believers.
When television host Arnold Clavio criticized the Philippine Azkals football team members by saying that they do not fit his criteria of what a Filipino should be, he heard lots of flak from several sectors. He refused to apologize, but did acknowledge that, perhaps, his comments were taken way out of proportion. Filipino sports fans were so quick to defend the Azkals, whose names are more like a list of United Nations delegates than merely one national team's players. Some of these very same sports fans, some who are my own friends, are those who threw me the line about not liking the PBA because many players are not Filipinos. Why the double standard? Will the football fans (of which I am one) turn their back on the Azkals if it is found out that one or some of their Fil-foreigners is actually Sonny Alvarado's full-blooded brother?
Critics abound and they say they will have no part of a league that is dominated by "foreigners". Sure, free throw shooting can be improved. Yes, some players cannot hit an open jumper without a defender anywhere near them. Every league has its deficiencies. However, to see the league as it is today, flourishing, with good competition on the floor, fans in a frenzy (especially in out-of-Metro Manila venues, where fans are craving for live PBA action), and infusion of fresh, young talent from popular collegiate and university teams, is very satisfying for this life-long PBA fan. Naysayers contend that players now do not hustle like they used to. Try telling that to Harvey Carey or Doug Kramer, who regularly battle with much larger men and sacrifice their bodies to try and win. I always tell my friends who used to be PBA diehards, to try and watch a few games, go to the venues to watch the games live. The competition is fierce. Once they gave it a go, many have come back into the fold and now watch the games regularly again.
Back in the 1980s, when only Willie Pearson and Ricardo Brown were not homegrown, the PBA fans loved to watch them. By (unjustifiably) shunning the league because of the Filipinos born outside the Philippines, people are equally missing out on seeing James Yap, Mark Caguioa, Gary David, Mac Cardona, Cyrus Baguio, Willie Miller, Arwind Santos, and the rest of the stars play hard and be spectacular.
In this basketball-loving country, for many, the PBA is a refuge amidst the problems of everyday. The PBA has been a Filipino staple for thirty-seven years. Why not just sit back and enjoy it?
Follow Charlie on Twitter: @CharlieC
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.