What can I say? Philippine sports mirrors Philippine life. The unclassy behavior of Gilas Pilipinas broadcast to the whole world the other day reflects the way Filipinos regard their national sport. This is, after all, a sport played on any large enough hard surface that could be found across the country. Watching a barangay league game, in fact, is no different to the level of play that can be seen on TV delivered by what are supposedly the Philippines’ elite players.
Filipinos’ basketball game is aptly described as all puso (“heart”) and barely about team. In this case, they make “heart” sound like it’s a good thing. Like everything else Filipinos apply themselves to, more emotion is poured into playing basketball than any kind of science that helps real winning. Pa-astigan seems to be the rule. This whole episode with the Australian team shows that there is not much that can make emotions boil over shattering the paper-thin veneer of sportsmanship that separates Gilas from the corner tambay team.
At least tambay basketball games make sense. The teams are made up of kabarkadas and neighborhood jocks. As such, they are fun to watch even if there is one or two relative standout players. But the standout players don’t steal tambay games as much as the imports in top league teams do. Here is what I cannot understand about our over-reliance of imports. People will argue that these hulking imports gel well with their local teammates. Sure they do. But when you look at the stats, the numbers tell a different story. The imports in these teams account for the lion’s share of points and assists. That’s not a team, that’s an import playing with a supporting cast of local players, lol! Gilas, for example, is not really a Philippine team — more like the Andray Blatche Show to me!
Kung baga if Filipinos always need a Blatche in their team to win, then this is a sport that they simply lack the physiology and DNA to excel in on the world stage. That’s not to say Philippine basketball does not make business sense. It obviously does in the same way Eat Bulaga makes perfect sense as an ad magnet. Eat Bulaga is not a world-class TV show, but a country of 100 million hooked on the sort of entertainment it provides serve its shareholders well. Same with Philippine basketball. It makes sense as a domestic enterprise. Filipinos are sufficiently entertained by Filipino-grade basketball to make promoting and exhibiting the sport a lucrative business. The trouble is, the ambition to scale Philippine basketball to an international audience is not matched by capability. It’s like trying to export a jeepney. You can put an imported engine in it, but it will never beat even an entry-evel Hyundai in the international market.
Just like how building jeepneys never actually evolved from being a tambay industry, we will never see a truly world-class Filipino basketball team as long as we continue to apply a tambay approach to developing, recruiting, and training players. All you’ll get for that trouble is a team of well-fed and well-paid players who remain tambays both in terms of basketball skills and grace and in general sportsmanship. Throw in the underlying tambay manners and we get that spectacular brawl we just witnessed.
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