August 19, 2012
Vol. 41, No. 34
For a nation that expects every male citizen to have played at least a game of basketball in his lifetime, not having a Filipino player in the National Basketball Association (NBA) is a tragedy as big as the country’s basketball trophy cabinet lacking an Olympic gold medal and a FIBA Championship title. So fervent is the country’s desire for a Filipino NBA player that scuttlebutt about NBA scouts eyeing a local player can send some fans into basketball nirvana.
A modest people, Filipinos may not be wishing for someone who is Lebron-ish to represent them in the NBA. Any Filipino or half-Filipino stocked with enough talent, size, and athleticism that will earn him significant playing time and respectable statistics in any of the league’s thirty ball clubs will do.
If Filipinos will only open their eyes and broaden their minds, they can stop looking at the stars for signs about the coming of a Filipino player in the NBA for the country already has a representative and a very prominent one at that. The basketball world knows him by name even if he has not had a nanosecond of NBA playing time.
His entry into the NBA did not generate a mad scramble for interviews from Philippine media. Then again, his first job in the league was low profile and he was one of its pioneers. No, he was not a water boy nor a mascot wearer.
Basketball is in his blood, having played for four years as a point guard for an NCAA Division I team before assuming a playing and coaching job in Germany. Like some athletes, he did not fall to a powerful opponent but to his own body. Back problems forced him to quit his post.
His illness was a stroke of good fortune on hindsight because an NBA team hired him to edit its videos and run its video room after his stint in Germany. He occupied several positions for more than a decade until he was one of the ball club’s assistant coaches when it bagged its first Larry O’Brien trophy. Things got sunnier for him when the head coach climbed to the top of the team’s executive totem pole and left his coaching position to him.
Yes. He has Filipino blood in him, thick because his mother is a daughter of San Pablo City, Laguna, and he proudly tells the world about it. Meet Erik Celino Spoelstra. He may not dribble, shoot, rebound, or dunk for an NBA team, but he can set Lebron James and Dwayne Wade into doing all that.
Filipinos are only wishing for an NBA player of Filipino heritage, a player who may end up as just one of the more than 300 names in the league’s roster of players, someone whose luster may sadly fade from competition, age, and injuries. Fate gave the Filipino a better gift in Erik Spoelstra, head coach of NBA champion Miami Heat.
-Prospero Pulma Jr.