RP in hoops spotlight

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco () - March 2, 2009 - 12:00am

There is some consolation in the loss of a sure gold medal in basketball from the Laos Southeast Asian Games. And it’s not the parallel tournament that the leaders of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and SEABA will probably plot out in parallel to the SEA Games themselves.

Raphael “Rafe” Bartholomew, who spent three years in the Philippines on a scholarship to write about basketball in the Philippines, has finally come to agreement with a major international publishing company to come out with “Pacific Rims,” his comprehensive, highly detailed description of the fanatical and deep love Filipinos have for the sport.

“I’m extremely excited and happy that the book is going to become a reality,” Bartholomew told The STAR in an e-mail: “I accepted an offer from the New American Library publisher, which is part of the Penguin publishing group. Their legal team is drawing up the contracts right now and my agent says we’ll be signing.”

Bartholomew, a graduate of Northwestern, heard about the intense passion Filipinos have for basketball through past PBA imports whom he met in New York, where his father runs the city’s oldest bar. With very little to go on except the fact that his girlfriend was already in the country on a scholarship to do research on another subject, Bartholomew pitched for - and got - funding.

This will be a rare chance since 2002 that a non-Filipino writer will be writing about Philippine basketball in an internationally released book. Back then, Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Wolff wrote a wide-roaming book about hoops around the globe called “Big Game, Small World” where he traveled to place like Bhutan, Brazil, Lithuania, China, Angola and the Philippines in search of the game. Wolff previously gained a measure of fame writing two books about all the best places to play pick-up basketball throughout the US.

However, although “Big Game, Small World” is well-written and very entertaining, it is still the product of a cursory look over a short visit to each place. In his lengthy chapter on the Philippines, Wolf chose to find all the evidence he could that basketball in the Philippines was and is a complete attempt to copy everything American.

He also disrespectfully refers to the barong tagalog as “a compostible bowling shirt,” and compared basketball legend Robert Jaworski to Jesse Ventura, simply because they had both been professional athletes who turned to politics.

In contrast, Bartholomew completely immersed himself in Philippine basketball culture, watching all the big games from each active league, at the very least. He also sought out – and interviewed – practically every big name in the sport still in the country, and quite a few outside of it. In the process, he grew very attached to the country, the game and the people. Having learned our history, from the first American teachers who brought the game here to the Berlin Olympics, NCAA, PBA, La Salle-Ateneo, Crispa-Toyota and the politics that plagued the sport, the self-confessed hoops fanatic has developed a strong reverence for our brand of ball.

“I’m looking forward to getting back there and seeing all the basketball I missed,” Bartholomew admits as he schedules a return trip this June. “It’s not the same following it online, although I have been able to watch PBA games over the Internet.”

Bartholomew, who is also doing writing for Harper’s magazine, has been so converted that he has actually been visiting the first Jollibee store in the East Coast, and marvels at the long lines of people who miss the country’s trademark fastfood chain, lines which extend up to 3 a.m.

“It’s been open two weeks and every day people are lined up outside, waiting two to five hours to get in and buy expensive Chickenjoy,” relates Bartholomew. “I was there on opening day. It’s really amazing, the enthusiasm the Filipino community is showing for it, and I hope that I can harness some of that support for Pacific Rims, when it comes out.

Rafe will finish his manuscript by the end of September, and the book is scheduled for release in the spring of 2010. Given how we as a people have infected this hoops-crazy American with our style of hoops, expect “Pacific Rims” to be creative, detailed, and full of diskarte. In other words, very Filipino.

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