Pinoy Hoops on National Geographic Channel
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - October 7, 2013 - 12:00am

Finally, after almost four years in the making, the first documentary on the Filipino’s passion for basketball will air its first episode on the National Geographic Channel (NGC) on Oct. 21 at 9 p.m. It was a labor of love and commitment for this writer and the producers of Caelestis Productions, the same company that produced the “Laban” movie commemorating the EDSA People Power revolution. 

The majority of Filipinos are basketball fans, and have a deeper understanding of the sport than most. But how was it injected into our culture by the American educators who came here at the turn of the 19th century? What caused it to gradually build momentum and spread throughout this diverse archipelago and infect us, turning us into some of the most intense spectators and participants in the world? These were some of the complex questions we sought answers to.

From 2002 to 2008, this writer produced The Basketball Show, the first independent television magazine that covered the entire gamut of basketball in the Philippines. Through that program I met a former UP football player, Sally Jo Bellosillo, who produced segments for the show. She put together a very well-received segment on the diminutive staff of Hobbit House, the landmark restaurant and bar in Manila, who played against regular-sized folk on full-length basketball courts. That inspiring story called “Hobbit Hoops” became one of our most memorable segments.

By 2010, I had been searching for a more lasting contribution to Philippine basketball. The sport had given me so much, and it seemed I always wanted to do more in return. It dawned on me that a fellow sports broadcaster and basketball buddy, Jude Turcuato was now heading the Philippine operations of Fox Channels. I spoke with Jude about the challenging process of having a documentary commissioned in the Philippines. It had never been done before, but was the growing trend among international cable channels worldwide. After all, they were all spending millions of dollars producing programming that sometimes did not exactly fit the tastes of the emerging markets in Asia. Now, the direction was reversed. Local content now had the chance to go global.

It took a year to get all the procedures, precautions and paperwork done. I was looking forward to working as a producer with Sally, who was now president of Caelestis, and doing great work bringing international-standard broadcast productions on Filipino subject matter to students all over the country. 

As we went to the drawing board, we realized there was just so much to put down, and the question as to why Filipinos love basketball would take a lot to answer. NatGeo’s producers in the Philippines made the brilliant suggestion to bring in Rafe Bartholomew to host the miniseries. Rafe had just released “Pacific Rims”, the best-selling first book on Philippine basketball written by a foreigner. It was actually the third-best selling book in the country that year, behind the “Twilight” series and Joel Osteen’s “A Purpose-Driven Life” books.

The first problem was that Rafe was moving from his roots in New York to California to work as an editor for, the new website of ESPN’s Bill Simmons. We had him for 20 days. Would it be enough?

While Sally and her team were working on the extensive documentation and verification process required by National Geographic Channel, this writer was putting together storylines that would accurately cover the wide breadth and long history of basketball in the Philippines. How would we craft an engaging tale that would appeal to the knowledgeable Filipino fans as well as foreign audiences who were oblivious to this phenomenon?

The shooting itself was an intense three-week process which coincided with the PBA Finals. Thankfully, Talk ‘N Text and Ginebra San Miguel granted us unprecedented access, even allowing cameras in the locker rooms and interviews in the middle of the series. We seriously covered so much in a span of three weeks, compiling terrabytes of video. Each of us had to let go and trust the producers and directors to do their job faithfully. Beyond how to craft the storylines for each episode, the most difficult task was what to eventually edit out. There was so much richness and color, it was painful.

NGC itself and Fox Channels also underwent a transition in that time span, in terms of management and focus. We were regularly consulting them on the standards they maintained for all their broadcasts. A couple of other local productions had overtaken us and aired, but we understood that this was how it had to be done. Data storage was critical, and reviewing and verifying all the material to NatGeo standards was daunting. Nevertheless, we knew we were doing something that could possibly outlive us all. It was worth it.

There were so many relevant stories about the healing and uniting effects of basketball on the country. Aside from all the big names in basketball, we experienced the generous sharing of fans, from decades-long photographers like Tony Lu to cross-dressing PBA cheerleaders. We talked about every major league in the country from the 1936 Olympic team onwards, and practically every significant personality who influenced the sport. In our search, we found an abandoned hotel in Caloocan whose rooftop housed a community centered around a basketball court. Rafe saw firsthand how the Quezon City government turned an infamous dumpsite into a viable, self-sustaining community, as children built their own makeshift halfcourt there. We sent him to a remote Luzon village where rebels and soldiers put down their arms and regularly played together with only dirt as their court. At the other end of the spectrum, he sat down with officials of NBA Asia to discuss the importance of the Philippine market in the region, and explored the future of the sport. In a rather bizarre twist, Rafe even flew to Cebu to videotape a full-court match between midgets and effeminates in high heels.

These are stories worth telling, and we pray that we have done them justice. Most of all, we hope that on Oct. 21, you will share this journey with us.



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