Why Filipinos love basketball

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

To Filipinos, basketball is a way of life. Soccer is supposed to be the world’s most popular sport but in at least two countries on the planet, basketball is No. 1 in the Philippines and Lithuania. So it’s not surprising that the Philippines is Nike’s third largest basketball market after the US and China.

There are many reasons why Filipinos love basketball. First, it’s a fast game and Filipinos like a sport that’s dynamic, tactical and entertaining. Second, it’s easily playable. There are makeshift courts on sandlots and neighborhood nooks all over the country. Third, it’s accessible. Fans can come up close and personal with players. The court has no barriers at least on the floor level. Fourth, it’s a living. Basketball is a means of livelihood to thousands and opens doors to a better life. Fifth, it’s physical. Basketball is a contact sport and Filipinos like it when athletes compete down to their singlets and jerseys without protective armor. And lastly, it’s a sport that invites widespread participation from the grassroots level upwards and is ingrained in the school system.

Over the last 6 years, the Philippines has improved its FIBA world ranking from No. 53 to 45 to 34 to 31 and now, 28. Of the top 30 countries, the Philippines ranks 2nd to Venezuela with the highest jump in the ladder at +3. Venezuela, winner of the last FIBA Americas Championships and an outright qualifier to Rio, is ranked No. 22 with a jump of +5.

Here’s a timeline breaking down the milestones of Philippine basketball history.

1898 – the start of the American occupation of the Philippines with the first US teachers introducing baseball and basketball, in that order, to Filipinos through the YMCA and the school system.

1913 – the Philippines wins the first basketball gold medal at the Far Eastern Games, precursor of the Asian Games. The Philippines will win the gold in 9 of 10 Far Eastern Games up to 1934 when the event was terminated.

1924 – the NCAA is established with basketball as the centrepiece sport. The league remains active today.

1936 – the Philippines beats Mexico, 32-30, Estonia, 39-22, Italy, 32-14 and Uruguay, 33-23 but loses to the US, 56-23, in the knockout 4th round to finish 5th of 23, the highest placing ever by an Asian country in Olympic basketball history. Philippine coach Chito Calvo is later inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame and is the only Filipino to be enshrined so far. That same year, the Philippines becomes the first country in the world to issue a basketball stamp.

1938 – the Philippines establishes the first commercial basketball league called the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA) which lasts until 1981. That same year, the UAAP is formed and remains the premier varsity league in the country today.

1948 – the Philippines participates in the first Olympic basketball tournament in London after World War II. The Philippines becomes the first country in Olympic basketball history to score at least 100 points in a game with a 102-30 win over Iraq. The Philippines beats Korea, 35-33, China, 51-32, Argentina, 45-43 but loses to Belgium twice, 35-34 and 38-34, Chile, 68-39 and Peru, 40-29, to finish 12th of 23. One of the Filipino players is ambidextrous Ramoncito Campos who is in the history books as 1 of only 2 Filipinos (the other is Ed Ocampo) to play basketball in 3 Olympics. Campos is now 90.

1951 – the Philippines wins the basketball gold medal at the first Asian Games. It will win the championship in the 1st 4 stagings of the Asiad in 1951, 1954, 1958 and 1962.

1954 – the Philippines takes the bronze medal at the FIBA World Championships (now known as the World Cup) in Rio de Janeiro. The 3rd place finish is the highest by an Asian country in FIBA World Cup history. Caloy Loyzaga and Tony Genato are 2 of the Filipino players on the squad. Loyzaga is voted by international media as 1 of the best 10 players in the world. Genato is now 86.

1960 – the Philippines wins the first gold medal at the FIBA Asia (then known as the Asian Basketball Confederation) Championships. It will win the 1st 2 FIBA Asia crowns and 4 of the 1st 7.

1972 – the Philippines plays basketball at the Olympics for the last time in Munich. A player on the team is Freddie Webb who later becomes a Congressman, Senator and movie TV actor. Webb is now 73.

1975 – the PBA is born as the 1st professional league in the world outside the US. It is now on its 41st season with 12 franchises. The Webbs are in the record books as the only family with three generations in the PBA – Freddie, his son Jason and his grandson Joshua.

1978 – the Philippines hosts the FIBA World Championships in Manila with the national team seeded into the 8-team semifinals. The Philippine team is coached by Nic Jorge and has no PBA player as FIBA disallows the participation of pros. The Philippines is winless but finishes 8th. At this time, the FIBA president is Filipino Lito Puyat who serves 2 terms from 1976 to 1984.

The continuation of the timeline will be in tomorrow’s column.

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