The death of Superman

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

The Philippine basketball community is still in shock over the death of Sudan Daniel. The prodigious former college basketball player succumbed to an asthma attack Saturday while out of town over the long Christmas weekend. It is not unusual for superbly conditioned athletes to still have these kinds of respiratory problems. World-class athletes like six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen suffered from debilitating asthma even while competing. What was jolting was that it happened to someone who appeared impervious to circumstances that afflicted other mere mortals.

Daniel exploded onto local college basketball a decade ago, like a glaring spotlight suddenly turned on in a darkened theatre. Preceded by the quiet, soft-spoken, soccer-playing Sam Ekwe who was just learning basketball and reintroduced San Beda College to winning along the way, Sudan stood in the starkest contrast. He was flamboyant, American, unbridled and knew the game. He had the swagger of a veteran who understood winning. With him, the more mature Red Lions swept the NCAA in 2010. Eighteen games straight, with a smile. Needless to say, there was always a reason to party when Su was around.

It is an extreme, even laughable irony that someone whose name calls to mind the barren Nubian Desert was one of the most vibrant, lively, colorful people you would ever meet. He loved basketball, San Beda and the Philippines so much, all three in equal measure. They intertwined to form the fiber of who he was. He always held out his hand or opened his arms in welcome. His social media posts were invariably entertaining, direct, true to him. He didn’t mince words, or scrimp on them. That would have been a waste of time. No, let’s get straight to the point. No beating around the bush.

After his NCAA career, Daniel hit a dead-end of sorts. He couldn’t play in the PBA as a local, and he didn’t fit the mold of imports the pros wanted. He found work and just kept trying to give back to the game any way he knew how: selling sneakers, playing in small leagues or pick-up games, coaching, announcing for 3-on-3 basketball. He met new friends, invested time in his relationships, made people laugh. Su hid his deep hurts behind a megawatt smile. After all, he was the Black Superman; his tattoos said so. No apologies to Billy Ray Bates.

This writer identified strongly with Su Daniel because he was a talented outsider who found his passion and just wanted to be part of the celebration of life. He was gregarious, friendly and fun. Only a handful of conservatives focused on the differences, not the similarities. They judged him as too loud, his personality too big. He enjoyed life too much. He was too direct, intimidating. All of that criticism came from fear, insecurity, ignorance. Or even racism. Another thing Filipinos don’t talk about, pretending it’s not there or hoping it’ll go away if ignored. He railed against being treated unfairly; it seeped out through his social media posts. He just wanted to belong. He was just unapologetically... himself.

You couldn’t fit Sudan Daniel in a box even if you tried.

But now, sadly, you can. And we are all the worse off for it.


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