A 35-year odyssey

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - May 17, 2021 - 12:00am

It has been 35 years since this writer started out as a broadcaster. My mission to give back to sport has turned into an lifetime commitment. From a frail, pale boy who had asthma, scoliosis, migraines and flat feet, I have evolved (I’d like to think) into a substantial contributor to this country’s sports culture. I’ve been a military correspondent, I’ve covered Malacañang, both houses of Congress, and several government agencies, all while making sure my network had a steady diet of sports. I’ve been on television, radio and cable. I’ve edited magazines and the first all-Filipino sports website in the world, and contributed to several books. Hopefully, my persistence has made a dent in our country’s nightly viewing habit. Hopefully, I’ve helped people see the value of sport and the athlete, and what makes a good story.

Of course, most people remember me mainly for four things: being a reporter for ABS-CBN News (1986 to 1990), broadcasting PBA games (1990 to 1992), creating and producing “The Basketball Show” (2002 to 2008), and creating and hosting “Hardball” (2006 to 2019). Each was a valuable chapter in my growth as a person and as a professional. Along the way, there have been instances of triumphS and fulfillment, very painful moments (so many of them), and an often lonely struggle to do what is right, and to pay back, the hard way. I can’t forget how often I went to bed wide-eyed with fear and uncertainty, more so when I had a family. Yet, I can hardly recall how, by some miracle, I pulled through. My only regret is that you can’t explain to your children why you’ve failed them.

Some friends and colleagues have passed away, and some new ones have brought different, enriching dimensions of learning into my life. I miss Joe Cantada’s having it all together, Romy Kintanar’s court jester humor and enthusiasm, and my verbal fencing matches with Butch Maniego. The road trips during the early days of the Metropolitan Basketball Association were both liberating and broadening, and those memories will be part of me until the end of my days. We drove through Manila, Pasig, San Juan, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Laguna, Batangas, Bacolod, Iloilo, Antique, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Davao and so many other scenic places. We have such a beautiful, diverse country. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else.

This life has also had its hazards. Twenty-five years ago, Ron delos Reyes and I almost died in the Centennial Park bombing midway through the Atlanta Olympics. I flew around in open helicopters with defective seatbelts. I’ve gotten death threats, left jobs to keep my principles intact, been shot at, made enemies of the duplicitous. I eroded my marriage, disappointed my sons, failed to do right by some employees. I’ve been called many names I need not repeat here. I’ve often walked my own path, and paid the price for it. I often joke that if a mistake exists, I’ve made it. Then again, I’ve never been typical. Or mediocre. And I speak for myself when no one else will.

My career has been governed by two questions: what is a better way of doing things, and how can we successfully do something that’s never been done before? This has brought friction and misunderstanding with colleagues who see improvement as extra work, progress as unnecessary. Luckily, I can now choose not to work with those people. It’s harder to get the same opportunities, but let’s be honest, who needs the stress?

As a reporter, I learned how industriousness and ingenuity led to great stories. I had to create my own opportunities, and often watched someone try to steal my ideas. Sadly, many see their show or network as the universe, even when it’s really just their feeble fiefdom. That’s what has made my successes exquisitely sweeter, and more enduring.

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