Fil-Am coach shares unique experience seeing historic Clarkson-Green NBA clash

Luisa Morales - Philstar.com
Fil-Am coach shares unique experience seeing historic Clarkson-Green NBA clash
Fil-Am coach Cris Gopez (L) was able to attend the historic Filipino clash between Jordan Clarkson and Jalen Green in Houston on Thursday (Friday, Manila time)
Courtesy of Cris Gopez

MANILA, Philippines — The Filipino community in Texas was in full attendance during the Houston Rockets' Filipino Heritage Night at the Toyota Center on Thursday (Friday, Manila time).

Scores of overseas Filipino workers, migrants and Filipino-Americans were present to witness the first instance when two players of Filipino heritage faced each other in a game.

Among those in the audience was Fil-Am coach Cris Gopez, who runs Fil-Am Nation Select — an organization that develops and promotes Fil-Am athletes across different sports.

Philstar.com caught up with Gopez after the game to talk about the one-of-a-kind experience.

"You know, the game was great, to witness two Fil-Am athletes compete against each other," Gopez said of the game that had Clarkson's Jazz winning against Green and the Rockets, 122-91.

"Obviously, Jalen started the game [and] Jordan came off the bench. But as soon as Jordan came off the bench, right away, people wanted to see them going against each other. That was the excitement," he added.

In the Philippines and in the US, or wherever in the world, Filipinos are basketball crazy, and Gopez said it was obvious during the game.

"The atmosphere was great. [There] was a lot of support from the Filipino community. It was great to see a bunch of Jalen Green t-shirts on everyone in the arena... It was super, super awesome to be around," he said.

Rubbing shoulders with the Clarksons

But Gopez had an experience not all Filipino fans enjoyed in the Toyota Center Thursday night.

This as the Los Angeles native was also to meet Clarkson in person and also spend time with the Utah Jazz guard's family.

Cris Gopez (extreme right) with Jordan Clarkson's father Mike (left most), and his mother Annette (third from left)
Courtesy of Cris Gopez

Having connected with Mike Clarkson on social media before, Gopez was able to chance upon the NBA star's parents while in Houston as they were checked in at the same hotel.

Connecting over their shared love of basketball and Filipino heritage, Gopez was able to bond with the Clarkson patriarch as well as Jordan's mother Annette.

"Throughout the day, you know, we went from having lunch then jumping in the same Uber to the arena. And of course, watching the game... Just really enjoying the game and seeing Clarkson and Jalen go after each other," Gopez said.

The Fil-Am hoops coach raved about the encounter with the Clarksons, and revealed he even gained insight on how the reigning Sixth Man of the Year grew to love the game.

"The experience was just an amazing part because, you know, I mean, who gets to really take the time to spend time with an NBA player's parents, right?" he said.

"It was a beautiful thing to hear their story in regards to Jordan's upbringings. Everything from him playing from the youth days doing track and field, and then transitioning into basketball and really, you know, owning up to understanding the game and more," he added.

First, but not the last

Filipino Heritage Night in Houston was special for a lot of reasons for Filipino hoops fans, but Gopez believes there is more to come.

Scouting talent himself with Fil-Am Nation Select, Gopez has no doubt that there will be more games like these with the floodgates just waiting to open for Filipino players not just in the NBA, but in other major leagues in the US.

"[The] future is bright. And when I say bright, I think the lights are starting to turn on for our Filipino athletes," Gopez said.

"I believe now that with everything that Jalen and Jordan are doing, with all these Filipino-American athletes, and with the platform that I created for more exposure, I think pretty sooner than later, we're gonna see [a full Filipino] in the NBA, we're gonna see one in the WNBA, we're gonna see one, you know, in the NFL," he added.

Even Clarkson himself echoed this sentiment during his post-game interview in Houston.

"I feel like it's just an amazing experience, something that can be done again," said Clarkson.

"We're the first, hopefully we see more come through the league," he added.

Apart from Clarkson and Green, there are active players in the NFL, NHL and MLB who are of Filipino descent.

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