“When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” George Washington Carver
By Alex P. Vidal
Ask any Ilonggo sports fan—young and old– in the street about the National Basketball Association (NBA) nowadays and he can tell us lengthily about LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Kobe Bryant, Marc Gasol, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook – all NBA leading superstars in this generation.
Ilonggo sports enthusiasts are not only familiar with James Yap, Asi Taulava, Jun Mar Fajardo, Jason Castro, Jayve Casio, among other top PBA cagers today, but can also recite statistics about NBA’s Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Stephen Curry, and Paul Millsap, to mention a few.
Basketball is arguably the No. 1 sport of the Ilonggos and Filipinos in general, including those living in other countries exposed to other outdoor and indoor sports. Next to politics, basketball is the country’s national passion. In between is Manny Pacquiao’s KO demonstrations.
Ask the same fan (unless, of course, he is a true-blue sportswriter) if he knows Zinedine Zidane, Thiago Silva, Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, Paulinho, Roberto Baggio, Fernando Hierro, and David Villa– all FIFA World Cup legends, and he will surely pause for a while before giving us a blank stare. FIFA World Cup is the world’s most popular sporting event next only to the World Summer Olympic Games, but Ilonggos or Filipino fans for that matter, remember FIFA World Cup only when media start to make a noise and flood the sports pages and internet with news about how rich countries in Europe and Africa treat the event as a global phenomenon. FIFA World Cup enters into an Ilonggo fan’s imagination as soon as he sees a football field in the newspapers and TV clips; as soon as front pages drumbeat the huge event that it is now “FIFA World Cup time!”
Ilonggo fans, of course, know James and Phil Younghusband as Akzals brother heartthrobs like they know their kindergarten classmates, but they can hardly recall with complete familiarization other prominent booters in the team that recently made waves in the AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives. Without the presence of the handsome Filipino-British football players, Ilonggos can remember only their very own Ian Araneta and Chieffy Caligdong, both of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo.
Several days from now, the 2014 FIFA World Cup will unfold in Brazil. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) event has triggered a global frenzy, and fans are already agog over the sophistication and hoopla that attended the preparation stages arranged by gigantic sponsors. Yet, Ilonggos are still enmeshed on the suspense and thriller whipped up by the NBA play-offs in both the Eastern and Western conferences among San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma Thunder, Miami Heat, and Indiana Pacers. Many of them don’t give a hoot about the pre-tournament predictions that Brazil would steamroll Argentina in the finals. Too early to speculate for those oddsmakers.
In the early 70s, a Chinese karate instructor ushered us to Golden Theater, a downtown moviehouse in Iloilo City, to watch “Game of Death” starring Bruce Lee, known as “Hai Tien” in the film. Tien was a retired champion martial artist who was confronted by the Korean underworld gangs.
Our Chinese karate instructor wanted us to study the movements of Bruce Lee and how he defeated in the Pagoda tournament Filipino Eskrima master Dan Inosanto and Korean Hapkido master Ji Han Jae. As elementary pupils, we actually knew little things about the legendary Bruce Lee and the karate styles he was employing to outwit his rivals.
What caught our attention was the very tall bemoustached black man, who engaged Bruce Lee in a bloody and full-contact karate showdown that had the audience on the edge of their seats. He was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who fought with a free and fluid style mirroring Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. Because Abdul-Jabbar’s character has great size and strength in addition to a fighting style as potent as Lee’s, he could only be defeated once Bruce Lee or Hai recognized that an unusually high sensitivity to light was his greatest weakness. Ergo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the man of the hour.
Instead of focusing on Bruce Lee’s fights, everyone was now talking about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. ) and how he acquired the Muslim name after piloting the Milwaukee Bucks in his first NBA title in 1971 at age 24. If Jabbar were a candidate for a national office in the Philippines, he would be a sure winner given his tremendous popularity that skyrocketed further after the Game of Death film.
Even in the sixties and seventies, NBA was very popular among Filipino cage fans. During the martial law years when cable TV and internet were not yet around, Filipinos were already infatuated with the NBA even at the height of the PBA Crispa Redmanizer vs Toyota rivalry in the 70’s.
Only Manny Pacquiao’s fight can rival the best-of-seven series between two NBA teams. When the NBA finals unwrap several days from now in time for the opening of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, we will know which event will get the immediate attention of Ilonggo fans.