June 2010

Last week Deadspin published an adapted excerpt of Pacific Rims. It came from the chapter in the book on Billy Ray Bates, who between 1983 and 1988 earned the reputation as the PBA's best (and perhaps wildest) all-time import. I'm not sure which title would be harder to earn. For the excerpt, I scanned images from some of the photocopies I made of Atlas Sports Weekly stories from those days. Deadspin used them, but it was hard to see them all, so I figured I would post them here to add to the Internet's growing trove of Bates lore.

BRB

I've always loved Sports Weekly's cartoons. This one is the most poignant and ironic, of course, because not long after this article was published, Bates was drinking again. When Champ, a similar magazine, sent Butch Maniego to do a similar interview with Bates, Maniego found Bates cooling down after practice with a couple San Miguel Beers. So much for the clean and sober angle to his story.

Bates and Black



Billy Ray Bates and Norman Black, the best import player in league history versus the import who had the best career. In 1983, they met in the finals of Bates's first conference in the league, with Black as the reigning Best Import. Bates and Crispa had owned Great Taste throughout the conference, until the finals, when the Coffeemakers (yes, that's what Great Taste was called) jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the best of five finals. Needing only one more win, Great Taste coach Jimmy Mariano famously said, "Amin na 'to" -- "we've got this now" -- as if the series was in the bag. Bates and Crispa ran Great Taste out of the gym in two consecutive games and won the second title in their Grand Slam season.

Bates Ginebra


A story on Bates's return to Ginebra in 1987. He played alongside Michael Hackett in 1986 to tow Ginebra to their first PBA title, and so far in his PBA career he was a perfect 3-for-3 in leading his teams to championships in every season he played. 1987 broke the streak, with Ginebra bowing out in the semifinals, but Bates averaged more that 50 points over the season.

Bates cape


They called him Black Superman, and he never looked more like a comic book hero than he does right here.




A real life version of the Superman in Flight image above. 

BatesBanal



Here's Bates being crowded by Joel Banal, whose pesky defense in the first few games of the 1983 Reinforced Conference Finals was credited with slowing down Bates and giving Great Taste an early lead. Banal, whom I knew as Alaska's mystic-minded lead assistant coach, told me that the game earlier in the 1983 season when he held Bates to 28 points (then his PBA career-low) was the proudest moment of his playing career. 

BatesFloro


After Bates's first PBA game, in which he scored 64 points (including five three pointers and SEVEN DUNKS!) and sealed Crispa's one-point win with a pair of free throws just before the buzzer, he ran to Crispa honcho Danny Floro and lifted him in a bear hug that made the textile heir look like a rag doll.

And, finally, on an unrelated note, there's this:

Dudikoff


What the fuck is this? And why am I including it in a post about Billy Ray Bates? Two fine questions. It is a print ad for More cigarettes. It's part of this post because I found it in the same eighties sports magazines that I found all this Bates stuff in. Over the years, I came across plenty of old-school cancer stick ads. Usually they featured a few very tanned white folks splayed out on a sailboat, cigarettes in hand and loving life. Ahh, sarap buhay nito, bi ba? These were goofy (and a little guilt-inducing) in that, "man, all you had to do to get in these commercials back in the day was be white?" way. The models' hair tended to be so ridiculous and anachronistic that it looked like a modern day eighties parody, only it was an honest attempt at cool, and it actually was the eighties. 

So why choose to scan and post this one? It's so baffling it raises non-sequitur to the level of art. What does this ad tell its Filipino audience? White men with crossbows prefer More? After a white dude dresses up as a ninja, crashes through a window (that's the blurry image in the upper left portion of the box) and shoots his enemies (ninjas use guns?), he has his bearded schlub friend light a More for him. Da best yan, pare!!!! 

Although More's ad-wizards didn't see fit to include any context, let me take a stab at this. Pinoy readers who remember this time period, jump in on the comments to correct me, because this is just my educated guess. The film American Ninja, starring Michael Dudikoff and filmed in the Philippines, was released around this time, in 1985. Since relatively few Hollywood films are shot in the Philippines, it's almost one's patriotic duty to know which ones were (I adopted this outlook almost immediately). Apocalypse Now, Bloodfist, American Ninja, Brokedown Palace (damn you, Claire Danes!!!) and probably a few others that are slipping my mind. Assuming American Ninja gained a decent level of popularity in Manila (I grew up watching it and loved Dudikoff, so much so that when a dude on an NYC basketball court in 2005 suggested I looked like him, I was flattered when I really should have been offended), because it was a worthy addition to the eighties action canon and because of the Philippine connection, I'm guessing that this More ad is trying to piggy back on American Ninja's fame. Today, however, it remains as a tragicomic reminder of that era in recent Philippine history, when the only thought going into advertising campaigns was "We need a Kano!" Of course, that impulse is still strong today, but nothing like it was in the Dudikoff days. Would anyone make the Dragon Katol commercial in 2010? I doubt it. But if a remake is in the works, give me a call, because that cowboy is my idol, and I promise to mispronounce "Lamok siguradong tepok" in my worst American accent. 

Be on the lookout for me and Congressman Manny Pacquiao -- together we will be launching the Cringeworthy 2011 tour, and bringing shame to our great nations with our terrible singing. 

I just can't say no to an offer to humiliate myself publicly, and this might be one of the better examples yet, an attempt to sing Pare Ko by the Eraserheads. Most of the words are there, although I really apologize for getting nervous and skipping the bridge at the end (which is a great part of the song). Perhaps what I really ought to be apologizing for is my singing voice, but that I can't control (besides perhaps NOT SINGING!), so I should at least try to get the song right. 

Bethlehem Shoals of FreeDarko fame told me my Balitang America videos were "fairly amazing," and I asked if he meant Tommy Wiseau amazing or genuinely amazing. If my antics on TFC were not goofy enough, then this video will put me one step closer to Tommy's rarefied air.

Barnes & Noble launch plus new links

I floated through Wednesday night's reading like it was a dream. Hundreds of people came; looking out at the crowd felt like that old game show "This is Your Life." Friends who have known me since kindergarten were there. Cousins came from as far as Amherst, Mass., and Washington, D.C. Little pockets of the crowd were full of former high school and college classmates. A group of my former students from the summer school I taught at showed up to cheer me on, as did a few of my teacher mentors. A pretty thick crew of my Harper's Magazine coworkers came, and it warmed my heart to see them there, although the idea of looking pedestrian in front of them also gave me butterflies. It made my day to see friends and teammates from the Philippines who happened to be in New York; Larry Albano, former coach of the Philippine National Team (and Samboy Lim's coach at Letran), came with his family, including his son J.C. (I think he's the bunso), who's playing college ball in the CUNY system and is plotting his job to the PBL and PBA in a couple years. It was an honor to have basketball clan of that stature in the building. Then a busload of friends from the New York Filipino-American community, especially the staff and regulars of Cafe 81 in the east Village, but also the journalists who've covered me so graciously in recent months and Momar Visaya of Asian Journal and Don Tagala of ABS-CBN news. Josephus Tudtud and Alex Sarmiento gave their time to take video and pictures of the night. And, maybe most importantly, I nailed my Philip Cezar impression. Also, I'm eternally grateful to my agent Mollie, my editor Mark and publicist Julia, Carissa Villacorta who was probably directly or indirectly responsible for at least half the people who came to the event, and Tom Fuller and Maria Celis at B&N, who broke protocol to let my small-time ass have a reading in there (their gamble paid off, the Filipino community showed love as it always does, and the house was packed).
Here are two Balitang America clips about the reading. My interview in the second one is pretty funny. Tagalog speakers will probably snicker at me trying to find the right form of "bisita" to use in one of my replies (third time's a charm!); oh well, I'm embarrassed to hear my own voice in any language. Thanks to the brilliant and talented Gel Santos-Reyes, Balitang America's anchor, for taking it easy on me. I had a great time talking to her, even though I was caught off guard by some of her more tsismosa questions. Enjoy!

And now, links to catch everyone up on the other press Pacific Rims has been receiving.

  • Momar Visaya's in-depth look at the making of Pacific Rims in Asian Journal: "His three-year immersion in Manila has made him [almost] Filipino, especially in the way he speaks the language, and that makes him all the more endearing. His efforts in speaking Filipino in conversations doesn’t look pa-cute, nor is it forced, because you can sense the sincerity in him wanting to learn more."

  • Pasha Malla, a fabulous author from Toronto, writes in The Globe and Mail and uses Pacific Rims to look at the World Cup and feverish devotion to sports across cultures: "In Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball, Rafe Bartholomew explores this phenomenon, unearthing a society singularly, resolutely and communally obsessed with hoops."

  • Elisa Mala of Forbes.com interview me.
  • Fellow Medill grad Greg Connors digs into Pacific Rims and devotes part of his column in The Buffalo News to the story of PBA imports: "Some of the most interesting chapters of "Pacific Rims" involve the PBA's use of foreign players. Each team is allowed to sign one "import," usually a player from the U.S., and they are expected to play like stars every time they take the floor or risk losing their jobs. Sometimes, they lose their jobs even when they're playing well."

  • Jaemark Tordecilla's comprehensive and perhaps definitive review of Pacific Rims, written from the point-of-view of a true sports fan: "Bartholomew’s writing sparkles as he paints portraits of several members of Alaska, making the characters leap out of the pages: Tim Cone, the coaching lifer who taught himself the Chicago Bulls’ triangle offense; Jeffrey Cariaso, the team’s spiritual leader who bridges the divide between the team’s locals and Fil-Ams; Dale Singson and Aaron Aban, former college basketball stars who have bonded at the end of the Alaska bench; Rosell Ellis, the world-weary import seeking basketball redemption; and Willie Miller, perhaps the book’s most indelible character: equal parts jester, enigma, and unstoppable scoring machine."

  • And last but not least, the blogs! Kiki&LaLa, Chuvaness.com, and Chizmizan with Chuva.

Alex Compton, idol ko

Now that Pacific Rims has come out, I've been doing a lot of radio interviews to promote the book, and a few times hosts have asked me to reflect on what I want readers to take away from the book or what kind of impact I'd like it to have (I've also done some morning drive shock jock shows and fielded questions like "Did you think of calling the book Pacific Rimjobs?" and "Are there a lot of hot chicks there?"). The question is a cliché, and I struggle to come up with something that's not overly maudlin, but it does get me to think back on all of the people in the Philippines who helped me put the book together.

One of them was Alex Compton, whom I met in my first week in the country, when Sev Sarmenta took me to a PBL doubleheader at JCSGO gym in Cubao. Alex was there for a Montaña pawnshop game, and he schooled me on the ins and outs of the PBL for 15 minutes before going into his pregame routine. For the next three months or so, Alex became my de facto kuya. He bought me my first stick of chicken inasal (and taught me a style of eating it that I didn't know was a bit unusual until maybe six months later -- we ripped our chicken up with our hands and sprinkled the shreds over our rice with a drizzle of toyomansi). He took me to a Thanksgiving party. He brought me to church. He brought me to a poker game with Kalani Ferreria and Harvey Carey. He basically held the seat of my bike while I found my balance in the country, then, when I was ready to ride solo, he let me go. 

I'm not the only person Alex has helped. I saw him play similar roles in the lives of guys like Kelly Williams and Rob Reyes when they first arrived to play in the PBL. I'm sure there have been many others, as well. 

I caught this recent interview, embedded above, when Alex and Mico Halili stopped by Kababayan LA. They were in the states to cover games one and two of the NBA finals. The time warp feeling of the interview is kind of charming, as host Jannelle So asks questions about Alex's inability to play as a local in the PBA and the issue of Fil-Am players in the PBA -- stories that were on the top of the sports page when she was a PBA reporter in the early 2000s. Of course, Alex did eventually play in the PBA, when he was allowed to suit up as an extra import for Welcoat in 2007. The Fil-Am question has not been resolved, as Alex points out pretty eloquently, but it has settled down from the 2002 drama of the Fil-Sham senate hearings and the sports media's incessant pitting of Fil-Am players against their homegrown teammates. 

I wanted to post the interview also to highlight Alex's Tagalog. I like to think I would have made the same effort to learn the language no matter who I met when I first arrived, but it's probably no coincidence that I took his example and did my best to reach a similar level of fluency. I'm not there yet, but he's been around a bit longer than I have. If in seven years, I speak Tagalog as well as Alex does now and have contributed a fraction of what he's given to Philippine hoops and society, I'll be a happy man. 

And now, links:

  •  Audio for an interview I did on NPR's Only a Game, which aired on radio stations across the U.S. this past weekend.
  • A wonderful review in Saturday's Philippine Daily Inquirer. The biggest honor for me was learning that the paper intentionally published it on June 12, Philippine Independence Day. Says Adrian Dy: "If it seems like a lot to cover, well it is, but the author deftly picks and chooses, like Rajon Rondo going for a steal. This isn’t a scholarly text by any definition. Instead, it’s a rollicking good tale, and Bartholomew is a great storyteller, one whom you can imagine killing a few hours with dishing about hoops."
  • And one more splendid review from Patrick Truby at There's No I in Blog: "Like any good sports book, Pacific Rims has its sequences of cinematic highlights, including a suspenseful game recap where I found myself turning the pages, wondering what would happen next, and rooting for the Aces to pull off a hard-fought win. But the best parts of the book are when Bartholomew links basketball to Filipino culture."


Pacific Rims - Book reading by author: Rafe Bartholomew from Josephus Tudtud on Vimeo.

Thank you one million times to Joe Tudtud for making this video of me yesterday afternoon. I was just sitting outside at Cafe 81 in the East Village when he walked in and he said he had an idea to shoot this. Aside from the fact that Cafe 81 is turning me into a heavier drinker than I like to envision myself, something unexpected and great happens to me almost every time I go there, and I'm starting to lose count of all the good people I've met -- employees and patrons alike --- at the place because there are so many. I think in the video I call it my "pangalawang bahay" (my second home) and it's really beginning to feel that way. 

Still, it's hard to watch myself on camera. All I can notice are the things I'm doing and saying wrong, or when not totally incorrect, imperfectly. But it's a lot of fun to try, so I hope people won't judge me too harshly. Joe's video does a beautiful job of capturing that early evening rusty sun here in summertime NYC. 

The video is an announcement for my upcoming reading at Barnes&Noble here in NYC. It will be next Wednesday, June 16, at 7 pm at the store in Union Square. There'll be a reading and book signing, and after that we'll probably head down to Cafe 81 to celebrate. Rumor has it I'm buying a lechon!

While I'm here, I might as well dump a couple of newish links on you all. 

  • I got a lovely review at the SB Nation blog Rufus on Fire. David Arnott writes: "Bartholomew ties Filipino basketball history to the larger culture, and true hoops junkies will lose themselves in the book when they're learning about this history and the culture it hath wrought. It's not often that one happens upon a thriving parallel universe just across the ocean he had little idea existed, and better yet, has the good fortune that a storyteller like Bartholomew is there to show him around."

    That's amazing stuff. David also compares my book to David Halberstam's Breaks of the Game and Robert Whiting's You Gotta Have Wa, two all-time great sports books that I read while preparing to write Pacific Rims.

    I was surprised at how David reacted to Willie Miller, the star guard of the Alaska Aces (he's since been traded to Ginebra), which was the team I followed through the 2007 import conference for Pacific Rims. Willie is a complicated guy and a famously erratic player, but I was pretty smitten with him -- his talent on the court and his antics and pranks, which occurred pretty much anywhere he went. David observes -- fairly, I'd say -- that Willie's streaky play and fragile hoops psyche almost costs Alaska the title on a couple occasions in the season. But what always seemed more important to me was that Alaska would never have been in the position to win or lose big playoff games without Willie, and that season he delivered in the end. It'll be interesting to see how more readers respond to Willie. I was worried that I gushed too much over him -- his unique moves to the basket, his playful personality, etc. But it seems like I left enough ambiguity for readers to form their own opinions of the mercurial two-time MVP. 

  • One final link: Gregory Dole, a sports columnist for the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, wrote a short piece on the book. He makes a nice link between New York, my hometown and the so-called mecca of hoops, and the Philippines, a country that rivals and probably surpasses the basketball culture here in NYC: "New York City is considered basketball’s most hallowed ground, a reason why many think LeBron James, the NBA star, will sign with the Knicks. Nevertheless, it would take a native New Yorker to determine that the soul of the game also lives in an Asian archipelago. "

Big omnibus update

Lots of stuff going on right now. First and foremost, PACIFIC RIMS IS OUT!!! In both the U.S. and in Manila, the book is in stores.
I've heard that it's pretty tough to find copies in stores in Manila. The publisher tells me that 500 copies were shipped to the Philippines, to be sold at selected branches of National Bookstore, Fully Booked and Powerbooks. A lot of friends have told me on Facebook and Twitter that they called stores and heard that they had sold out already. In a way, that's great news, but I want everyone who's interested in the book to be able to read it, so if you go to a bookstore in Manila and they're out of books, tell them to order more!

A word of practical advice, even though it hurts me to say so: If you're looking for the book, go to Makati. I'm a Katipunan man through and through, and the only thing I looked forward to about having to go to Makati during my time in Manila were the lunch specials in Little Tokyo and DVD shopping and Booksale at Makati Cinema Square. But I'll step down from my pedestal of QC pride to say that Makati and Taguig are the best bets for finding the book, because of the high concentration of classy bookstores and people with large disposable incomes in that area. 

If you go looking for it at SM Santa Mesa, don't be surprised if the woman at National gives you a "Sorry, not available."

I also found the book front and center in the sports section at the Union Square Barnes&Noble in New York, but a store employee stopped me from taking any pictures. I told her I wrote one of the books, and she didn't believe me and asked me to leave. I'm actually kind of proud that I don't look or carry myself like someone who writes books.

And now, the updates:

  • Tonight in NYC I'll be reading at the Varsity Letters sports readings series put on by Gelf Magazine. ESPN's Truehoop mentioned the event in its Bullets column. 
  • Bill Velasco wrote a lovely review of the book last week in the Philippine Star. I'm with you, Bill, that I might have liked to dial back some of the pop culture references. Not just because my Pinoy audience might not know the Cobra Kai dojo as well as my U.S. audience, but because it dates the writing. In 50 years (and I realize it's a bit presumptuous to say this will still be worth reading decades from now), unless they keep re-making The Karate Kid, none of us will remember what the Cobra Kai dojo is. Bill's parting words really make me proud: "It is a meticulous, immersive, touching read that will inspire gratitude from a people who have finally met someone who has sought to understand. And thankfully, gets it."
  • Interviews about Pacific Rims at The Awl and Sports Crackle Pop.
  • I wrote a piece for SLAM Online that touches on the history of Philippine basketball and argues that the country doesn't need to have an Olympic berth to prove to itself or the world that Philippine basketball is a vital part of the world hoops scene. I've written about the idea a bunch of times before, but I'm happy to proselytize for that cause.
  • Finally, David Arnott places me in great company -- David Halberstam (idol ko siya!) and Jack McCallum, authors of perhaps the two best "season with a team" hoops books -- in another fine review at his SB Nation blog, Rufus on Fire.