July 2010

I'm very, very super-duper crazy mad hella proud to say that I have plans next week to fly to San Francisco, where I'll be doing a reading and book signing at Eastwind Books of Berkeley. The reading may not be as large as the NYC Barnes&Noble launch was, but I'm even more nervous heading in, since it will be in a State I've only been to a handful of times, and I had huge posses of friends and family from elementary, high school, college and work at the New York event.

The Eastwind event will be more of an away game, although not in the sense of having an antagonistic home crowd. This isn't the Manila Metrostars heading south to play the Cebu Gems. And if it turns into that, then I'll be coming back to NY with a few peso-coin welts on my forehead.

Seriously, I'm very grateful to Eastwind Books for hosting the event on short notice, as well as to Benito Vergara and Barbara Jane Reyes for helping me connect with the store and with the Bay Area Pinoy community. I've been a fan of Vergara's blogs for years now, and the fact that I suddenly found myself corresponding with him via email last week was quite a thrill. The same goes for Ms. Reyes, whose Philippine American Writers and Artists blog has clued me in to countless worthwhile books and cool talks over the years. Often, they just leave me feeling rueful of the fact that I don't live in the Bay, where many of the events take place, but now I'm proud to be participating in precisely one of these events. Here's the info:

Pacific Rims reading and book signing
Tuesday, August 3, 6:30 pm
Eastwind Books of Berkeley
2066 University Avenue, Berkeley, Calif.

Complete PAWA announcement here.

I'm thrilled and flattered to have the opportunity to share Pacific Rims with folks in the Bay. Can't wait to meet you all and talk about hoops and Philippine culture and their countless intersections.

For anyone who's paying attention, do yourself a favor and read the comment Coach Chot Reyes left on my previous post about Talk 'N Text. He makes a number of good points about how the Texters lineup compares to other PBA heavy hitters like San Miguel, B-Meg and Ginebra. It's also just impressive to see a PBA and former national team coach like Chot interacting with fans on the Web. This is something he's done before at FireQuinito and on Twitter, and it puts a good face on the franchise.

Coach Reyes's main point was that Talk 'N Text's roster lacks the depth of their main rivals. After their star-studded top eight, he said, their bench becomes Mark Yee, Aaron Aban, JR QuiƱahan and Lamont Waters. Not bad, but a far cry from the all-time greats like Danny Ildefonso, Olsen Racela and Danny Seigle, who San Miguel has stashed deep on their bench. Now, I don't belong in an Xs and Os basketball debate with Coach Reyes or any other professional coach. That'd be a much bigger mismatch than the Talk 'N Text bench against the SMB bench. And that's sort of my point. The names are certainly more impressive, and I'm sure San Miguel pays a pretty penny to keep them there, but I don't know that at this point in their careers, the aging Beermen bench players are that much better than the Texters reserves. I'd agree that the edge has to go to San Miguel, but not by as wide a margin as it might seem.

The advantage of having Racela and the Dannys is that San Miguel can play them as wildcards. I've already seen Racela and Ildefonso get called in for spot duty in this conference and make big plays that won games for the Beermen. I don't doubt that this will happen again in the postseason. But on an every day basis, I'm not sure that Yee, with all his toughness and gumption and his nose for the ball, isn't the most valuable player of the bunch at this point. Also, if Talk 'N Text's first eight can just overwhelm teams, they'd probably be the prohibitive favorite in these playoffs with me and my cousins on their bench.

I do think I may have jumped the gun by comparing Talk 'N Text to the Death Star, as if they can just power up and blow other teams off the court. They've looked that way at times since trading for Kelly Williams and Ryan Reyes, but it would probably be smarter to see how they do in the playoffs before calling them unbeatable. Just as the most recent All-Filipino conference, which looked like a two-team race between Alaska and San Miguel, was turned on its head by a buzzsaw called Purefoods, we can't call any team the Death Star until it wins a title.

Not to mention it's hard to judge PBA rosters during an import conference, since the reinforcements usually consume touches and minutes that would otherwise belong to locals. Coach Reyes suggested that the Texters looked so unstoppable because Shawn Daniels plugs the hole in the middle and makes his teammates better. I'm not sure that I buy the argument that TNT would struggle without an inside presence. Their forwards are some of the best rebounders in the Philippine game, and they can defend other teams' big men in the post or on the perimeter. I can't think of any truly dominant big men in the PBA; Kerby Raymundo might be the closest thing, but he's a finesse guy. The idea that a PBA team can't be successful without a true pivot man doesn't seem right to me; the idea that we can't evaluate Talk 'N Text's all-Filipino lineup until they see action in an All-Filipino conference, I do agree with that.

There's another issue that's important to consider when we start whining and moaning about how the Texters or the Beermen are like the Yankees or Lakers or whatever pro sports franchise you consider most evil. Whenever we go down that road, we have to remember that there are hardly any victims in the PBA. The lower budget teams like Air21, the 2005-2008 Red Bull squads and most recently, Santa Lucia, among other teams, all helped the big spenders hoard talent by selling their players. You could make a decent argument that teams like Talk 'N Text and the SMC franchises are acting appropriately -- pursuing every opportunity to improve and taking advantage of their larger basketball budgets. Ideally, all teams would be equally committed to winning and the PBA salary cap and trade rules would be meaningful, so teams would have to improve through wise drafting and insightful trades, rather than just waiting for the cream to rise to the top of the league and skimming it off the top for a price. But that's the way the league works, and Talk 'N Text is one of only ten teams responsible for that.

With the PBA playoffs heating up, I got to thinking...

In sports, it's a fair bet that if you like a team's players and coaches, then you like that team. In the Philippine Basketball Association, the Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters have come up with a logic-bursting formula to make a team full of exciting and likable players utterly hate-worthy.

When I look at the TNT roster, I see nothing but guys whose games and often (to the extent that I know or have observed them) whose personalities I like. Harvey Carey has become perhaps the premiere hustleman of the PBA; his hardhat approach to the game has made him indispensable to the team and allowed him to keep his minutes despite TNT's constant influx of marquee talent. I dig Jason Castro's waterbug speed and they way he skitters around the court creating chaos and scoring opportunities. Mark Yee is another borderline lunatic who's a joy to watch. I knew Aaron Aban and JR QuiƱahan from their Alaska days, and even though they're buried in the TNT rotation, I still root for them. Ryan Reyes, when healthy, is in the discussion for being the best guard in the league, and beyond that he plays such a mature floor game; it's fun to see him take over a few possessions and control the flow of a game, often without looking for his own shot. Kelly Williams is one of the top talents in the country, a guy who has won an MVP and still not hit his ceiling as a player, one of the kindest guys around and someone whose courageous comeback from a serious blood disorder two years ago makes him one of the most likable players in the league. Even Mac Cardona, one of the PBA's great villains, has long been a guilty pleasure for me. Any guy who makes as many crazy shots as he does as consistently as he does is a winner for me. 

This conference, they're even parading Shawn Daniels, one of my longtime favorite imports. I saw Daniels match up against Kwan Johnson the first time I ever went to the Araneta Coliseum in 2005, and I remember my initial skepticism toward this roly-poly mass of an import melt into disbelief at the way he could control the game with his quick hands and long arms on defense, Kevin Love-esque outlet passes and assists to his teammates out of the post. Daniels towed Air21/Burger King to the semifinals in the 2006 and 2009 import conferences, turning the perennially undermanned squad that's known for selling players into legit contenders and falling just short of the finals. This year, he's finally on one of the PBA's elite squads, and he's doing the same thing he's always done -- filling in the gaps on defense and making life easy for his teammates on offense. 

I want the TNT players to win a championship. I SO want Shawn Daniels to win one. But I don't want any of them to win like this. Not as part of Talk 'N Text, which is like the PBA's answer to the Death Star. The squad was built to vanquish other teams, but it may end up destroying the PBA universe. That's clearly an exaggeration, but the same way NBA fans are turning against the Miami Heat now that they've tried to stack the deck with LeBron, Wade and Bosh, I can't bring myself to cheer for a PBA franchise that just throws enough money at guys to create a straight-up all-star team. We all thought that the PBA had its Yankees, and they were San Miguel, but this time around TNT has out-San-Migged the Cojuangco basketball empire. Who knew such a thing was possible?

Of course it's bad for the league. I'm enjoying the quarterfinal match-up between Alaska and Ginebra, but at the same time I'm wondering if it even matters. Will the winner stand much of a chance against the Death Star? Alaska seems likely to advance and they've got the benefit of a great import and coach Tim Cone, who's often at his best when forced to come up with solutions to impossible problems like "How to slow down TNT." Still, I think they'll get overwhelmed over the course of the series and never really give the Texters a scare.

And the regular season games involving teams like Santa Lucia and Coke and Air21 are becoming borderline unwatchable. I remember reading comments at FireQuinito, where readers were sarcastically suggesting that the PBA just become an MVP league (or MVP and San Miguel league, if SMC remains in the PBA for the long run), with six teams owned by Manny Pangilinan duking it out for the MVP cup. Well that hypothetical league, which was intended to be a joke, might actually be better than the PBA right now. If MVP owned all the teams, he'd have an incentive to spread out the talent. PBA fans would have balanced teams and games worth watching on a regular basis, instead of the current schedule that requires you to mark your calendar for a TNT versus B-Meg game or an Alaska-SMB match. 

I'm getting a little bit worried about the PBA. This conference, for the first time since I began following the league, I noticed myself tuning out when I watched games on my computer. That shouldn't happen, and the TNT-SMC axis is largely to blame for draining the PBA's talent pool and only putting a fraction of it to use. They're like Daniel Day Lewis at the end of There Will Be Blood: "I drink your milkshake!" San Miguel used to be the number one culprits. This conference, I think TNT has pulled ahead. 

So yeah, Talk 'N Text -- great players, great coaches, a lot of great people. Great team. I hope they lose.