Keeping my once a year streak alive!

People send me gorgeous images of Philippine basketball all the time on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. It's about time I start posting them all in one place. That place will be here. We're starting with this one, which was shared with my by Twitter friend @gangbadoy. It's a dreamy, hazy shot of a few guys playing on an overcast day in La Union. One of them is skying in his air tsinelas. Enjoy. 

I'm not sure if this is pointless, but I'm going to try to revive this dead beast over the next few months. I'm thinking I'll just post links to my work at Grantland and occasional musings about the PBA (All-Pinoy conference starts in 3 hours woo!).
Here's the link to my contributor page at Grantland. I've been working at the site since June 2011, when we launched, and the two main writing avenues I've developed are in boxing coverage and as a connoisseur of bad basketball games in a series called "A Fate Worse than Death." I'm including links to my favorite boxing piece -- an essay about Victor Ortiz after his June 2012 loss to Josesito Lopez -- and my favorite Fate Worse than Death -- what else but a piece on Philippine hoops! The rest, you can find in my archive. 

The Crazy Drama of Ortiz-Lopez, June 25, 2012:

A Fate Worse than Death: Scottie Pippen's Merry Band of NBA Retirees Takes Manila, July 24, 2012:

Rafe Bartholomew Grantland archive:

And, the best work I've done for the site to date -- a chronicle of Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's homecoming trip to the Philippines in August 2011, during the NBA lockout:

It's good to be back, mga kaibigan! Hopefully I can keep it up.

Mark Yee and Grundy's Grundle

It's one in the morning and I should probably be winding down and getting ready for my work week to begin, but I'm too wired from a pretty amazing three-and-a-half day homecoming in Manila. So what shall I do, other than rest?
Link to this story about Mark Yee, one of the PBA's last pure hatchetmen, who laid his hands upon Petron import Anthony Grundy in a downright felonious manner in Game 1 of the PBA Finals Sunday. I find it especially poetic that Grundy was the victim, since his name is so close to the English slang term "grundle," which refers to the space between a man's anus and scrotum. As InterAKTV sports has already pointed out, former PBA player Ed Cordero described this very technique in Pacific Rims, and I actually uploaded that section of his interview to YouTube

In short, local players will molest an import to get into his head -- to either force him to react violently and maybe draw a technical foul or ejection, or just to make him a little more timid on offense. Historically, it works, and since Talk 'N Text really only uses Mark Yee for these kinds of tricks and retaliation fouls, the team doesn't mind that he gets in trouble for it. They would prefer, I'm sure, that he didn't get caught.

I was flying back from Manila during Game 1, but after catching up on the news about Petron's one-point upset over Talk 'N Text, I'm already convincing myself that this will be a really good series. That may be wishful thinking, since pretty much anyone against TNT is a mismatch, but I managed to catch pieces of about five Petron games this conference, and I've become a fan. They've got a nice mixture of scrap and skill. Even Arwind Santos, who's got to be considered one of the PBA's top talents, comes off as a bit of an underdog because his body type and skill set are so unconventional. I never saw prime Eddie Laure during his MBA days, but I imagine he played something like Santos -- long, hops, not super quick but hard to stay in front of because he just extends past defenders with more terrestrial builds, not a shooter but capable of hot streaks, not the most technical defender but a big-time playmaker on D, and as capable of pulling off the unexpected and spectacular as any PBA player I can think of. Alex Cabagnot is my favorite PBA point guard right now. He's left-handed, has pure point-guard vision but also scores as well as some of the league's big-name combo guards, and he's so good in the clutch. They've got Sunday Salvacion shooting threes, and for some reason I find him more entertaining as a gunner than say, Jeff Chan (maybe it's because of Benilde). Denok Miranda goes out there and bodies people, and Mick Pennisi is so old now that I've gone from liking him during his Red Bull heel stage to getting tired and annoyed with him at SMB, to now just being amused that he's still around. It's sort of like how I'd feel if Chris Gatling made a comeback whenever the next NBA season starts. I'm close to being an old guy now, so it feels good when I see old guys on the court, especially ones who are older than me!

Wow, I wanted to keep this short. Anyway, one last rambling note: I was in Manila to follow Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra, who was in town on behalf of NBA Fit, and I'll be writing about it for Grantland. Great experience.

I wrote a piece on the Ultimate All-Star Weekend for Grantland today, and in the process stumbled into some wonderful YouTube material that's still fairly undiscovered. Kobe Bryant traveled to the Philippines in 1998 for the first time, and I remember people talking about his trip, and how unguarded and fun-loving teenage Kobe was, while I was living in the Philippines. Ten years later, people were still talking about that trip. When I was writing the piece, I wanted to link to a clip of Kobe playing 3-on-3 in SM Megamall. It had been one of my favorite Pinoy hoops clips, mostly for the scenes where the barriers seem ready to buckle under the weight of the crowd, and for the images of Kobe being fun-loving but also pushing the streetball, "I'm gonna clown you" act too far. In the process, though, I found something I'd never seen before that knocked my socks off and set back my progress on the piece for a good 15 minutes as I watched the video over and over and just smiled.

Here it is, Kobe dancing the tinikling. Also, amazing how good he gets at it in a matter of seconds. Granted, once you figure out the footwork, going faster isn't that hard, but that's way better than I've ever done in my best tinikling efforts (and no, there is no YouTube video ome dancing the tinikling, although if I were smart and wanted to get some attention, I'd get to work on putting some up). Feast on this:

The same user, whywouldifoolyou (who is my new favorite person), also uploaded this humdinger of a video from the same event, where the one-and-only Ronnie Nathanielsz holds increasingly awkward interviews with Ronnie Magsanoc, Kenneth Duremdes, Poch Juinio, two Binibining Pilipinas candidates, and then Kobe himself. The late, great Francis M also makes an appearance. In the words of Homer Simpson, "Are you Ready to Laugh?"

Finally, more classic Nathanielsz, along with vintage Quinito. But the reason I'm linking to this video is the scene where Kobe raises the roof while watching an Alaska game in Araneta, and the whole crowd raises it with him. This is 1998, after all, and Danny I has them trained.

Big things happening. I had to cut my trip to Manila in half -- from two months to one -- and usually that would be a minor tragedy in my life. This time, however, things are a little different. I flew back to the States to begin the hiring process at Bill Simmons' new website, Grantland. Like most American guys my age, I've been reading Simmons since I was 13 or 14, and he's right up there with David Halberstam and Darcy Frey with sports writers who've had the greatest influence on me. So naturally I'm thrilled to have an opportunity to work for him, but I'm equally honored and excited to be working with the "murderers row" of writers and editors he's assembling as contributors and full-time staff. The site launches later this month, and I'll be starting as soon as I pass through the ESPN/Disney hiring gauntlet.

Also exciting: free entry to Disneyland, Disneyworld, Epcot, EuroDisney and Hong Kong Disney! I will be like the guy who visited all of the world's Starbucks franchises, except that for me it will be riding "It's a Small World" in three different continents, assuming they have it everywhere.

The Pacific Rims paperback release in Manila went well. We had to pull every string we could find to get the books released from customs, but even on short notice we managed to attract a decent-sized crowd, including PBA player Tony dela Cruz and Philippine women's national team member Melissa Jacob. James Quizon, a Pinoy basketball fan so passionate about the game that he made me a Ninong (godfather) to his baby boy, also made it to the book launch, and I wasted no time in trying to indoctrinate little Qube in the ways of basketball fandom. Here's a picture of me, Qube, James and his wife Cheryll.

Here in the United States, the paperback will be released June 7 and is already available online for pre-order. Hopefully I can use the occasion to visit some major Filipino hubs -- Southern California, Toronto, Seattle, Vancouver, Alaska -- where I haven't yet held events.

My experience in May shooting a 4-part miniseries on Philippine basketball for National Geographic TV was as unforgettable as it was overwhelming. I hope to write something substantial about it and don't want to give too much away, but I can't resist posting a couple photos I snapped of pictures from the legendary collection of Tony Lu, the omnipresent photographer who has shot practically every significant Pinoy basketball event in the past three decades.

This is, to my knowledge, the only known photograph of Billy Ray Bates's "Black Superman" sneakers, which Grosby made for him at the height of his powers and mid-1980s celebrity while playing with Ginebra.

A young Bates decked out in Eighties fashion -- stonewashed jeans, fanny pack and heart necklaces in the colors of the (Italian? Mexican?) flag.

Tony Lu with Chris Mullin during the 2000 NBA Finals. I love how obvious it is that Tony just ran up on Mullin in the middle of his workout and asked for a picture, and the look on Mullin's face is 25 percent exhaustion and 75 percent "WTF?" Thumbs up!

Finally, Tony Lu and the Bushwackers! Sorry for the glare, but it's fun all the same. Whoever has the time and energy to catalog Tony Lu's photo collection will really find some treasures. I hope it's digitized someday.

I've been in Manila the past month, working my cojones off and doing my best to catch up with people and see friends on the side. I'm thrilled to announce here that the paperback edition will have its worldwide premiere at a book launch here in the Philippines (damn right!). My publisher, Penguin, broke protocol and sent books here early (the official release for the paperback is in early June) so that I could be here to launch the book. Mauunahan natin ang States!!!
Here are the details --

Pacific Rims paperback Book Launch
Saturday, May 21 6:30 pm
National Bookstore Bestsellers
4th Floor, Robinson's Galleria
Ortigas Center, Metro Manila

Q: How much will it cost?
A: 399 php! 

Q: Will you sign hardcovers?
A: Of course!

Q: Will you sign photocopied versions?
A: The signature might cost you roughly 650 php...

Q: Will there be picture-taking?
A: You can bet your life on it.

Q: I'm female and would like you to sign my chest. Is that OK?
A: Yes!

Q: I'm a male and would like you to sign my chest. Is that OK?
A: Game na game!

Come one, come all! I'm really proud to be sharing this special moment with basketball fans in the Philippines. You deserve this.


As a journalist, I know what it's like to have to cover a story that touches on subjects you're not exactly familiar with. Maybe you're covering for a colleague. Maybe your editor needed extra manpower on an important breaking story. Suddenly, you go from your comfort zone, your beat -- sources whose names you know, context and history you know like the back of your hand -- to somewhere between uninformed and totally clueless. Yet you work it out. You take more notes and ask more questions, and if an extra mistake slips into your copy, your editor, who does know the context, the names, the history, catches it before you go to print. 

Well, the Philippine Star's sports editors must have been mailing it in the other night when they let Abac Cordero wade into the world of U.S. politics while covering Manny Pacquiao's tête-à-tête with Barack Obama. Here are a few gems that made it into print:

"Barring any last-minute changes, the highly awaited meeting takes place in the afternoon, after Pacquiao moves around town for a meeting with US Senate Majority Flood Leader Harry Reid."

That would be Floor Leader Harry Reid. Believe me, when the great flood comes to Washington D.C., Harry Reid is not going to be leading the rescue effort.

And then there was this paragraph, which could perhaps have been handled more sensitively: 

"'Manny Pacquiao! Manny Pacquiao! You’re the greatest boxer ever!' said a female fan, probably a Mexican, at the train station that looked like a cathedral from the inside, as she reached out for the boxer’s hand."

We may never know the ethnicity of Manny's fan at the train station, but something about her made the reporter's mind drift south of the border.

Editors! Catch errors or potentially offensive writing and make sure it stays in the newsroom!

Guest column at Fire Quinito

I wanted to clear up a few misconceptions that were being spread about Philippine basketball with regards to the recent success of the Philippine National football team, so I asked for some space at FireQuinito, since I've done such a crappy job developing this platform. Here is the beginning of the post and a link to the rest.

"Rafe Bartholomew to Pinoy Soccer Fans: No Need to Take Cheap Shots at Basketball"

The fact that Philippine soccer is improving and people are excited about the sport is great news. I wrote in Pacific Rims
that although I loved basketball as much as just about anything in the
world, more variety would be a good thing for the world of Pinoy
athletics. There's no doubt that if sports aside from basketball were
beloved in the Philippines, talented kids would be more likely to try
their hand -- and maybe develop into world-class athletes -- at some
pastime other than hoops. I played baseball, soccer and basketball as a
child and chose which sport I liked most. I wish every kid from NYC to
Aparri had a similar chance to choose.

So while I've enjoyed and taken pride in the Azkals' recent success,
I've been pretty disappointed that so many people, from professional
sports writers to casual fans on Twitter, have decided to turn soccer's
success into basketball's loss. It doesn't need to be that way. It
shouldn't be that way. There is definitely enough room in fans' hearts
and imaginations to enjoy soccer and basketball, as well as other

Please read the rest! And check the comments for a usually interesting, sometimes frustrating discussion on soccer, basketball and Cee-Lo's Grammy outfit.

I finally managed to scan and edit all the photos in the 1977 Crispa album I bought years ago at Tiendesitas. Watch the YouTube slideshow above, view the gallery here and read a post I've written about them at FreeDarko. Thank you, Bethlehem Shoals, for the platform to spread some Pinoy hoops love wider than I ever could on my lonesome. And anyone who loves basketball, do yourself a favor and buy the new FreeDarko book.

Please post your memories of these great players! I want to hear the stories.

Spark Mad Izm

I'm bored with tonight's Knicks/Timberwolves game (although Ray Felton is putting up , bored with my exercise ball, bored with my cats, and I just Tweeted a stupid lookalike joke about Luke Ridnour. And now I'm suffering full-blown kamukha fever. Landry Fields is a dead-ringer for the starting two guard on my senior year high school basketball team. Felton is reminding me of that chubby little ball-handling dude from the And-1 games. And my current favorite -- Mike Beasley with dreads/twists is looking like dude from Channel Live. Who's Channel Live? How dare you ask. Next you'll be asking who's Craig Mack or King Just or Nine. Maybe Beasley doesn't really look like my man from Channel Live, but since I haven't seen another light-skinned public figure with light eyes and that hair, I'm running with it. I will not, however, make any off-color jokes about Mad Izm. Get money, Beasley.

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