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Video from Berkeley Reading

I haven't made it past the first four seconds of this video, but I feel duty bound to share it nonetheless. Maybe someday I'll get used to hearing my own voice and watching myself on camera, but that'll be a long time coming. For the time being, the experience remains something like being hit with a psychic taser, followed by a few spastic flails at my mouse and keyboard to make it all stop. I even feel this way about the Tagalog YouTube video that has gotten close to 40,000 views. A lot of people found this video enjoyable -- I think more of them know about it than my book -- but to me it's a 90-second ordeal of mental hiccups, not-the-best word choices and irrepressible American accents. I'm hoping that, like the previous videos, the rest of the world is much kinder to me than I am to myself.

The reading, by the way, went great. The staff at Eastwind Books of Berkeley were fantastic. I wish NYC had a specialty shop like that (it felt like a mini-Solidaridad). A pretty large crowd showed up, including close friends, some family, friends of friends, Jay Caspian Kang of recent FreeDarko renown and Raymond Veritas of Filipinas Magazine, who made this video. Nic Belasco's mother and sons were there, and afterward she shared a lot of insight with the crowd about the PBA experience from a mom's point-of-view (an angle that I admittedly overlooked in my research!). When she decides to write "The Mother's Guide to the Philippine Basketball Association," I'll be in line to buy it. "Chapter 1: Do Not Confront Rudy Distrito."

The reading's most exciting moment came when a pretty drunk man wandered in off the street. He wasn't just a wackjob, however. He seemed to know a bit about the Philippines, especially the Vietnam War-era politics of the country. I happened to be reading a passage where Baby Dalupan's daughter travels to Basilan and manages to win the approval of an MNLF commander by nature of her family's basketball history. While I was describing Basilan and the Muslim separatist movement down there, the drunk guy started yelling "Huk! Huk! You remember the Huk?" It wasn't easy to make out what he was saying at first, but when I understood him I was excited. Granted, the Huk guerrillas who fought the Japanese in WWII and evolved into the armed wing of the Philippine Communist movement were not the same as the MNLF and MILF rebels who fought (and fight) the government for different reasons, but I was still impressed by his sense of history. I thought it might be a classic "looks can be deceiving moment," and that the drunk man might have been an ex-Marine with experience in the Philippines, and that he might share some harrowing Tree of Smoke-type tales with the audience.

But it wasn't meant to be. After his initial burst of insight, he would just stay silent for a few minutes, then interrupt the reading by yelling, "I love you!" Eventually, one of the Eastwind employees politely ushered him out of the store.

The rest of my time in Northern California was also good. I got to spend time with my Uncle and also sat for lengthy interviews for the radio show New America Now and (this was a thrill) TFC's Adobo Nation. Both felt pretty good while I was speaking, but I know once they're on the air I'll be cringing.

Dr. J needs a Workshop

For a brief moment, let's assume that some of the readers of this blog are American sports fans who tend to associate the name Dr. J with the legendary swingman Julius Erving. Pinoy basketball fans will recognize the Dr. J I'm referring to as Andy Jao, the longtime pro hoops figure whose career includes multiple stints as a color commentator on PBA broadcasts and as a team manager for the mid-2000s Red Bull team that made coach Yeng Guiao's reputation as a mentor who could mold ("coerce" or "intimidate" might be more appropriate words) raw young basketball talent into championship-caliber teams. Dr. J is one of the best PBA broadcasters around and a respected basketball mind.

What's a workshop? It's a term I picked up from my girlfriend, who hails from California, that glorious land of political correctness. Not only is she a native Californian, but she came up in California's state university activist network, which pretty much sets the standard for U.S. student progressive activism and community organizing. I like to tease her about her do-gooder roots, but I also wish I could have been part of something like the organizations she has been involved in. Anyway, she told me that back in college, whenever someone said something prejudiced or particularly offensive, everyone else would yell out "workshop!" As in, Paeng the Atenista keeps saying ignorant things about the lackluster quality of a La Salle education. He needs a workshop to see the error of his ways.

Well, Dr. J, you need a workshop! During the third quarter of game one of the thrilling semifinal series between Alaska and Talk 'N Text, PBA fans were treated to the following exchange between Jao and his broadcast partner, Mico Halili (it begins about seven minutes into the embedded YouTube clip above):

[Context: Alaska is about to pull away from TNT. LA Tenorio played a great first four and a half minutes of the third quarter, and Tim Cone subs Topex Robinson to give Tenorio a rest.]

Andy Jao: I think also [Tim Cone] wants to match up Topex Robinson against [Jason] Castro. [pause] Same color.

[Two long, awkward seconds pass, while Mico wonders how to respond.]

Mico Halili: [murmurs] OK. ... [recovers a little] ... Partners!

Jao: Parehong malakas tumalon! Parehong mabilis! [Same hops! Same speed!]

Halili: [desperate to change the subject] And here's DeVance!

Topex Robinson and Jason Castro are both half-black basketball players raised in the Philippines. Robinson is from Olongapo, the town that abutted and indeed grew around the U.S. Naval Base at Subic Bay. From what I've seen, Castro is from Sasmuan (officially no longer Sexmoan) and Guagua, neighboring municipalities in Pampanga, the province that was home to the U.S. Clark Air Force Base. Zambales and Pampanga, particularly the areas around Olongapo and Angeles Cities, are known for having large populations of half-American Filipinos. Also, because both cities are home to extensive sex industries and fairly seedy reputations, people are quick to assume -- often incorrectly, but also often correctly -- that half-American Pinoys from these areas come from ignominious unions. Racial attitudes in the Philippines toward African Americans definitely have an ugly side. They're the same ugly stereotypes that exist in America, only amplified and more acceptable when expressed publicly. So people may be even quicker to assume the worst about half-black Filipinos from Zambales and Pampanga.

So there's definitely something menacing and inappropriate about Andy Jao's chortling joke that Topex Robinson and Jason Castro should be matched up because they're the "same color" with the same jumping ability and quickness. (Here's a more likely explanation: They're the backup point guards for their respective teams). It reminded me of NFL announcer Howard Cosell's infamous 1983 comment, when he said of an African-American wide receiver, "Look at that little monkey run!"

Jao's comment is not as offensive. He didn't use an outright racial slur, as Cosell did, but he clearly engaged in some ugly racial stereotyping, and judging by his chuckling throughout the clip, he was pretty pleased with himself afterward. In this case, I don't think I'm unfairly projecting my American racial hang-ups (i.e. white guilt over slavery and ongoing discrimination against blacks in my home country) onto a Philippine citizen who doesn't share that history. Judging by Mico Halili's reaction to Jao's comment -- Mico struggles to respond and musters only an awkward "OK" before regaining his bearings and moving on with the broadcast -- the remark shocked Halili too. Also, it's not true that the history of American racism skipped over the Philippines. Filipinos may not have been complicit in white America's subjugation of blacks, but they were victim to the same kind of slurs, most notably during the Philippine-American War and the period of American colonial rule over the Philippines. You could argue that if Jao had this history in mind, he would be more sensitive about using racial language to describe his half-black countrymen.

Would Jao joke that Joseph Yeo should guard T.Y. Tang because they're both Chinese and like to sell games? (Readers: This is clearly an over-the-top, rhetorical example. I have no reason to believe that Yeo and Tang sell games.) Would Jao have said the same thing if Norman Black was on the panel? Sadly, there's a decent chance he would have. Slights like this would be nothing new to Coach Norman, who has endured plenty of them over the years (I remember an ugly column calling him "A black coach named Black"). Still, neither he nor Robinson nor Castro should have to just put up with it as if being the butt of mildly racist jokes is just a fact of life. Attitudes can and do change over time, and while I don't think Jao should be made to do some American-style media perp-walk with a forced apology, I think his employers at Solar can and should remind him that jokes like the "same color" line aren't cool.

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 Quiñahan 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 Quiñahan 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. 

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. "

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