Pacific Rims

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Before I moved to the Philippines in 2005, I, like many Americans, knew next to nothing about the island nation in Southeast Asia. I remembered from high school history class that it had been a colony of Spain and the United States, and that was about it. Now, even though I moved back to New York after three years in Manila, the Philippines is with me all the time. I listen to Tagalog rock songs during my daily commute, and I sing along loud enough to attract the perplexed ire of fellow pedestrians. I devote most of my spare thoughts to the country. I disappear from work for a two-hour lunch once or twice a month to ride the Subway out to Woodside, Queens, for the buffet at Krystal's Café.

How did this happen? Basketball. In the Philippines, I found a nation of people who love hoops as passionately as I do. At first, it was hard to believe. How did a tall man's game become a cultural force of nature in a Southeast Asian country full of fairly short people? But Filipinos have a basketball history that stretches back to the early 1900s, and over the past century the sport has become ingrained in nearly every aspect of Philippine society. On the sides of jeepneys, in every town square, on billboards and commercials for a dizzying range of products that includes sneakers, vitamin syrup, tires and margarine, you see basketball. Almost everywhere in the Philippines, you see basketball.

Pacific Rims is the first book that attempts to illustrate the sport's grip on Philippine society. It follows the Alaska Aces, a pro team sponsored by a milk company, through a season in the Philippine Basketball Association. It introduces characters like Rosell Ellis, the American import player recruited to spearhead Alaska's quest for a title; Jeffrey Cariaso, a veteran guard whose distinguished career and steady leadership brings together the team's homegrown Filipino and Filipino-American players; and Willie Miller, a half-American, Philippine bred guard who is the PBA's clown prince and one of its most dynamic guards. Along the way, there are detours to study the sport's history in the Philippines, the way politicians have learned to exploit their constituents' love of basketball for electoral gain, and the author's misadventures as a hired gun in provincial tournaments and an occasional soap opera actor (the role, of course, was linked to hoops).

Pacific Rims is the story of a nation's passion for hoops and a writer's falling in love with that nation.