Pacific Rims

If I heard of the title before I read the book, I would not have thought basketball in the Philippines. I'd probably think of the various calderas in the "Ring of Fire" before thinking hoops.

The book is by Rafe Bartholomew, a Fulbright scholar who decided to do his research on Philippine basketball. Being a hoops lover himself, the he heard about rumors of our obsession with basketball. What could be more intriguing than a country of short people hopelessly devoted to a game that height was a major requirement? Of course, he had to come and see for himself.

I am not a basketball lover. I am a Ateneo basketball fan. My love for the sport begins and ends with the UAAP, fueled by my love for my college alma mater. I do not care much for PBA, though I did try to follow it after seeing the 2002 Championship team finding in different teams. But it was just not the same.

So why did I read the book?

It began with this video.

Adorable ain't he? Clearly fully American yet he speaks better Tagalog than most people who has lived in the Philippines for ages! This guy definitely wanted to know basketball in the Philippine context that he learned the language to have a better gauge of it. He has more love for our country than some of our population.

But it was still not enough for me to shell out P900 for a hardbound copy. I would have waited for a paperback copy or borrowed from someone who had the book.

What finally encouraged me was an article from Michael Tan, one of my favorite Inquirer columnists, about the book. He included some snippets of the book in his article which piqued my interest: the carnival side of the sport where there was a game of gay men vs. midgets to entertain people, the relation of circumcision with the sport and finally, the lack of academic research on the sport. The last one did it for me. No, I have not turned nerd all of a sudden. But it was indeed interesting to discover that despite our undying obsession for it, no one has really written about it in an academic perspective.

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I'm finally done with the book. I thought I would turn Alaska Aces afterwards because it contained a lot about his sojourn with the basketball team. He talked at length about Roe Ellis and Willie Miller, their lives and how they played ball. We become privy to their 2007 championship (which was an unexpected bonus for Rafe). It was like watching "Coach Carter" or some basketball movie. The underdogs working their way up for the happy ending of winning the trophy.

But what was more interesting was how he was able to incorporate Philippine culture through a basketball lens. Rich kids vs. servants, sneakers vs. tsinelas. It was about the income gap. It was about our ingrained politically-incorrect nature. It was about our ability to laugh even at the most miserable of occasions. It was about Philippine politics. It was about our "agency" (ah, such an ISS word) within a system that did know how to be fair.

It is an engaging book, with Rafe as a participant observer. He was both insider and outsider. A lover of basketball and yet a foreigner researching on local ball. He was both knowledgeable of the subject matter as well as one in a journey of discovery.

After closing the pages, I had the most interesting reaction... "wouldn't it be fun to go back studying again?" Gasp! It must have been how he has been able to make his research enjoyable yet still meaningful and full of discoveries that made me think that.

Anyway, this book is for Alaska fans, basketball fanatics and anyone interested in Philippine culture. National Bookstore is on sale until August 22 so you get 20% if you buy before that. What's more he's coming for a slew of book signings the coming week so that's an extra bonus!

August 21, 5PM at National Bookstore Cubao.
August 24, 6PM at Powerbooks Greenbelt3
August 25, 6PM at Fully Booked Fort Bonifacio