Wednesday, January 1, 2014

First Post: A Personal History

This being my first post, indulge me for a brief, if not a bit extended, incursion down memory lane, ergo, ruminations as to why I have decided to chronicle my basketball life and all things related to Filipino hoops.

It was the time of Marlou Aquino, Bal David, Noli Locsin, EJ Feihl, Jayvee Gayoso, Pido Jarencio, Vince Hizon, Wilmer Ong, Dudut Jaworski, Robert Jaworski -- in short, it was the time of the 90s Ginebra -- when I learned to play basketball. I was in elementary school at the time, barely into third grade. The nearest hoops in my place back then were the make-shift ones that we had near our backyard. The ring was around one foot in circumference nailed on a tree about six feet off the detritus of dry leaves and dusty earth. Me and my playmates used a small plastic ball for all of our games. We didn't sport sneakers like Nike or Jordan or Adidas. Instead, we had flip-flops or slippers (also called tsinelas, pronounced chi-ne-las) for our staple kicks. We even played barefoot. Bruises and soiled shirts and shorts were par for the course. Then at night, me and my father would watch PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) games, especially if our favorite team, Ginebra, was up against another team. Such was my addiction to the Gin Kings that I even had a pen and notebook beside me, tallying the statistics for every player throughout the regulation period and even overtime. I may have almost been a nerd for game stats.

The first time I learned to handle a standard rubber basketball was in fourth grade, barely a year after I learned playing the game. Modesty aside, I was a fast learner. Still, me and my classmates simply weren't able to completely let go of the "old" way. Every lunch break and by the time our last class was dismissed, we would play basketball inside the classroom using the small plastic basketball that we bought from our meager contributions. The setup was simple enough: we opened the doors on both ends of the room, making sure that the top rail had enough opening angle with the wall for the plastic ball to fit through. We would dunk the ball on the triangular hole every chance we can get, elbows and knees notwithstanding, careening like hungry savages at the first sight of a meal. Sure enough, injuries were not uncommon.

By fifth grade, I had the chance to play for the intramural games. I was excited. I had my first pair of basketball shoes -- a cheap replica of the Air Jordan 11 Taxi colorway, made in China as usual, but functional nevertheless (and yes I was and still am a fan of Michael Jordan; I once had my collection of NBA cards featuring no one else but His Airness) -- and wore our team's jersey with pride. We sported the Pacers' 1997 "away" jersey, which I had nothing to do with, and for some reason I can't remember why I chose 44 for my jersey number. I wasn't part of the starting five, though I think I was able to play all three games. I don't remember now how we fared in the end, but I suppose we never landed as the champions. Which was fine. I wasn't hungry for a ring then. Not yet.

I wasn't able to participate in the intramural games during sixth grade. Academics got in the way. But by my first year in high school, things began to roll. Although I was also unable to try-out for the freshmen basketball team, by summer break I had my eyes set on the summer basketball league in our town. It was my first foray into the municipal competition annually held in a small town squeezed with hundreds of ballers. After six games, all undefeated -- two brackets of five teams each, single round-robin eliminations, sudden death semi-finals, and single game finals -- we were champions. Make that grand slam champions for the "midgets," a bracket for players from 12 to 16 years of age. I was lucky enough to have been part of that grand slam team, although to be sure I only had a few minutes of court action throughout each game. Still, I learned. I learned a lot. To this day, I still consider it as my baptism by fire.

Second and third years in high school happened. I was finally able to play for the high school intramural games as well as the subsequent summer basketball leagues in our town. Third year was a special year. It was during the intramural games that I got wind of how the coach of our high school basketball varsity team wanted me, a lanky lad at five feet and four inches back then, to play for them. Too busy with junior high school, I passed the opportunity. But by my senior year, I gave in. I tried out for the varsity team, and I was accepted. During my brief stint with the team, we competed against local varsity teams from other schools, which weren't plenty in our city. I did not have a stellar performance, but the experience itself was enough to continue to fire-up the competitive spirit in me.

Four years and high school ended. I went to a far university in college. Still feeling the fire, I decided to try-out for the university's basketball team even if I knew quite well that I was just a freshman and that my chances of getting accepted was as slim as my frame. The try-out sessions lasted a month, thrice a week. We the hopefuls trained with the varsity team, played with or against them for scrimmage sessions, and each week our number was cut to about half. Always in half. At the start, there were about a hundred and twenty of us. By the fifth and final week, there were only six. I was one of them.

In the end, three new freshmen students were chosen to complete the university's roster for the basketball varsity team. Luckily, or perhaps by virtue of sheer perseverance and a bit of talent, I was one of the three. I have never felt so elated in my entire life. It was the first time that I felt that I got my due, hard work paying off in the end.

For the love of the game, I endured four of my five college years training hard even with the same worn-out sneakers, playing for the university's basketball team with pride, competing against other teams in the province and even outside with utmost effort. By my fifth and final year, thesis got in the way. I had to temporarily shelve my hooping dreams. My hiatus off-court, however, became extended than I initially thought, until somehow my passion for hoops dissipated even after graduating from college.

Six years after and here I am, twenty-seven and standing at five feet and seven inches, bulkier but not as tough, working my way back to the court. I have time in my hands now. For the past ten months, I've been regularly exercising to get back into competitive shape, or at least close to how fit I was back in college. Age is slowly catching up on me, but I won't let it get in the way. This summer of 2014, I intend to rejoin my team in my community (barangay, we call it), and perhaps snatch a crown for the seniors division. It's never too late. Never.

Call me Splice, and this has been my personal basketball history. Now, let's begin. The future beckons.

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