Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #126 A Tale of Two Brothers

A Tale of Two Brothers
words by rick olivares pix by mhel garrido and den dee

Hours before tip-off for Game 2 of the championship for the 2008 Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Araneta Coliseum was already jammed to the bleachers. Not only did people arrive early to get the good seats but they also wanted to be on hand for the awards ceremony where the Ateneo De Manila Blue Eagles almost made it a clean sweep of the individual awards.

When Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Ateneo’s starting center was handed trophies for being voted as the league’s Most Improved and Most Valuable Player (he also bagged a spot on the Mythical Five), lost in the adulation of the Ateneo gallery that nearly filled the entire coliseum was one man.

On the court, he is an imposing figure at six-foot-six. His lean chiseled body and the tattoos that adorn his arm make add to that fearsome reputation. But more so now since he’s got game to back up that menacing scowl.

Carlo Sharma, in a white shirt and baggy khaki shorts stood beside former collegiate foes and current Red Bull teammates Rich Alvarez and Magnum Membrere in the patron section. The look on Sharma’s face was a mixture of pride and glee. He clapped his hands vociferously. When Al-Hussaini, his half and younger brother, made his way to the dugout to prepare for their match against La Salle, Sharma pointed to his brother who returned the gesture which is a sign of recognition and respect.

It was four years ago when he steered his Rabeh to his school’s archrival; a decision Sharma never regretted. Rabeh showed plenty of promise as a player for the Philippine Christian University Baby Dolphins and was heavily recruited by all the major college basketball programs including La Salle. But Sharma’s falling out with his school’s coaching staff and the hardship of latching on to a pro team in an increasingly competitive PBA landscape made the decision an easy one. “Kung basketball ang pagpipilian dalawa lang naman ang choice mo. Pero kung sa basketball at sa pag-aaral, alam mo naman kung saan ang tama para sa ‘yo, ‘di ba?”

Having said that, Sharma wishes he had an older brother to advise him during his formative years to steer him in the right direction. But who knew, right?

Incredibly, basketball wasn’t Carlo’s first sport as a youngster. “Chess,” he laughed at the incredulity of the notion. “Talaga.”

Being the tallest student at Paco Catholic School, he was forced to play for his school’s basketball team as a high school senior. “Pinilit ako pero tama lang yun kasi naging maganda yung bunga ng basketball para sa akin.”

Once he learned the sport, Sharma despite being a late bloomer soaked in everything about hoops. He even patterned his game after then-Portland Trailblazer Rasheed Wallace (take note even the tattoos on Carlo’s arm).

Rabeh, a good eight years younger gravitated to basketball at an earlier age but nonetheless idolized his older brother who led the Green Archers to a 2001 triumph over Ateneo.

The two are close even with the disparity in age. “Lagi ko siya tinatawagan,” says Rabeh who credits Carlo along with Norman Black (as well as his teammates) for the quantum improvement in his game.

“Kung napansin mo nung mga first years niya sa Ateneo, laging mainitin yung ulo niya,” noted Sharma who remembered feeling alarmed about his brother’s temper. “Kahit hindi siya kasama sa eksena nandun siya para mag-defend ng teammate o kung saan yung may away.”

Sharma took aside Al-Hussaini and gave him some advice that imprinted itself on his younger brother’s mind. “Huwag mo ako gagayahin sa mga pagkakamali ko,” urged Carlo. The former enforcer of the Green Archers laid it out the realities for his younger brother if he didn’t make good on his studies and if he didn’t work harder on his game.

Norman Black, Al-Hussaini’s coach with the Blue Eagles said that Rabeh’s skills and potential to be a big-time player was always there. “He just needed to realize it and to change his attitude. Once he came to that realization, the game became easy for him.”

Carlo also noted that this season, with better focus and an understanding of hoops, Rabeh has raised his game by leaps and bounds because he no longer allows others to exploit his short fuse. “Ikaw na ngayon mapipikon sa kanya.”

Sharma too had an epiphany of sorts after riding the bench in the PBL with ICTSI and with Shell and Coca Cola in the PBA. “Akala ko tapos na yung career ko kahit halos hindi pa nagsisimula. Nagisip ako talaga kung ano yung gagawin ko kung tuluyan ma-cut sa PBA.”

In Red Bull where Sharma has gained a new lease on life in his pro basketball career, he found himself teammates with a number of old college foes like Ateneans Alvarez, Membrere, Enrico Villanueva, Larry Fonacier, and Paolo Bugia and Cyrus Baguio of the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers. Far removed from his hell-raiser days with the Green Archers, Sharma became a locker room favorite for his wittiness and presence. “Carlo Sharma is one loud boy,” laughed Alvarez when asked to describe his teammate. “Never a dull moment.” That trust bequeathed on him (and his teammates) by Barako Coach Yeng Guiao saw the power forward-center become a dependable and regular part of the rotation where he was a candidate for last year’s Most Improved Player.

Although Al-Hussaini is unable to watch most of Sharma’s games in the PBA because the Blue Eagles practice in the early evening, he makes it a point to catch Red Bull’s matches on television. If not, he calls his brother for a recap and to ask how he did.

Sharma on the other hand, tries to watch Rabeh when permissible. It isn’t unusual to find him seated beside his former college rivals during UAAP games where he normally wears white. But he makes it a point to cheer his brother on even if it’s La Salle that Ateneo plays. “Hindi na tinatanong yun,” explained Carlo. “Kapatid ko siya.”

After Rabeh brought home a number of individual awards and helped Ateneo win its fourth UAAP Men’s Basketball Championship with a two-game sweep of La Salle, Sharma kidded his brother to spot for lunch or dinner. “Ha? Ikaw yung may trabaho diyan hindi ako,” parried Al-Hussaini.

“Kuripot,” jokingly rebutted the beaming older brother. The brothers now have led their respective schools to a UAAP title.

As youngsters, the two played ball at home whenever they could. Sharma because of the age and height difference used to beat Rabeh regularly in friendly games of one-on-one.

But when asked if they have yet to match up on the court now, Sharma has the last word: “Hindi na. Baka talunin na ako.”

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