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.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bleachers' Brew #376 Penning FIVE (or thanks, Jack McCallum)

Penning Five (or thanks, Jack)
by rick olivares

I was weaned on issues of Sports Illustrated. And I have to admit, it’s (in)famous swimsuit issue as well.

One of my favorite writers for SI is Jack McCallum who covers the pro basketball beat. In 1992, I purchased a book that he published on the 1990-91 Boston Celtics titled, ‘Unfinished Business: One and off the court with the 1990-91 Boston Celtics.’

That Boston team was the last time a healthy Larry Bird suited up. They were good in the early part of the season and were among the top teams in the NBA. Until injuries struck and the Chicago Bulls blew everyone away. That season, the Celtics came up short in pursuit of a 17th banner as they were eliminated by Detroit in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Unlike Boston’s campaign, the book did not come up short.

That was the first sports book that I ever read and it made a lasting impression on me. Reading it, it felt like I was with McCallum on the job. While not as polished as his Seven Seconds or Less (written more than a decade later about his season of reporting on the Phoenix Suns), it was nevertheless engaging. In this pre-internet days, if you didn’t read the Boston Globe’s columnists and reporters or this book then you didn’t know what went on inside the Celtics’ locker room.

When McCallum wrote about Kevin McHale’s ‘willy wackers’, it became a part of my lexicon.

‘Unfinished Business’ took the style of sports writing (well-written in-depth pieces) that SI expounded further as McCallum spent an entire season with the Celtics.

There have been a lot of excellent sports books before and since ‘Unfinished Business’ yet as a budding sportswriter in the early 1990s (before I moved into advertising), I dreamt of writing a similar one that would chart a team’s progress up and down the season.

As an Atenean, I have written extensively about the Blue Eagles since 2005. In my writing for Ateneo, Business Mirror, and many other publications and websites, the influence of Sports Illustrated was evident. My early columns had a Rick Reilly bent. But my longer pieces were all McCallum, Frank Deford, Jackie MacMullan, S.L. Price, and Jon Wertheim to name a few. There’s also the late David Halberstam who wrote from a historical perspective; something I highly appreciate as I am an ardent student of history (that also happens to be one of my favorite subjects).

Some time before the five-peat, I asked some of the team’s brain trust if I could write a book about UAAP Season 71. I knew the team’s time was nigh. They were going to win the championship (a predication I made for four consecutive years on Rebound magazine; a publication a friend of mine put together that was a homage to SI).

“What if we don’t win?” I was asked.

“So what?” I replied. “It’s the journey. Besides, I thought it’s ‘win or lose it’s the school we choose?’ Many of the best sports books and film didn’t necessarily have the subject coming out as winners in the end.”

Even confronted with that kind of logic, I got a ‘no’.

I decided to do without official support. Luckily, Blue Blood magazine picked up the story and published it as a stand-alone book/magazine. ‘The 18th Banner’ was titled so as it was Ateneo’s 18th men’s basketball championship (including the NCAA titles won).

As I wrote earlier, it’s publication fulfilled a childhood dream as I was able to capture a lot of aspects of that season as well as what transpired in seasons past.

This year, I had an even bigger opportunity to follow that up with a coffee table book on Ateneo’s fifth consecutive UAAP championship titled FIVE: A TRIBUTE TO EXCELLENCE that was done with friend and photographer extraordinaire Philip Sison, former Blue Eagle Franco Sevilla, and lauded writer and poet Krip Yuson who served as out executive editor.

While the book is centered on the 2012 UAAP Season, it reviews the origins of the modern Ateneo basketball program in 1999 and how it has produced six title teams since. I got to recycle old yarns on former Ateneo coach Joe Lipa, Rich Alvarez, and LA Tenorio while putting in a lot of new material.

During the book launch last Friday night, June 7, at the Ayala Museum, I signed one book this way, “I hope you enjoy this book as much as you enjoy watching Ateneo basketball. This is a labor of love just like any Blue Eagle campaign.”

During that evening, I thought of all the hardships about putting a book together in the space of two months. I thought of my parents and my kids. I thought about my other work that suffered because I worked long nights on the book. And I thought of Jack McCallum and that well-read copy of ‘Unfinished Business’ and how both have influenced me.

I raised a glass of red wine for him.

For Kenneth Ti and Michael Yu – the keepers of the flame.

1 comment:

  1. I think one of the greatest pleasures Mike Yu and I have had from starting Rebound was the chance to meet great and passionate people like you. Thank you again Rick for agreeing to join our journey with Rebound, despite us being greenhorns without any background in publishing sports writing before this.
    Oh, and I can't wait to get my hands on the book!