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, October 6, 2013

What the NBA Global Game in Manila means.

This appears in the Monday, October 7, 2013 edition of the Business Mirror.

What the NBA Global Game in Manila means.
by rick olivares

On Thursday, October 10, all roads lead to the MOA Arena for the first ever NBA pre-season game in the Philippines.

When the first NBA Asia Challenge was held in Manila in 2009, I asked NBA Asia Senior Vice President and Managing Director Scott Levy if the game was a precursor or gauge as to hosting a pre-season or regular season match. Levy answered in the affirmative but never gave a timeline.

They came back for one more NBA Asia Challenge the following year before discontinuing the exhibition matches. The second staging of that event wasn’t as packed as the first match (owing the expensive ticket prices if you ask me). Since it was discontinued, I wondered if it was ever going to happen.

Four years later, the question has been answered. Now, the dream is a reality.

This will not be the first time that I will have watched a NBA pre-season or regular season match. Having lived in the United States, I would go at least once a week either to the Meadowlands or to Madison Square Garden to watch. On occasion, I’d go to Philadelphia, Chicago, or even as far as Los Angeles to watch (when I had money to burn) the games.

Having worked two blocks away from the NBA headquarters on Fifth Avenue, I would oft go there to ogle at stuff in the NBA Store that I couldn’t just buy right away (budgets, I am sure you understand).

And having said that, what makes me really excited is the fact that a game will be held here featuring some really good basketball teams, the Houston Rockets and the Indiana Pacers. Both teams have some terrific stars and will be contenders for the NBA title this coming season.

A few years ago, the pre-season games would be held in China because it was a larger market. While the Philippines might be a drop in the bucket for the NBA coffers, this country has one of the most rabid fan bases you will ever find.

As a youngster, the only way you could get to watch the NBA was on the US Armed Forces Network in the Philippines, FEN (Far East Network). Then there was the NBA on GMA7. Columnists like Quinito Henson and Henry Liao gave us our weekly dose of NBA news if you were unable to buy magazines like Sports Illustrated, Sport, Street and Smith, or even the International Herald Tribune. So I purchased all the local sports magazines or newspapers.

I remember a watered-down Golden State Warriors team (with Fil-American Raymond Townsend as their star) coming over to play a team of PBA All-Stars at the Big Dome.

One time, the NBA Finals between the Seattle Supersonics and the Washington Bullets was shown in cinemas for people to watch (I watched that too). I recall saving my allowance just to watch. The theater was half filled but I didn’t care. Furthermore, I didn’t know the players too well but I made sure I memorized their names so I could do research on them.

Over the years, we have seen one NBA superstar after another visit Manila. Their arrival, stay, and departure is covered even more than any other politician or visiting dignitary.

And one of the cool things about these visits is that we’ve almost a full house on those Chicago Bulls championship teams of the 1990s. Dickey Simpkins once played here. There have been visits by Horace Grant, BJ Armstrong, Scottie Pippen, Luc Longley, Dennis Rodman, Scott Burrell, and now Ron Harper. All we are missing is Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, and John Paxson then we can all sing Hosannas to the NBA’s highest.

That game – between the Rockets and the Pacers – will mean a lot to Filipinos. Because aside from bringing in top-caliber teams, they also come with two of the greatest to ever have played the game of basketball – Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.

They might have hung up their high tops but they still command a lot of respect for what they bring to the modern game as a front office executive and as a coach.

Pinoys have embraced the NBA more than any other sports league (outside the PBA of course) in this world. The NBA games are watched and dissected with startling regularity. It even makes the front page news.

There was a time when then-president Joseph Estrada made this foreign dignitary cool his heels in the waiting room while he finished the game of the Chicago Bulls (in was the NBA Finals). What other Chief Executive has a NBA story to tell (let alone another league)? I know Barack Obama still plays the game and regularly makes comments and predictions about the game but that is more for the American March Madness than anything.

After the recent FIBA Asia Championships that was held in Manila, this coming match – who cares if it’s an exhibition one – has had everyone buzzing for the past few days. And that buzz will continue to intensify until game day. But even after the game is played, it will live on in our collective memories.

Maybe to the NBA players who are here it might be just another game in a long season. But in this land of their brown brothers where basketball rules, it means a lot. It’s a milestone. It’s a gift after having kept the faith after all these years. 

As a longtime fan, and as a member of the local media accredited to cover the match, the NBA Global Game is upon us and well, for myself and the multitude of Pinoy NBA fans, we’ve never had it so good.

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