This appears in the Tuesday, November 12, 2013 edition of the Business Mirror.
Word of mouth
Word of mouth
by rick olivares
I remember reading about in the pre-televised National Basketball Association how the legend of Julius Erving spread.
By word of mouth.
Many of those American Basketball Association games were not televised. Ditto with the NBA games. People who saw him swore that he dunked on seven-footers with the greatest of ease. That he jumped over not one, not two, but sometimes three men to stuff the living daylights out of that basket. He not only suspended himself in the air but he broke the laws of gravity. With every re-telling, the feats of Erving or his basketball persona of Dr. J grew.
It was the same when I was in high school back in the mid 1980s. There was no cable. No internet. No social media.
I remember during my third year in high school at the Ateneo, the San Beda Red Cubs were coming over to play our Blue Eaglets.
While growing up, I would listen intently to my parents, uncles, aunts, and older cousins talk about college and pro basketball (in case you want to now, I was the lone Toyota fan in a family where every one rooted for Crispa and that goes for both my father’s and mother’s side).
I always heard of the Loyzagas, Charlie Borck, or even Abe King. There were of course the stars from the other schools. To me (save for King who was playing in the 1980s), the others were ancient history although I savored every story and filed them into memory.
But back in high school, we all heard of that man-child-mountain who could only do one thing on the basketball court and that was dunk. That was Benjie Paras.
I only knew of two guys who could dunk back then – my batchmates Jayvee Gayoso and Alex Araneta. One times, Jayvee dunked on the fastbreak that everyone on the bench and on the stands jumped up and down in wild abandon. Even the Blue Eaglets head coach, the late Rafael Dimalanta celebrated on the court during the game that he got whistled for a technical foul. The story goes (it might have grown with every retelling) was Dima (as coach was fondly called) was teed up for “over-celebrating or whatever the hell that is. The point is, very few dunked in the high school game.
So Jay ruled the universe at least in my book until I saw Benjie. Hell, until everyone did. I will never forget that moment. A Red Cub missed a shot. Benjie grabbed the offense rebound. Faked off a Blue Eaglet. Then without any buwelo, dunked that ball while nearly tearing that ring off. The sound was sickening. And there were dropped jaws everywhere. I said to myself, this is probably close to the feeling of those folks who saw Dr. J attack that rim as if it offended him.
In fact, in the four years that I saw my Ateneo high school and college teams play a team that had Benjie Paras, we only came away with a win once (88-58, see I remember the score because that was cause for celebration).
There were all these oohs and ahhs that day.
Benjie isn’t the only one. I didn’t see many games of La Salle Greenhills. But I certainly heard of Llen Mumar. Mumar the heir of those great Mumars who were the demi-gods of Philippine basketball. And there was Eric Reyes who shackled Paras to win a championship game over San Beda. How was that possible? Over a Paras-led San Beda team? No way?! We gotta get them over to Loyola Heights.
And there was Ateneo’s very own Danny Francisco, a gangly 6’6” center who we were worried would topple over because he was reed thin. But he was a heck of a basketball player. Someone saw him throw a hook shot that floated in. Someone saw him bring that basketball down. And almost immediately, some genius of a sports scribe compared him to the great Ramon Fernandez and so the word spread that the next Mon Fernandez was ensconced in the halls of Loyola Heights.
"We gotta get them on the team. Together," I said to my classmates. Somewhere up there the fervent prayers of the chastened faithful were answered.
A couple of years later, we were back-to-back champions.
Flash forward three decades later and I am no longer that wild-eyed kid who didn’t know any better while watching hoops. It’s a Sunday and I am at the San Beda Gym for the opening day of the 31st season of the Seaoil Metro Manila Basketball League (which is where I first saw Benjie play).
Unfortunately, not one of the San Beda high school teams (they have up to four squads competing in the MMBL) are playing as the NCAA season is still ongoing. There’s a crowd of several hundred people in the two gyms where matches are played simultaneously.
In one gym, the Xavier Stallions are taking on the National University Bullpups while at the other it’s the Hope Christian High School versus Adamson.
I checked out the Xavier-NU match first. I am up in the bleachers with the crowd and before tip off, people are murmuring, “Cani” and “Go”.
“Cani” is NU’s steady and heady point guard, Hubert Cani. “Go” is Xavier’s 6’5” center Isaac Go.
I can’t believe how far NU has come. They have already shed that ‘loveable’ but unwanted mantle of being the college doormats. They take names and kick butts now. Even their high school team does (they’ve won two of the last three UAAP Juniors crowns).
The Stallions are reeling from the loss of top dog Kyles Lao (who is now in UP). They still have gunners Jarrell Lim and Tyler Tio as well as Go. Yet from the onset, it is apparent that they are no match for the Bullpups who looked bored but do enough to keep Xavier at three arms lengths away.
Cani dribbles between the legs twice then swishes a 23-footer that is all net. The crowd oohs. A minute later, he ditches his man with a very subtle crossover then dribbles right through two defenders who helped out. He takes to the air then drops a pass to center Mark Dyke for an easy two. The crowd ahhs.
He rebounds the ball, whirls and fires a well-placed pass to a streaking Enzo Battad. The crowd oohs once again.
The Bullpups put up enough of an effort to put a sizeable lead that allows them a little “showtime”.
Go has a tough time against Mark Dyke, who is a bullstrong player. But he shows great basketball instincts. Lim throws him the ball into the post the cuts. Go pretends to turn and take a fadeaway shot but instead drops the ball to Lim who is fouled. The latter makes good on both his free throws. A minute later, Go drills a line drive jumper from 15-feet out. “Ang laki laking tao ayaw mag-drive,” blurts out on patron. One ripostes his comment with a comparison, “Parang si Arvin Lim ng Beda. May tira sa labas.”
The exchange is coming from two high school players. High School matches aren’t televised. You have to be either playing in the league or a high school hoops junkie to know that bit of a scouting report.
Over at the other gym, the crowd watches as the Hope Christian team goes about its round robin. Last year, HCHS battled San Beda in two epic finals matches; one in the MMBL and one in the National Basketball Training Center Finals. Both scored title wins over one another. The murmur from the crowd is about their 6’5” center John Apacible who is a rarity for a big man in today’s game. He prefers to post up and work his drop step magic and post moves in juking his foes. While he is dressed to play, he won’t be playing as he is nursing a fever.
I moved around the two gyms and sit in different parts of the bleachers area to get the pulse from the crowd. Some boys who probably look to be no more than second year high school look nervous. My take is when they face teams like Hope Christian or NU, they’re in for a shellacking. Then one boy spies a familiar face, “Ayan yung mga Beda.” Eyes strain and necks crane to look at the Red Cubs players who are just dropping by (opening day and there was a parade of teams). “Malakas sila,” one ventures forth.
And I am transported back to the day when I first heard and saw Benjie Paras. And I just had to ask, “Napapanood niyo ba yung Red Cubs?”
One kid shakes his head. “Hindi po. Nababalitaan lang.”
A fifty gets you that Arvin Tolentino plows through opposing centers like a hot knife through butter, shooting guard Andrei Caracut drills triples like he was shooting at the ocean, and point guard Ranbill Tongco is the next Baser Amer.
Word of mouth, right?