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.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Meralco Bolts’ Allen Durham: From Michigan to the world

The Meralco Bolts’ Allen Durham: From Michigan to the world
by rick olivares

There’s a mini-shooting competition among the big men of the Meralco Bolts during practice. They take shots from different angles, cheering makes, hooting when there are bricks. 

Allen Durham, one of the Bolts’ two imports, arrived the other week and it seems like he’s been here for months. He high fives Rabeh Al-Hussaini after a shot hit nothing but net. After a miss, reserve forward Mark Bringas pats Durham on the head. 

A light moment during practice with Ken Bono & Kelly Nabong.
Assistant coach Luigi Trillo marvels at the scene. “Allen,” he says. “is blending well with the team. The guys love him. He’s very coachable. No ego. Doesn’t demand anything. he just plays hard and leads by example.”

It has been five years since Durham graduated from little known Grace Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. He went undrafted in the NBA but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his pro basketball dreams. 

In these past five years, he’s brought his brand of total basketball to Finland (Salon Vilpas), Romania (CS Dinamo Bucuresti), Philippines (Barako Bull Energy and now with the Meralco Bolts), and France (Hermine Nantes Atlantique). And of course, there’s the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League where he split time before returning to Hermine Nantes for his third season.

Total basketball meaning he scores, rebounds, assists, plays defense, and is a coach’s dream.

“Playing abroad broadened my horizons,” reflects Durham. “Playing for a small school in college, I guess, prepared me for life’s realities — that it isn’t going to be easy and that if I want to pursue my dream, nothing will be handed on a silver platter. I have to work for it.”

Not going to the NBA didn’t put a damper on Durham’s spirit. “The game has allowed me to step outside my comfort zone,” he shares. “Playing many many miles away from home has made me stronger as a person. I’m alone and I have to learn how to quickly adjust. It isn’t the other way around. That makes you flexible. Besides, I am earning a good living. I am grateful. I shouldn’t complain."

“Playing abroad, you experience different cultures, customs. Like living in France, you know that soccer is their main sport. Although basketball is popular and growing, soccer is still king. You look at what they have and develop an appreciation for that. You learn how to deal and relate to people. If you can’t relate, it affects your performance and they aren’t going to want you back. For people like me who do not play in the NBA, a contract and a good reputation is important. Through all this, you become appreciative of what you have even back home.”

More so when there’s trouble. 

On the 13th of November, Durham, who at that time was playing for the Texas Legends were a little over four hours away from their season opener on the road against the Austin Spurs. Word filtered that terrorists struck at three different locations in Paris. Durham, who had made many friends in his two years in France (he would return to Nantes after the D-League season), reached out to his teammates at Nantes. 

“Many of my teammates in Nantes had family and friends who worked in the areas that were hit in Paris. I also have been to some of the areas so I was like, ‘I know that place.’ So the attacks hit home as well. It is just sad there these things happen. Sometimes it takes tragedies like that to remind you of what is important in your life — your family, your life, health, your job. I definitely would not be able to do this — play abroad — without my family’s support. But the Paris shootings hit home as well.” 

“France is beautiful,” Allen enthuses of his three years there. “Lots of nice places. Paris is nice. But Monaco… what a place! Oh, my... I’d love to live there. But it’s very expensive."

From France, Durham was signed by the Bolts who impressed him in his previous stint in the PBA.

“It is nice to hear that people appreciate my game,” says Durham. “I only played a handful of games the last time I was here so that is nice to know that a team wants me back."

Of Meralco, Allen is happy and excited with his new team, “I like my team and teammates. We’ve got veterans and talented rookies. Hopefully, we can help them realize the team’s championship dreams." 

He sits close to the returning Kelly Nabong whose injury midway through the recent Commissioner’s Cup depleted the Bolts’ frontline ranks. Both Durham and Nabong crack jones and one-liners.  

“I’ve played with a lot of imports,” adds Bolts gunner Ronjay Buenafe. “And Allen is one of the nicest imports of them all. He makes playing fun too.”

“We know he’s good and that gives us hope,” throws in guard Anjo Caram. 

“My world used to be in Michigan,” shares Durham. “Lived in Michigan. Played high school and college in Michigan. My dreams used to be simple. Just play and get a scholarship. Play and earn a living. Who would have thought I’d see the world because of the game? Experience all these new things that many don’t get to experience? Make friends everywhere? I’m just grateful."

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