Why the Philippines Is a Hoops Haven
Go to any street corner in the Philippines. Any village. Any beach. Even a church. You’re likely to see a basketball jersey.
“It’s often described as a religion,” Carlo Roy Singson, managing director of NBA Philippines, said in an interview.
Indeed, basketball is ingrained in Filipino culture and has been for more than a century.
The sport’s permeation of a country of about 105 million began in the late 1800s, when Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.
A large facet of the introduction of the fledgling game was Christian missionaries, who were part of the YMCA, or Young Men’s Christian Association. The game’s inventor, Dr. James Naismith, conceived of the sport at what was then known as the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.
To take a round object and throw it into a peach hoop, as Naismith pictured it, could be a character-building endeavor. Soon after he invented it, missionaries began spreading it around the world, particularly in the Far East and the Philippines, in U.S.-controlled areas — a kind of sports imperialism.
The NBA and its players, recognizing the sport’s popularity in the Philippines, have invested time there in recent years. In 2013, the Houston Rockets and the Indiana Pacers played a preseason game there. According to a spokesman for the league, the NBA’s Facebook page has 7.3 million followers from the Philippines, the largest of any country outside of the United States.
This all began in the early 1900s, when basketball was introduced into schools in the Philippines. In 1913, the first Far Eastern Championship Games — an early version of what is now known as the Asian Games — took place in Manila, featuring several East Asian countries taking part in Olympics-style competitions, including basketball.
It was the first of 10 biennial events, before disagreements between the countries disbanded the games. The Philippines won gold in nine of them.
The country’s population took to the sport en masse. In 1936, its national team made the Olympics and finished fifth. At the 1954 FIBA World Championship, the Philippines won a bronze medal, the best finish for an Asian country.
Two decades later, in 1975, the Philippine Basketball Association, Asia’s first basketball league, was created. These games kept the sport at the forefront of Filipino culture and helped grow interest throughout the 20th century.
文／Sopan Deb 譯／李京倫