The Filipinos unconditional love for basketball

ILLUSTRADO - While many turn off their alarms on Friday mornings, the Mahatta Park boys set it at 5am. Regardless if we had a long Thursday night, we want to be in the court by 6am.

It’s a breezy 16 degrees Celsius cold. Many come in hoodies, shorts and Jordans. The fog slowly fading out from the small court in the middle of towering apartments.

It’s the league’s offseason. We come to play tune-up games. One team wears 10 different jerseys – there’s a Kobe Bryant Lakers jersey, a Kevin Durant, several Lebron James, and Michael Jordans of course. There’s also Calvin Abueva, a Barangay Ginebra, and a Gilas Pilipinas warmer too. Some even wear arm sleeves and compression shorts.

But unlike the streetball in the Philippines, there are no flip-flops. There are also no "ice-water." Instead, we have bottled water and gatorades. Medyo level-up dito, may pandesal pa.

And... to make sure the wives are happy, some of the players bring them and the kids along.

Chairman Emil Casinillo (left) and the ageless playing coach Alfredo Magtoto (3rd from left) with Team Hustler
The barakos come from all ages. There’s a rookie at the age of 36. There’s also playing-coach Magtoto, as what everybody calls him. He plays like 26 but when I asked, he revealed that he’s already 66. SIXTY-SIX man! I asked his secret of still keeping up to the game, he shared that he’d rather exercise than watch TV, eat and sleep in the couch. Mang Alfredo, who also loves badminton, said his grandchildren inspire him to stay active.

I had a chat with Emil, the chairman of the league, about its history. He told me about the joys and the pains of starting the league, with Andy, Leo and the rest of the soon-to-be committee. I was amazed by their goals. Emil, despite having a very challenging schedule at work, still manages to get things organized and delegated to the group.

It's all about having fun
The idea of having a community league started when they saw the growing number of Filipinos coming to the park to play. They formed a committee that planned to create a venue for basketball enthusiasts not just to sweat it out, but to develop camaraderie and eventually become a community, regardless of the kind of work we do and the lifestyle we have, as long as we hail from any of the 7,107 islands of the Philippines.

But there’s a criteria to join. In addition to be living within or nearby Mahatta, one must be within the 5’9” height limit, and he must not be a superstar. Yes. This is all about having fun and not about showcasing one’s superiority of the game. "Papawis lang mga sir," as we call it.

True enough, we're just sweating it out... in a court that also has lines for a football game, no shaded lane, no free throw line, where the backboard of the ring is rounded like that of a toddler's toy... shooters still gonna shoot, dribblers a'gonna break legs of their defenders.

Team Rebels
There's always laughter, inspiration and friendship across the 10-team league. It’s great to have a physical activity that relieves us from the stress of work and the challenges of being OFWs – the reasons that also encouraged me to join the Team Rebels from an invitation of my friend Ronilo. It's also an opportunity for me to get back in shape. It feels even better knowing that you belong in a group that promotes a support system for each other, anong height mo pa.

Truly, we are the hopeless romantics of basketball. We breathe basketball wherever in the world we may be.

The Mahatta Pinoy Basketball League is not just a league, it’s a brotherhood.

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