Why do Filipinos love basketball? How much do they love this sport?

Evidently, courts can be seen everywhere in the Philippines from professionals playing in world-class arenas to kids and adults alike playing in the streets with makeshift rings. Basketball is truly ingrained in the Filipino culture!

Basketball games also serve as a form of entertainment in this country with 110 million citizens, you’ll see Filipinos watching local and international leagues on TV, and in neighborhood basketball courts for local leagues. 

Filipinos are not exactly the tallest people (which is obviously an advantage in the sport), so why are they still eager to play Basketball?

Let’s find out!

Young Filipino men playing basketball in a makeshift court and showing how much Filipinos love basketball
Courtesy: Jamiz Images

How did basketball start in the Philippines?

The Philippines is one of the first countries to play the sport after it was invented in the United States in 1891.

It has since then spread across the country which eventually led to the establishment of Asia’s oldest professional basketball league, the Philippine Basketball Association. 

Basketball was first introduced to Filipinos by American teachers during the American colonial period in 1910. Initially taught as part of the physical education curriculum in public schools and was originally for women.

The Philippine Basketball Association

The Philippine Basketball Association or PBA as it’s locally called was established in 1975 with nine teams in the league. Not only is it the first professional basketball league in Asia, but it’s also the second oldest (and continuously existing) in the world after the NBA. 

PBA’s popularity has grown tremendously that every Filipino player dreams to play in the league! It produced famous players like:

  • Robert Jaworski – dubbed as “The Living Legend“, 13x PBA champion
  • Alvin Patrimonio – 5x PBA champion, 4x MVP
  • Samboy Lim – known as “Skywalker“, 9x PBA champion
  • James Yap – 7x PBA champion, 16x PBA All-Star
Basketball players playing in a PBA game
RR Pogoy of TNT going past Japeth Aguilar of Barangay Ginebra
Courtesy: pba.ph

Filipinos’ passion for the sport can be seen in PBA games. Rivalries have been made because of the fierce competition for championship titles, and Filipino basketball fans are ecstatic to watch it.

There is always an intense atmosphere as fans cheer for their favorite team, arenas filled with screaming and loud basketball fans and a little bit of “trash” talking. (But all in good faith, of course?)

College Basketball

Many Filipinos aspire to be a PBA or even an NBA player, and one way to hone their skills before entering the professional leagues is through playing for a school’s basketball team.

In the Philippines, there are two premier collegiate basketball leagues that young Filipino basketball players sought to play in – the NCAA and the UAAP.

National Collegiate Athletic Association

A Filipino basketball player's love for basketball is seen as he struggles to get past his defenders in an NCAA game
Robert Bolick of San Beda protecting the ball from Jaycee Marcelino of Lyceum
Courtesy: CNN Philippines

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was the first collegiate athletic association in the Philippines founded in 1924.

Its current member schools are Arellano University, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Emilio Aguinaldo College, José Rizal University, Lyceum of the Philippines University, Mapúa University, San Beda University, San Sebastian College – Recoletos, and the University of Perpetual Help System.

The NCAA has produced notable players like Alvin Patrimonio (Mapua), Scottie Thompson (Perpetual), and Robert Bolick (San Beda) to name a few!

The league is currently on its 96th season with Letran as the defending champions from season 95, defeating their rival San Beda who has the most championships with 22 titles under their belt.

The finals game was attended by a whopping 19,876 people at the Mall of Asia Arena in November 2019!

University Athletic Association of the Philippines

The University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) is an association of Metro Manila universities established in 1938. 

Currently, the league is joined by Adamson University, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, Far Eastern University, National University, University of the East, University of the Philippines, and the University of Santo Tomas.

In the UAAP, it’s always the classic Ateneo-La Salle rivalry that attracts the crowd, and even more when it’s a finals game!

It’s like a reunion for these schools’ students and alumni when it’s game time, pouring their hearts out as they cheer with school pride! It’s always a sea of blue and green on the opposite sides of the arena as these schools battle against each other.

Even fans who are not students or alumni of the schools give their all-out support for their favorite team.

Nothing beats a classic rivalry game’s intensity!

Thirdy Ravena of Ateneo against Melecio and Mbala of La Salle
Courtesy: ABS-CBN Sports

These schools have become dream schools for Filipinos, not only because of the quality education offered but also for the athletic programs that they have. This just goes to show that basketball in the Philippines is not only just a sport to play for fun but also as a future profession.

There are many stories shared by famous players mentioning that basketball has helped them and their families get through their previous hard life. The sport has also helped the youth through athletic scholarships offered by schools, and the discipline they learned in training.

These leagues are some of the proof that Filipinos have an immense love for the game and that love starts at a young age as basketball-crazed families exposed their children to the sport through these leagues being shown on TV.

The Filipino NBA Dream

The NBA is also a huge part of the basketball culture in the Philippines (well, obviously, it’s the most famous basketball league in the world).

Showing his love for basketball and country, Kai Sotto representing the Philippines in a game against Korea
Sotto in Gilas Pilipinas jersey
Courtesy: FIBA/SBP

Many Filipinos idolize NBA players like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Stephen Curry. This is also why we are pushing for a homegrown Filipino to play in the NBA, and currently, the best bet is Kai Sotto.

Sotto is a 7-foot-2 19-year-old currently playing in Australia before trying to squeeze his way into the NBA. 

If Sotto gets in the NBA, it will be the end of the frustration of Filipino basketball lovers because many have tried like Kiefer Ravena and Kobe Paras, but were just not successful.

It will be the fulfillment of the Filipino NBA dream, which we believe Filipinos deserve given the passion that we have for the sport.

Filipinos in international basketball leagues

Filipinos are already one step closer to achieving the country’s NBA dream as more Filipino basketball players are already playing and being recognized by international basketball leagues.

Thirdy Ravena is the first Filipino basketball player to play in the Japanese B.League, and since Ravena’s stint in the Japanese league, more Filipino players have been recruited by the league.

Following in his footsteps is his brother Kiefer, and brothers Javi and Juan Gomez de Liaño.

Jack Animam, the face of women’s basketball in the Philippines, has also played in Taiwan as an import and is currently in the United States to train and hopes to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA)

Recently, Gilas Pilipinas played in several international leagues like the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia and the 2021 King Abdullah Cup in Jordan.

Although the national team wasn’t able to bring home any trophy, their performance certainly put the Philippines on the map as they went against some of the world’s best teams and players!

Why do Filipinos love basketball?

Basketball in the Philippines is not just a sport, but it’s also a lifestyle. Filipinos will play anywhere as long as there’s a ball and a ring.

Basketball reflects the Filipino culture of hard work and determination.

The sport has become a social event, where everyone comes together to play and/or watch games. Filipinos are communal which is why the team sport appealed to the Filipino culture and has been ingrained in it.

While Filipinos are not the tallest bunch, it’s not what matters in the game. It doesn’t matter if the Filipino physique is not built for basketball.

It’s the happy feeling one gets when they play with their friends. It brings people together and that’s what makes Filipinos love basketball.

 

Filipinos may not be the tallest people, but one thing’s for sure, Filipinos’ love for the game is taller than Kai Sotto.

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Written by

Robelle Anne Good

An incoming 4th year Public Relations student at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. Self-proclaimed audiophile who loves travelling and wishes she could travel again.