Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hey, it's my most un-favorite sport!

If there's one sport that I don't feel passionately about, it's basketball. I  just don't get it. Considering that I'm from the Philippines, I'm in the minority. Everyone here is just gaga over this sport.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't hate basketball. Before, people naturally assume that with my height (I'm 5' 9" in a country where the average male height is a little over 5' 6"), I'd be into the sport. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I think I can count with my one hand the number of times I've held a basketball.

Rafe Bartholomew's nonfiction work, Pacific Rims, touches on this particular sport with verve. It's a book I picked up with trepidation. How can I be interested in this white American male's perspective on our unofficial national pastime?

Bartholomew, a basketball enthusiast even during his childhood, decides to check out the Philippines to find out why this third world country of mine is so into hoops, and what he has found out is at turns revealing and entertaining. Frankly, I'm a bit ashamed (and amused) that it took a foreigner to show me all about this sport in its full local color.

It seems that the Fulbright guys made the right decision when they gave a grant to Bartholomew to study the ins and outs of basketball in the Philippines. Pacific Rims is well researched. It chronicles the history of the sport in the country from the time when the sport was introduced to the country, the time when the Philippines started out as a 'basketball superpower' in Asia, and finally to the present status of the sport both in the professional and nonprofessional levels. All very fascinating reading, I tell you. Lots of colorful personalities—from visionaries to politicians who want to ride in on the popularity of the sport.

Of course, there has to be a focus that will tie all the elements that Bartholomew presents. And this is achieved when Bartholomew is invited to tag along with a local professional team during the start of a season until its eventual win in the finals. The team's win is where I'd like to believe that Bartholomew is their lucky charm, for the team has a shameful track record lately.

I believe that Pacific Rims would appeal to both Filipino and international readers. It provides glimpses on Philippine society in general using the sport as a vehicle. Bartholomew is one very observant guy, and he seems to sense the spirit of the sport even in the most mundane environments. Of course, it helps that he appears to be very congenial, being friendly with his neighbors, the people he just met on the street, celebrities, and basketball players.

Bartholomew can get technical with his description of the different elements of the game. And these are the parts where my eyes simply glazed over. But I think these couldn't be helped but be included though, as these pedantic descriptions established how the sport is played differently in the Philippines. It also showed the level of knowledge of the writer on the sport. Oy, Bartholomew's expertise on the sport is certainly impressive.

Pacific Rims, while it comes off as a charming work of nonfiction, is one of those rare works that is extremely academic and wonderfully entertaining at the same time. Even I, who would flee at the mere mention of the sport, had a jolly good time reading it.

Read this book if:

  1. You can't get enough of basketball.
  2. You're curious as to why Filipinos are so in love with this sport.
  3. You know that white guys can jump, and if they don't, they just write one helluva book.


LoF said...

because he seemed to know so little about Philippine history, culture and experience, I found some of the ways he made connections between things very funny (especially around gender and sexuality). there were a few parts where i thought there was some ethnocentricism seeping out. but most of all, i loved his description of the whole Asi Taulava affair and the making of Fil-Am ball players. hahah

Peter S. said...

Oh, I loved reading about that Taulava affair too. That part was such a screwball!

Stepford Mum said...

Basketball is one of my least favorite sports as well (to watch, as I won't even attempt to play), so it was with trepidation that I approached this novel. Had it not been chosen for the book discussion, I'd never have picked it up. Thank goodness I did! It was very informative, quite entertaining, and it turns out the author is a hottie. What more could one ask for from a book?

Peter S. said...

I get you, Stepford Mum! Hottie, Rafe is!