A winning shot for Filipino Hospitality

SAN FRANCISCO – Last Thursday, July 17, The New York Times published an article, A Filipino Embrace, about NBA and Washington Wizard franchise player, Gilbert Arenas’ recent Adidas tour to the Philippines.
Most of us would think that the article couldn’t really be that significant, with the number of more important issues happening.   Also, the Philippines already had a number of NBA stars flocking for exhibition games and product endorsement tours. But this piece made the hoop, as the 26-year-old Arenas spoke somewhat affectionately about his whole experience, as well as his appreciation for the Filipinos.

A treatment fit for a president

Being the Washington Wizards’ franchise player, he often jokes about being “the black president.” Of course, he hasn’t realized the magnitude of his popularity in the Philippines, one that gave him the taste of presidential life.

Just as he landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the media followed him until he left three days after.  Booked at the elegant and opulent presidential suite of The Peninsula Manila, Arenas even took pictures of his room to prove he was there.

His store visits and press conferences is a strategic process, short of bringing the Secret Service – police escorts, bomb-sniffing dogs, brawny Adidas-clad security guards with earpieces, to make sure he was safe from the crushing clamor of his fans.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and I’ve seen crazy fans all over the world,” according to his NBA.com blog.  But the most touching line in The New York Times was when he gave this advice to his fellow NBA players, “If you’re having a bad day or you’re having a bad career, go to Manila.  They’ll bring your spirits up.”

The basketball hoopla

Arenas and other foreign basketball players may be surprised how fanatic Filipinos can be about the sport, but it is a well-known fact to sportswear companies.  In the past years, big brands like Adidas and Nike have been sending American stars to Manila.  Aside from Arenas, Tracy McGrady of the Houston Rockets (also for Adidas) and LA Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (endorsing for Nike), have been to Manila twice in the past year.

Being among the world’s first basket-playing nations, as well as avid followers of the sport, big companies like Nike and Adidas have been competing on who gets the bigger share of the court.  Thus, the bigger star they can bring to the fans, the bigger noise (and revenues) they can possibly get.

In fact, even the local Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) enjoys almost the same popularity. Asia’s first professional basketball league, the PBA has helped shape the history of Philippine basketball. Another factor that really defined the relationship. Even competing teams are now supported by non-athletic companies with corporate-themed names like the Sta. Lucia Realtors, San Miguel Beermen and Magnolia Beverage Masters.

The competition also extends to local Filipino players and imports – either foreign, part Filipino, or US-born Filipinos, paving the way for great players like Norman Black (who used to play for San Miguel), Billy Ray Bates (Ginebra), Michael Hackett (Ginebra), and FilAms Vince Hizon, Mark Caguioa (Ginebra) and Danny Seigle (San Miguel).

However the ball rolls, both NBA and PBA (and even the Philippine Basketball League and college basketball teams) can be assured that Filipinos will continue to watch their games, support their teams and accept them warmly any time in Manila. (www.asianjournal.com)

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