By José Abeto Zaide
Despite LeBron James’ 42-point game, Celtics swamped Cleveland again,107-94 to take 2-0 lead on home court; while Warriors stole Game 1 at Houston home court, 107-94. As hoopla-crazed Pinoys would say, bilog ang bola.
To reach out to the Filipino community abroad, we never miss two watering holes – church events and basketball. This account is about the second, about a team that didn’t have a prayer, but surprised even themselves and upended others to become champions.
As Philippine Ambassador, I was asked to open basketball games all over Germany, because to Pinoys hoopla still tops football. One of our favorite stops, (because it provided pilgrim comfort to guests and five-star hospitality), was the Filipino Catholic Community (FCC) annual basketball league in Essen hosted by the Camillians, Fr. Dietmar Weber and Fr. Manny Tamayo. (Fr. Tamayo is a young priest from Pampanga, a diminutive point forward with the court savvy of Johnny Abarrientos. He is capable of tricks on the hardcourt that he might chastise at the confessional.)
On my second year, I kept my promise to not just inaugurate the tournament, but to field a Philippine Embassy team. We competed at the September 2001 tournament as the Bones & Bears team, (after our Embassy in Berlin and its extension office in Bonn). Our gray-and-white playing togs with a Berlin Bear clutching a giant Bone was sponsored by ABS-CBN. I introduced our “Mythical First Five” (more myth than real, our courage greater than our strength): Consul General Joey “Big J” Jimeno, “Kababata ni Jawo, center,” (making him a big hit and darling of the bleachers); Manny Comia and Gary Auxilian, forwards, “Dalawang Vice Consuls na madaling lapitan para sa passports… maasahan sa assistance-to-nationals, kahit anong oras man;” and Consul Solfie Confiado “political officer” and myself (also playing-coach) as guards. The rest of the team – Ronnie Villanueva, Eric Rubas, Molly Morales and sons (Jamil, Joey Jr., Rommel, André) were actually the real hitters and mainstay players.
I played half of the time because rank has its privilege. I also said words which would prove prophetic, “Bones & Bears will not be champions… but if you want to be champion, you have to beat this team!” We won our first game, and were eliminated on losing our second game to the Caviteños, who eventually became champions after besting six other teams.
We didn’t win the championship, nor the best-in-uniform despite the generous support of ABS-CBN Europe. But we were voted the most sportsmanlike team at the FCC league 2001. And our deep bench made friends, extended passport services and were consulted on various questions during the two-day affair.
For the 2002 FCC tournament, we returned with vengeance – with “imports” of four strong players from the community. This time our uniforms were sponsored by our honorary Consul Josef Wiedler’s company Gothaplast, a plaster-manufacturer with products similar to our local Salonpas. The high numbers plastered on our backs like band-aids were actually the real age of the player.
Still, we beat Bruser Berg, 47-39, and the title favorites Young Oldies, 41-31, on Saturday, to qualify for the Sunday quarterfinals. But at great cost. Our star forward Eric Rubas pulled a muscle and could not raise his right arm next morning. The first thing we did on reaching the stadium was to seek out the venerable sansei who was a known hilot to put Eric back together.
We beat New Sox, 38-31, to step up for the rematch and the championship game vs. Young Oldies, whose strong Paris imports had earlier rough-housed their quarterfinals and semi-finals opponents. They were aching for revenge on Bones & Bears. By that time the Young Oldies coach must have read our play – “basta libre, shoot.” But I had another secret weapon: I sic-ed Ronnie on their playmaker; hounding him all over the court. We upset their play: the ball-hawker lost his momentum, missed his shots and was forced into errors and several turnovers.
To fast-break a long story, we won the cup, beating cocky Young Oldies by a wider margin, 46-30. (They had even offered betting odds “plus 5” for Bones & Bears). It was a heady feeling to be champions; although this time we did not win the 2002 most sportsmanlike team trophy. There were much frayed nerves, errant elbows, and the referees had to stop the play twice to keep the game from degenerating to boxing-brawl.
I hate to disappoint our boys; but we are not in the business of winning championships: Our role is to champion everyone’s cause. So at for the 2003 tournament, Bones & Bears came in uniform, but only as decorous visitors. I again introduced our own “Mythical First Five” and our consular services to the bleachers; and we returned to making-friends-and-influencing-people. Finally, I donated the Ambassador’s Cup, which will be kept permanently by the team which wins three consecutive tournaments.
This is how a team without a prayer of winning became champions, chose goodwill, and retired to the Hall of Fame.
Culled from the book “Bababa, ba? Anecdotes of a Foreign Service Officer.”