Book Review: Legends and Heroes of Philippine Basketball (Christian Bocobo and Beth Celis)

Legends and Heroes of Philippine BasketballIn my frequent travels to the land of great books and not so great books, one particular piece caught my attention. No, it was not a special swimsuit edition by Sports Illustrated (but I like what you’re thinking). The book was sealed and had an old basketball picture on its cover. It was dubbed “The Legends and Heroes of Philippine Basketball”, a masterpiece by Christian Bocobo and renowned journalist Beth Celis.

I was hesitant to buy the book at first because of its hefty price. It is prized P1200.00 which is already quite exorbitant for an average Filipino who earns minimum wage. If you are someone who shuns highly-expensive books and frequents book sales and clearance sales where most items are sold half its previous price, then this book is not for you. You’re probably better off lending from a public library (if it is available) or from neighbors who have recently purchased it. But if you are one super-duper basketball fanatic like me who lives and breathes hoops and eats rims and nets for breakfast, do not mind the price. For a thousand bucks, you would probably be able to buy 3 cases of beer grandes but you would not be able to replace the excitement of reading and owning possession of this baby. This would be a great legacy to your future kids and grandsons, that I assure you.

For starters, the first thing you will notice about the book is its hardbound cover. The cover is so hard you can use it to fend off attackers or stop annoying posters on its tracks. It could also make one fine cup holder for your coffee, which is essential when you’re watching TV on your bed or sofa.

Legends and Heroes of Philippine Basketball

Its beautiful cover suggests that you may now have the perfect reason to replace your wife’s photo album on your cabinet anytime soon. Inside, there are 165 glossy pages filled with action shots that are waiting to bursts from the scene. The pictures are so vivid you could actually feel the ball bouncing and the nets swishing every time you lift a page. Do you still remember the monstrous rebounding of Abe “The Chairman of the Boards” King, the famous bankshot by Freddie Hubalde, the form and grace of a Ramon “El Presidente” Fernandez, the long-distance bombs by Ricky “The Quick Brown Fox” Brown, and the crisp passes by Hector “The Director” Calma? How about the defensive skills of the Sultan of Swap and Swipes: Philip Cezar and Bernie Fabiosa? Those moments are worth reminiscing. It’s like traveling to time from the corridors of the old Araneta Coliseum to the Philsports Arena in Pasig.

A brief history on how the game of basketball evolved and developed in the Philippines was retold by Mr. Henry Liao, one of my favorite NBA beat writers for several local sporting publications during the 1990s. It was brief alright, about 3 pages of text for a century of basketball in the country. I would have wanted more piece of history in this spectrum but I think it’s for another book.

The book also chronicles the performances of the Philippine national team since the 1920s, in the World Basketball Championship, Asian Games, Olympics, the Asian Basketball Confederation, and in the Far Eastern Games. Did you know that in the 1954 World Basketball Championships, the Philippines finished a lofty 3rd behind the US and Brazil? Their main players were Caloy “The Great Difference” and Larry “The Fox” Mumar. The Philippines, according to accounts, also was the first country to score 100 points in Olympic men’s basketball history. Quite a rich tradition for basketball ey, but where are we now? The book also has rare basketball action pictures that you have probably never seen before. Pictures of Philippine basketball, especially during the 80s and 90s are a handful and you’ll probably spend more time searching for them on the Internet than taking a 30-minute trip to the library and bookstores.

The book contains profiles of one hundred and one legendary basketball players from the 1920s to the present, from the Caloy Loyzaga era to Ramon Fernandez to Allan Caidic up to the Eric Menk and Rommel Adducul of this generation. Each profile describes in great detail how these players came to play the game we loved, the unique and remarkable abilities they were famous at, the struggles and challenges they faced, the personal awards and achievements they received and what they are doing currently. The design and layout resemble that of the past PBA annual called “Fastbreak” which was the first PBA annual I bought in the late 1980s (no wonder it is the same Beth Celis who is responsible for the PBA Annuals). There were profiles on Ato “Atom Bomb” Agustin, Alvin Patrimonio, Jerry Codinera, Dindo Pumaren, Allan Caidic, Hector Calma, Ricky Brown, and some names that were only recognizable to our fathers and grandfathers such as Eddie Decena, Mariano Filomeno, Jacinto Cruz, among others. I would have loved to have profiles of more than 200 Filipino basketball players that would also include Boy Cabahug, Al Solis, Glen Capacio, Elmer Reyes, Asi Taulava, Rey Evangelista, Steve Watson, Naning Valenciano, Willie Pearson, Rudy Distrito, Padim Israel and even Dennis Espino who are and were also heroes in their own right but I guess they have their own opinions on what constitutes a hero in basketball. What surprised me was that Rommel Adducul made it into the list of certified heroes. I am not saying that Adducul does not have talent comparable to the game’s top big men in this generation but he has not proven anything yet in the pros. Adducul did have a fantastic career in the amateurs which probably explains his inclusion. I could still remember that when almost every talented big man in the amateur ranks decided to turn their backs in representing the country to turn pro, Adducul stayed put and played his guts out against the 7 footers of our Asian neighbors.

Eric Menk also made it but Taulava didn’t. Now tell me, is there double standard here? Both Menk and Taulava were PBA MVPs. Probably, when this book was written Taulava was still suspended from the PBA due to questions arising from his citizenship.

Sportswriters should be making more of these books. This is the kind of book that is worthy of spending your time and money when your not doing anything at home and it is a perfect companion when someone asks you some questions on Philippine basketball history or if you want to impress some girls with your knowledge on the sport.

If you have the money to burn, go ahead, buy the book. It’s a collector’s item which may be a rare find later on.