Never say die

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Monday, March 3, 2014

THERE are few things that bind us as a people. And obviously, politics is not one of them. We converge instead at the Araneta Center, the barangay covered court, school gym, and the dusty clearings even in the remotest barrio from various standings in life or political color for this game where ten players run around a court aiming to put that orange ball through a hoop. Basketball. But the two –sports and politics, are related to each other I think.

Whatever the political field lacks is reflected in everything that we Filipinos love in the sport. And there is no team that manifests this great loyalty and passion save for Ginebra. The adoration they enjoy stands in stark contrast to the cynicism we accord to politics in general.

The barangay Ginebra spirit rose phoenix-like when they garnered a slot at the recent finals. Amid the frenzy of the series championship, the rabid passions of the fans of the most popular team in the PBA were awakened from dormancy.


I was not spared. I was once a 10-year-old Ginebra hooligan during the time of Billy Ray Bates, Rudy “The Destroyer” Distrito, and Jawo among others. Though I have since zoned out of following the PBA with age, I heard the primal call of tribal drums as well as the familiar gi-neb-bra chant of the tribe emanate from within when the team made it to the finals just recently.

The team lost during the deciding match which was so typical of them. These great big let downs is intrinsic to the team because they set the stage for the magnificent victories that come every so often, that is if luck is on their side.

You see, Ginebra won’t dazzle you with precise scientific plays on the court. Neither can they boast of having the best and consistent players in the league. There are occasions when you wish the earth would open up midcourt and swallow each and every member of the team, bench and coach included, for their usual ineptness. But when they win, boy, do they. They win barely keeping the skin on their backs through sheer effort and heart.

Another thing is that the icons have since left to give way to new blood many of whom do not have the x-factor that made the original team from the time of Toyota so interesting to follow. No more pretty boy Vince Hizon and the gente hulk that was Noli Locsin. Jaworski was able to translate his popularity from the court to the political arena where his luster did not shine as bright.

And yet decades since, the Ginebra franchise retained the goodwill of its fans. Which brings us to ask the question what is it that pulls us to the team given the let-downs and changing of personalities?

There is nothing intrinsic to the team that accounts for its popularity and here I join the observations of many including the man behind the Hoops series on National Geographic, Rafe Bartholomew. It is what we, the fans, project to the cultural phenomenon that is Ginebra that gives the team its eternal spark. This is how sports as popular practice serves as a counterpoint to the exclusivity of politics in our country which remains the domain of the landed. Which also explains the popularity of Pacquiao and Sabong for that matter.

In the realm of sports, the rules are known by each and everyone and we abide by the level playing field ensured by these parameters. More importantly, we can all participate with our shouts, cheers, and our passionate jeers as spectators. Some even wager their commitment to the game by offering their season's harvest or their monthly salary for their pusta. Participation is possible and in some ways cheap in these exercises which can hardly be said of the field of politics in our country.

I believe the magic of Ginebra is not only because it is accessible but also because its narrative is predicated on the myth of the phoenix rising, of the underdog proving his worth, of the common Filipino emerging victorious, full of heart against what seemed to be insurmountable odds. It is a cultural code that takes us back to the lowly peasant indio struggling against the colonial and local landlord, the squatter facing demolitions, the Filipino making ends meet, and the OFW testing his fate abroad. And the battle cry of Ginebra and the Filipino is one and the same, “never say die.”

Something we never can say for our politicians.


(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 04, 2014.


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