Before I begin, a few notes on the bug I have up my ass regarding Erik Spoelstra.
As I’ve mentioned in my previous blog entries, I consider him as a “hometown boy” of sorts: the Filipino side of his family grew up next to my dad’s in the same barrio, and his uncle lives not too far from my parents. There have been stories, in fact, of Erik taking the rest of the guys from the Heat to his uncle’s (fabulous) house, where Dwyane Wade turned the swimming pool into… wait for it… a wading pool.
I wish I made that last story up.
Anyway, by all accounts, Erik is a really nice guy, and everyone in the Philippines loves him. He’s always welcome during the post-season, especially when he visits and holds basketball clinics in the Philippines for less-than-privileged kids. He’s not a bad-looking guy, either, and if it weren’t for the rigorous touring schedule (and possible presence of groupies) he would have been on a Cosmo spread as one of the most eligible Filipino bachelors of this decade.
(Not that he’s wanting for non-groupie company, either: last time I checked, he had something going on with Ana Julaton, though apparently no one has confirmed nor denied anything.)
So let’s recap: Nice guy, cute and successful, great with his family, proud to be Filipino. Makes sense… except for the fact that I’m not rooting for his team.
I’ve had that question posed to me so many times that it’s not funny. “You’re not rooting for the Heat? But the coach is Filipino!” Everyone knows that I used to be a Miami fan, too, but that’s not enough for me to overlook the fact that he’s still coaching a team that plays dirtier than the Lakers at their most arrogant worst.
What can I say? I’m only a fan of the sport.
This, to me, is different from being a sports fan. I like basketball as a sport, much in the same way that I love baseball and tennis as sports. I appreciate the mechanics of the game, the subtle nuances that make every match and every player distinct from each other. What I don’t have is a loyalty to a team that I can love unconditionally.
I have a tendency to seek out the teams I hate. It’s a bad habit that I’ve cultivated in my younger years, when I would boo whenever Robert Jaworski would show up on TV during a PBA match. (My appreciation of Jaworski and his contributions to Philippine basketball has improved in recent years, but back then I could not get over the sweaty comb-over.) Then it became Andre Agassi, the Yankees, and – for a short time – even the Lakers, at their aforementioned most arrogant worst. Currently, my Yankees hatred has been replaced by the Texas Rangers (one word: Dubya), and my hatred for the Heat has its Filipino equivalent in my distaste for the Ateneo Blue Eagles, whose rich-boy entitlement (more on their fans than their players) has all but tainted my admiration for their now ex-coach Norman Black, whom I have loved in the PBA as much as I used to hate Jaworski.
Here’s another example of my problem with sports: I love Roger Federer. I consider him one of the most awesome human beings in this planet, even during the times when he’s more conniving than charming. Thus, my default setting is to automatically dislike Rafael Nadal and his aggressive (read: non-Roger) means of playing. However, after watching Roger during the French Open, I had to switch my allegiance, briefly, to Rafa. Why? Because that was some LeBron-level craptastitude* that Roger put out there at Roland Garros – dispatching lesser players only to slack during the finals – and I was so disgusted that I ended up switching my bets to the only player I knew who could deliver on that account: Rafa, the King of Clay. (Usually I would go to Djokovic – and there’s nothing more beautiful, apart from Roger, than a Nadal-Djokovic final – but Nole + clay = not happening on my watch.) That also doesn’t stop me from watching other tennis matches and paying attention to the other players who aren’t Roger, Rafa, or Nole, because part of me knows that there’s someone out there waiting in the wings who could rise up to their ranks if they’re not careful enough.
And this is the same problem I have with some of the teams that I root for: Manny Pacquiao, the Azkals, the Lakers on a good day. When they’re good, they’re really good, and when they lose it’s OK. But as soon as they believe the hype, and start playing like they don’t need to try, I’m an unhappy camper.
Ironically, the only teams that I support unconditionally are the same ones that I’ve started to appreciate as soon as I’ve started paying more attention to the game.
The San Francisco Giants is a great example of this: Yes, Tim Lincecum is also half-Filipino, but he’s one hell of a pitcher and one of the many players that are holding the team together, win or lose. Another example is the Philippine Volcanoes rugby team (Mens 7s), whom I’ve loved before they started doing underwear ads and winning games left and right, in that exact order: they’re nice guys, all right, but they’re at their best when they’re on the field, playing like they mean it and putting it all together on the pitch with maximum grace and minimum brute force. (They’re also the rare national team where the players lead separate lives and still keep up the genuine camaraderie off the field… unlike the Azkals, who have yet to overcome the perception of being the team that only gets together during game day.) And finally, the UP Fighting Maroons, who continues to be cursed with losses – though I blame much of that on the university’s commitment to athletics in general – but will always be the lovable underdog during basketball season.
It seems so irrational… but since when did loving and watching sports become a rational thing?
*EDITED: Congratulations to the Miami Heat – and Coach Spoelstra – for winning their first NBA Championship. And congratulations to the Oklahoma City Thunder for… oh, who am I kidding? I couldn’t stand to watch OKC fall apart faster than Federer playing Djokovic, so I gotta hand it to the Heat here. Until next season!