I have finally found a foreign destination where everyone knows National Basketball Association star, and Northeast Ohio native, LeBron James. The Philippines!
Throughout our four years of travel, I’ve often been asked where I hail from. When I answer Cleveland, Ohio — usually, blank stares. Then I often say, “you know… LeBron James, NBA basketball… the Cleveland Cavaliers.”
Sometimes, that works – although geographically, I doubt people around the world can pinpoint Cleveland. But just as often – nothing. Believe it or not, they’ve never heard of LeBron – arguably, the greatest basketball player ever! Obviously, many Mexicans, Guatemalans, Europeans, North Africans, Malaysians, Vietnamese, Indonesians, etc., are not basketball fans.
But in the Philippines; lots of serious basketball fans! And of course, they all know LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In fact, I’ve seen more LeBron jerseys in six weeks in the Philippines \than I have in four years meandering around other parts of the globe. To be fair, there are also a lot of Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) jerseys here too. And a lot of Philippine League jerseys. Being over 90 degrees each day – it’s a good place for tank tops.
But basketball is truly THE sport of the Philippines. It was a surprise, after years of seeing soccer as pretty much the only game in town around most of the world. Here, not a single soccer field! None. And I’ve not seen one Philippine kid kicking a soccer ball. But every town, village and neighborhood has a basketball court, often several. The only other organized sport I’ve seen here is volleyball.
So they know and love the NBA, but Filipinos are also big fans of their own league; the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association). The PBA was established in 1975 as the first professional basketball league in Asia – and, after the NBA, is supposedly the second oldest professional basketball league existing in the world.
I’ve seen some PBA games on TV and they appear to be of mid-U.S. college caliber. Teams are all ‘sponsored’ and named after the corporate backer, not individual cities. Most games are played at arenas in the Manila area – but some match-ups occur in the outlying provinces. There is also a smaller related developmental league.
The PBA ball was changed in 2019. It is the same ball to be used in the next Basketball World Cup. It has a distinctive, off-white, quad stripe over the standard orange ball.
A few NBA players have played some games in the PBA, usually late in their careers. Most well known is probably Cedric Ceballos who starred with the Phoenix Suns and LA Lakers in the 1990’s. The PBA allows ‘import’ players but has a height limit. Of course, salaries are meager compared to NBA standards.
I know the NBA has a big following in China. But I haven’t been there yet to see for myself. In the meantime, it’s cool to constantly see Cleveland Cavaliers shirts and hats and logos. It kinda makes me feel at home – even if LeBron now plays in LA.
As always, happy trails and more beer. Life is now!