While the Houston Rockets‘ trip to Manila, Philippines is a chance for the team to bond with one another, while giving back to fans who have never seen an NBA game in their country, the lone impact of their arrival is a moment that many natives are salvaging.
For a nation filled with passionate and loyal NBA fans, a longtime dream of bringing the league to the Philippines is finally a reality. Filipino sports writer Rick Olivares spoke about just how huge the pre-season game between the Rockets and Indiana Pacers is in this column:
“As a youngster, the only way you could get to watch the NBA was on the US Armed Forces Network in the Philippines, FEN (Far East Network). Then there was the NBA on GMA7. Columnists like Quinito Henson and Henry Liao gave us our weekly dose of NBA news if you were unable to buy magazines like Sports Illustrated,Sport, Street and Smith’s, or even the International Herald Tribune. So I purchased all the local sports magazines or newspapers.
Over the years, we have seen one NBA superstar after another visit Manila. Their arrival, stay and departure are covered even more than any other politician or visiting dignitary.
That game—between the Rockets and the Pacers—will mean a lot to Filipinos. Because aside from bringing in top-caliber teams, they also come with two of the greatest to ever have played the game of basketball—Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.
Pinoys have embraced the NBA more than any other sports league (outside the PBA, of course) in this world. The NBA games are watched and dissected with startling regularity. It even makes the front-page news.
There was a time when then-President Joseph Estrada made this foreign dignitary cool his heels in the waiting room while he finished the game of the Chicago Bulls (in was the NBA Finals). What other Chief Executive has an NBA story to tell (let alone another league)? I know Barack Obama still plays the game and regularly makes comments and predictions about the game, but that is more for the American March Madness than anything.”
For the Rockets players themselves, they have already spoke about all the attention and enthusiasm they’ve received from the native fans. As they boarded buses on Monday near Mall of Asia, a bevy of couldn’t hold themselves back, or in their case, acted as normal as possible by yelling, screaming, and even walking around players.
“It’s funny because the fans, they see you and they just walk behind you,” Rockets forward Chandler Parsons said. “They don’t really attack you. When me and Jeremy(Lin) were in Taiwan, they are really in your face. (In Manila), they kind of circled around us. They just want to look at you and get a picture with you. They’re unbelievable.”
That excitement will last in Manila further than the Rockets and Pacers stay for their game, as the NBA has added yet another location to their global brand.