Jeremy Lin, Larry Bird Help Reveal Filipinos’ Passion, Reverence for the Game of Basketball

Today’s NBA Global Games media availability at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines, reinforced a lot of what we already know — from Jeremy Lin‘s triumphs over adversity to Larry Bird‘s Draft acumen — about certain NBA luminaries, but what it really reinforced was the Filipinos’ true passion and reverence for the game of basketball.

Today, metaphorically, Filipinos bled their love of the game for me in ways I could not have envisioned. This wasn’t merely the outdoor basketball courts present in probably every five-mile-radius, the random citizen walking around wearing a rec league hoops jersey, or the encyclopedic knowledge of NBA bench players such as Patrick Beverley, as reported by Fran Blinebury. This ran deeper than “deep”.

What I saw today were countrymen literally baring their heart and soul for the game.

Lin-gratitude

In the middle of the Lin group interview, a reporter got a chance to tell Jeremy that he had spoken with Philippines national team impact player and former D-League Draft pick, Japeth Aguilar. Aguilar had told this reporter that Lin’s documentary, Linsanity, really moved him, in terms of the multiple triumphs over various adversities. Aguilar, who after being waived by the NBLD Santa Cruz Warriors, recently starred for the Philippines in their qualification for the FIBA World Championships, saw parallels in their basketball career journeys.

Without even prompting insights about Aguilar, and sensing where the interviewer was going with this, Lin said, “There will always be adversity. God gave me the strength to be able to continue even when I felt like I couldn’t make it.”

“I never would have envisioned myself being here,” Lin added, “In many ways, I thought I wasn’t capable (of making it this far).”

When asked by the same reporter, who seemed to have a similar devout faith as Lin, when God had first planted the seed to give Lin the strength to persevere, Lin responded, “There have been a lot of things that have happened, miracles in my life, that are kind of beyond coincidence.”

“There’s only so much you can control,” Lin said, “Things we can control are our work ethic, our attitude, the way we treat people, our thoughts. I try to surrender the rest to God.”

And with that, the reporter nodded his head and almost bowed to Lin, shaking Lin’s hand vigorously in the process. It was clear that Lin’s words had some sort of validating effect on the reporter, who we can probably safely speculate will report his exchange with Lin back to Aguilar.

I’ve been to a lot of media group interviews and I have never seen an interviewer so affected by the words of the player who responded to the questions, a rare instance of learning more about the interviewer than the interviewee.

Jeremy Lin at NBA Global Games

Jeremy Lin at NBA Global Games http://instagram.com/poormanscommish

Bird-Man Cometh

Fact: the NBA Philippines staff scheduled a solo press conference for Bird. You know, in the back room with the stage and the table and the blue backdrop full of logos. That alone would be an adequate measure of the country’s reverence for one of the greatest players of all time, especially when the only other interviewee scheduled for that table during these few days in Manila would be David Stern tomorrow before the game.

But wait till you hear what happened.

Questions delving into such astute observations as Danny GrangerPaul George, and Roy Hibbert being high-quality yet not-drafted-as-high-as-they-should-have draft picks pervaded. Bird was asked what advice he gave players (work on the midrange shot more-so than the three-pointer), what he looked for in the Draft (length, the ability to shoot — punctuated by Bird adding, “of course” to the skill he is most famous for — and teamwork), what it would take for the Indiana Pacers to get over the hump and win a championship (overcome mental fatigue), and what the impact to the international world was of the 1992 Dream Team (it forced the rest of the world get better faced with the ominous threat that the United States would continue to dominate forever).

To top that off, the reporters gave the utmost respect to Bird, calling him a legend, addressing him as “Sir” the way Filipinos consistently do (Lin even acknowledged how polite people in the Philippines were), and even saying “thank you” in mid-sentence.

But then came the question from a female reporter.

“Do you feel more pressure now than you did as a…?”

Before she could even finish saying “player” and drowning out the remaining “than as Head of Basketball Operations”, Bird dead-panned, “Pressure? I don’t know what that is.”

Silence.

If silence was a slithering snake, Bird proceeded to strangle it.

“Obviously, you never seen me play.”

Pause.

Another female reporter quietly announcing herself from Channel 5 came to the rescue, asking a question nobody remembers.

Soon thereafter, Bird left the room to applause. As the crowd of reporters shuttled out the back exit where I was still standing and tweeting, fellow reporters re-assured the one who had asked the “pressure” question.

“That was a great question. We haven’t seen him like that since he played!”

And so the Filipinos left the room, turning what Americans would have defined as a “career-limiting move” into a lucky-to-have-been-there story for their future grandkids.

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