One of my fondest memories of the NBA was watching Game 4 of the 2007 Championship Finals, when the San Antonio Spurs held off the Cleveland Cavaliers for the sweep and win their fourth-ever NBA title. Back then LeBron James was still ascending to kingship and was humbled by San Antonio’s now aged veterans, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Replays of the game often showed up on Basketball TV at night, and if I had the time I would watch it again. I’ve been supporting the Spurs ever since, so you can imagine my joy when they won it once more in 2014, again beating LeBron (who was then in the Miami Heat and had won the title twice) with the help of stellar trio again and rising star Kawhi Leonard. Looking back, it was curious to think that having never been to the United States, I would grow attached to this team. I have family in New York, but don’t count on me (nor they) watching Knicks games, so I wonder how else do Filipinos choose the NBA teams they support – given that our love basketball is unmatched, and the distance doesn’t stop us from watching their games.
Casey Dionisio, an avid basketball fan, expresses his support for the Bolton Celtics. “The reason why I support the Celtics is because they’re the reason I started watching NBA in the first place. Back in 2008, I remember one of the first games I ever watched was a Boston game against Indiana [Pacers],” said Dionisio. He recalls that what hooked him was the legacy of the Celtics that year, where they brought together Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, and bounced back from a 16-66 record in the previous season to winning the championship.
Meanwhile AJ Cazeñas, another fan, backs the Celtics’ longtime foe, the Los Angeles Lakers. “I’ve been supporting the Lakers for 10 years. Our household is a Laker house, so if di ka Lakers, di ka taga-bahay ko.” While family has been a big influence on him, a bigger reason was that by Kobe Bryant, “I really admired his work ethic, I really admire what he did for the team. His whole basketball career was dedicated to one team – something admirable,” said Cazeñas. Dionisio agrees that having a good player on the team would attract most people to liking that team, “Because the dynamic, the way that they play, it’s exciting, it’s fun to watch,” pointing out the entertainment value that these teams bring.
AJ Cazeñas (L) and Casey Dionisio (R), basketball fanatics
But of course, Celtics and Lakers support from Filipinos run deep, dating all the way back to the times of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson; even Kobe himself has left a legacy for Lakers fans to keep supporting them – and the pull of currently having Filipino-American Jordan Clarkson on the team (and why supporting the Heat was reasonable under Fil-Am coach Erik Spoelstra). It is the same reason why you will still find Chicago Bulls fans in the Philippines, after the historic six wins brought by Michael Jordan; legacies leave an imprint on Filipino support.
Still for Cazeñas, the family influence helps in choosing which team to root for. Cazeñas has family in San Francisco, where he also goes to stay on vacation, which is why he also shows support for the Golden State Warriors. Still, it is “win or lose, it’s Lakers I choose” for him, even though they’ve been in bad run since Kobe’s retirement. For him even if another player with Kobe’s work ethic and caliber would emerge in a different team, he would still loyally side with the Lakers.
That is a decision most Filipinos have to make, because we are not born in a specific state and therefore do not technically have to support a given team, whereas it is expected of such from people born in states or cities that hosts NBA teams (so Texans have a variety to choose from in the Spurs, the Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks). It is something that Cazeñas experienced while he was visiting California, “There was still kind of that [talk], ‘why are you talking about another team, you’re not even from our state.’” But eventually understand because they know they’re not from the East Bay.
For Filipinos who were born in America, like Ateneo women’s basketball team player Mel Newsome, the loyalty sticks with you wherever you go. Raised in New Mexico and growing up around basketball, Newsome until today still roots her old high school, Rio Rancho. Back then, in terms of the NBA, she also supported the Golden State Warriors but stopped when she moved to the Philippines. “I don’t know, I like being different – knowing teams that not many people know of… no one in New Mexico knew about them, so I really go for the less popular team.” It’s for reasons like these you find Filipinos supporting teams like the Indiana Pacers or Utah Jazz, who have never won an NBA title but are slowly gaining popularity.
Another basketball player, Isaac Go of the Ateneo men’s team, who’s been playing for over 10 years, shows support for the Spurs (much to both of our delights). “Once I learned an appreciation for basketball, that’s where I saw the right way to play it – it was moving the basketball, no superstar,” said Go. For him, the Spurs didn’t need a player to score 30 points to but rely on multiple players hitting double digits to win. Go also added, “I saw a lot of myself in Tim Duncan; he wasn’t that athletic, he was using more of his smarts in playing the game in his latter years when I started to watch, you saw that he was ready to sacrifice himself for the team to win.”
Mel Newsome (L) and Isaac Go (R), basketball players for the Ateneo
Again, the impact of a team’s player made the influence in supporting a team even bigger. Go explained further with his brother as an example, “You’ll find people who support a player rather than a team, like my brother supports LeBron James no matter where he went – he started in Cleveland, he went with him to Miami, he’s a LeBron fan, he didn’t support exactly the team.” In the Philippines you can see people following Terrence Romeo but not GlobalPort Batang Pier. As Go says, “It’s difficult for people to support a team where they don’t like or know the players.” But like what Cazeñas and Dionisio stated earlier, and what Newsome adds, “For a popular player, if they’re performing well at a time, people will be drawn to that team more.”
But needless to say, the case of bandwagonning can’t be avoided. Often you will see confrontations on social media where fans accuse and bash each other of “jumping on the bandwagon”, just because they’ve recently been winning multiple games or are the most recent NBA title winners. The most affected of these are, apart from LeBron’s Cleveland, are the Warriors who have recently had spectacular seasons and acquired another All-Star in Kevin Durant (to the anger of many NBA fans). It’s why Newsome stopped supporting for the Warriors when she came to the Philippines, “I don’t know, it irritates me when people see just one game and they’re automatically a fan.”
For her bandwagonning is bad because people don’t really know the players, “Just because someone says they’re good, they automatically say ‘yeah they’re good’ without even actually analyzing the sport.” Of course as a player like Newsome or Go, you would want all the support you can get. Newsome gaily points that out when bandwagonning, “if it’s for you team it’s not bad but when it’s for other teams, I think it’s bad.” Dionisio reiterates Newsome’s point about not knowing the team as a negative context in bandwagonning. “Just because they’re considered the top team, you support them; it doesn’t make sense to me. It’s like blind following,” remarks Dionisio. It’s a relational thing, he says; everyone wants to be with a winner.
Golden State’s acquisition of Kevin Durant from Oklahama City Thunder caused major bandwagonning (and “hating”) of the team
But Cazeñas points out that bandwagonning isn’t always bad. “For other fans naman kasi, you have to start somewhere,” he explains. A person getting into basketball (as irornic as it may sound in the Philippines) would first know about the best teams first, hence they will “jump on the bandwagon”. But he defends that it is a process, “You look at them, follow their games and stats, and eventually you’ll find your own niche team or a team you’ll really want to support.”
While there are always two sides of a coin, the matter of the fact is when loyalty comes to play. For Go the problem with bandwagonning is when the going gets tough, you don’t see the bandwagonning fans out to support teams or watch them from the stands. Even worse, these fans are the ones who bash teams when they enter a losing streak or choke in critical games. Said fans will only appear again when the team has broken a record, or won another title, and proudly say they were always around.
A good example of this is the Lakers during Kobe’s last years, when legendary coach Phil Jackson left the team and Kobe was hampered with injuries. The only fans that continued supporting them were those who were devoted to Lakers, like Cazeñas. During this time LeBron’s Heat was at its peak, and growing teams like the Oklahama City Thunder were grabbing attention. It didn’t help that the Lakers would amass their worst season record ever, and people flocking to the Cavaliers after LeBron’s return – not to mention the star power of Golden State, though it can be reasonably explained as many Filipinos are based in San Francisco.
Filipinos based in San Francisco support the Golden State Warriors
Go dwells on the idea that loyalty is what matters when talking about bandwagonning. “Loyal fans will never leave your side,” he says. He goes on to quote the popular line from Ateneo’s hymn that “win or lose, it’s the school [or in this case, team] we choose”. It’s a very sound reason to continue supporting a team, despite accumulated losses or comeback wins, true fans will always be present no matter the cause.
An additional point in why Filipino bandwagons is there is a social background. Because the sport is popular, just about everyone has a team to root for, but there are still people who just aren’t into the game. To relate with peers then, one would go for a team that is good and continue being part of the conversation; as Go puts it, “people always wants to be in the sikat crowd, we want who’s in, and that’s why people bandwagon.”
To sum up, there are multiple reasons how a Filipino chooses their NBA team:
- origins/relations in the area
- Filipino-American presence
- player and/or team attraction
- uncommon choice
But there’s still a lot to look out for, especially for the fans. Chicago may have not recent success of late (especially with failed expectations with Derrick Rose, and no new successor to Jordan), but the Lakers are slowly building a new and young team post-Kobe; even the Celtics are flying high with Isaiah Thomas, hopefully to continue the legacy by Bird and Pierce. The Warriors and the Cavaliers remain to be the favourites of many, both boasting the best players in the league (and also the loudest haters), but don’t count out the Spurs with their classic teamwork and well-oiled plays. Needless to say, the basketball fandom will always be exciting in the Philippines, you just have to look out for who is typing like mad on social media or shouting at the TV so early in the morning; that’s the mark of a true fan.