AS far as NBA commissioner David Stern is concerned, the dream of seeing a first full-blooded player from the Philippines suit up in the world’s most popular basketball league depends on the Filipinos’ commitment to the game.
“It’s about sacrifice, hard work, and teamwork. Increasingly, from what you’re beginning to see, is that our players don’t just make it to the league because they are great athletes, they work very hard, they practice, practice, practice,” said Stern as he held court before mediamen hours before the first ever NBA preseason game between the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers tipped off at the Mall of Asia Arena on Thursday.
Arriving in the country a few hours earlier, Stern was quick to note the Philippines’ recent exploits in the international basketball arena that saw Gilas Pilipinas finish runner-up in the 27th Fiba-Asia Men’s Championship and its Philippine youth counterpart achieve the same feat in the Fiba-Asia U16 Championship.
The pair of silver medal finishes marked the country’s return to the world basketball championship stage.
However, Stern said playing in the NBA entails more commitment and the willingness to sacrifice.
“This is a country that has qualified for the World Cup and has qualified its the juniors team to the World Cup. It’s about commitment and growth, but that’s an individual question,” Stern told both local and international media during his 40-minute talk at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Raymond Anthony Townsend was the first player with Filipino blood to see action in the NBA. A member of the UCLA team that won the 1975 US NCAA championship under legendary coach John Wooden, Townsend was a first-round pick of the Golden State Warriors in the 1978 rookie draft.
Townsend, whose mother Virginia Marella is a Filipina from Balayan, Batangas, played for the Warriors from 1978-80 and then with the Indiana Pacers in 1981-82.
Given the growing talent of players here, Stern said it is not far-fetched to eventually see NBA scouts approach Filipinos and invite them to attend training camps in the future.
But the next major step will depend on the level of commitment Filipino players will give in order to play in the league.
“It depends on how committed (Filipino basketball players) are to the next step,” said the longtime NBA official, who is set to turn over the commissionership to Adam Silver by the end of the first quarter of next year.
Stern mentioned NBA players observe a strict training regimen during the offseason to ensure they are in tip-top shape once they play the rigorous 82-regular season games.
“In the summer time, (NBA players) go do their own training regimen, they go to different places where they work with different players. It’s hard to get here and it’s hard to stay here. It’s a tribute to their hard work,” he added.
Last year, Barangay Ginebra forward Japeth Aguilar made an unsuccessful to make it to the NBA. Instead, he ended up being selected 13th in the seventh round (109th overall) in the NBA D-League draft by the Santa Cruz Warriors.
The 6-foot-9 Aguilar, though, became one of the last players to be cut from Warriors’ final roster.