THIS is nowhere near Boston, yet you'd feel like you're in the Celtics' fabled old Garden homecourt the moment you walked inside the confines of this community gym in a remote barangay in Valenzuela.
There's a giant Larry Bird image to greet you at the entrance, a staircase filled with huge posters immortalizing some of the greatest moments in the Boston Celtics’ rich history, a signature of the great Red Auerbach adorning its wooden court.
Above, a portrait of 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell and one of his most famous quotes are painted on one baseline wall, as posters of all-time Celtics greats from Bob Cousy to modern-day heroes like Paul Pierce hang from the rafters.
This facility in Barangay Ugong is the brainchild of Rep. Eric Martinez, a self-confessed diehard basketball fan who has made it his mission to build quality playing courts for his constituents in the second district of Valenzuela.
“Ang advocacy ko here is quality courts. Siyempre, yung mga bata, may mga edad, they deserve naman na ang lalaruan nila ay injury-free. Alam naman natin sa semento, maraming possibilities diyan. You get injuries and accidents,” said Martinez.
Believe it or not, this court is the third of its kind in this part of Valenzuela. The first one was inspired by the San Antonio Spurs while the second one serves as a tribute to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
“Yung una San Antonio Spurs inspired, yung pangalawa Chicago Bulls inspired. Kung mapapansin niyo, ito yung mga multiple champions in the last 30 years,” the congressman said.
While providing impressive facilities to his constituents, Martinez also found a perfect opportunity to give fans a little lesson on basketball history.
“Naisip ko, Boston Celtics alam ng tao 'yan. Popular yan with Kyrie (Irving), pero yung mga kabataan, hindi na nila natatandaan yung legendary history ng Boston Celtics. Naisip ko, might as well kung gagawa tayo ng court to immortalize the great Celtic pride, ilagay narin natin 'yung mga great players nila,” said Martinez.
“Nilagay namin yung mga painting ni Bill Russell as the highlight of the court. You have to remember basketball is not about yung laro ka lang ng laro. You have to have a sense of history, the history of the game will inspire us to move forward and strive for more excellence."
"Hindi lang basta court, pwede mo na nga sabihing this is a museum.”
Martinez admitted that while this court is his brainchild, he’s not a Celtics fan at all. The youthful representative said that it’s his wife who’s a Celtics fan and that he’s actually a fan of their great rivals, the LA Lakers.
So can the Lakers fans expect a court dedicated to the 16-time champions?
“We will have the Lakers this year. Sa ibang barangay naman natin ilalagay 'yun. You’ll see Magic, Kobe, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, kung ganito kaganda ang Boston, for sure maganda rin yun,” Martinez bared.
After the Lakers, some other courts in honor of NBA champion teams like the Rockets, Pistons, Cavaliers and the Warriors are on the pipeline. Once all the courts are completed, then comes the culmination of Martinez's dream – a nine-team inter-barangay league with a home-and-away format.
In this side of Valenzuela, ball is definitely life.
“Naisip namin para pag inter-barangay, may home and away. May home sila na court at dadayo din sila. Parang NBA type of an atmosphere. Mas maeenganyo ang mga kabataan to pursue excellence in basketball and it will build a better community when we get children involved in productiveness,” Martinez said.
“So this isn’t just about basketball or the NBA or for my love of the game, this is community building, our children, the youth, na maging mas productive sila,” he added.
The nice thing about it as that the courts are absolutely free for use, assuming you get a slot in its jampacked schedule.
“Here in Valenzuela, gusto namin na 'yung buwis na binabayaran ng mamamayan, mararadamdaman nila at hindi na nila babayaran ulit. Parang ang hirap naman nun, di ba? Nakakakaya naman namin imaintain with the city government, nagtutulungan kami nila Mayor (Rex Gatchalian) para yung maintenance nito matutukan namin,” Martinez said.
"What we envision dito sa Valenzuela, yung nalalaruan sa ibang lugar nung mga may kaya, dito nalalaruan ng mga karaniwang tao.”
As big as this dream is, there's one other particular project that excites Martinez.
“Ultimately, lalagyan din natin ang court na dedicated sa Filipino all-time greats. We will have that, honoring the greatest Filipino players, players like Samboy, Caidic, Loyzaga, Jaworski, Fernandez, you name it ilalagay natin sila doon,” said Martinez.
That should be another project worth looking forward to.