CHICAGO - Before he entered the PBA in 1992, I saw Bong Ravena play as an "import" for Balls Disco of the once-popular and now-defunct Cebu Basketball League (CBL).
His game was oh so easy to like. He had mad hops, a smooth jumper, and he could finish gracefully with both hands.
I've seen a lot of Ravena lately, this time on my laptop computer where I live stream the ongoing PBA Philppine Cup Finals in the small, wee hours of the morning here in Chicago.
Now 50, sporting an unruly, uncut pandemic-ravaged hair, Ravena currently works for TNT Tropang Giga and has since traded his shorts and jerseys for stiff khakis and collared shirts.
This is where the reverie takes a wild, weird turn.
Though his official designation is "head coach," Ravena isn't really functioning as one. He's more like a glorified spokesman.
The task of actually drawing plays and barking instructions from the sidelines belongs to Mark Dickel, whose job is described as "active consultant."
So during timeouts, when Dickel, a New Zealander, is feverishly smearing the clipboard, Ravena lingers away from the huddle like an expendable, sparkle-less ornament.
It's a terrible sight to behold.
And if your eyes are sore from the awkwardness and you're wondering why, grab a seat.
Article 40 of the Philippine Labor Code prohibits foreigners from taking on jobs if it has been determined that said jobs can be "competently performed by a Filipino."
This became the teeth of a case the Basketball Coaches Association of the Philippines (BCAP) won before the Court of Appeals to successfully bar non-Filipino head coaching hires in the PBA.
THIS LAW IS ARCHAIC. IT'S SPIRIT IS NO LONGER ATTUNED TO THE TIMES. CHANGE IS NEEDED.
The notion that foreigners are taking jobs from a local is silly. If basketball has no borders, coaches shouldn't be fenced, too.
Jimmy Alapag is chasing a coaching job in the U.S. while Thirdy Ravena is carving his journey in Japan.
What message does this send to our kids when we root for our own to chase their dreams in distant lands while we close our own doors to foreigners?
We now exist in a beautifully diverse world where technology has shrunk the oceans and made us closer to each other. And for societies to continue to thrive we need more bridges, not walls.
Filipino basketball coaches should view colleagues like Dickel and Tab Baldwin not as competitors in the job market but as collaborators in the workplace whose fresh ideas make our games even more vibrant.
Look, regardless of what you do, if you're good at it, you shouldn't be insecure about your job and worry about the footsteps.
I grew up watching coaches Baby Dalupan, Tommy Manotoc and Dante Silverio. Those legends will never be intimidated by an alien coach, whether he's black or as white as a Disney princess.
And our current coaches shouldn't be, too.
A law is only as effective as the obedience it commands. So what's the purpose of an edict when it is being blatantly circumvented by a careful use of semantics anyway?
The answer is inclusion. Not exclusion.
This piece won't make me popular with the so-called nationalists and purists.
But life is messy.
Deal with it.