SINGAPORE – Proof that basketball is ingrained among Filipinos, a lot of OFWs here have found ways to remain close to the sport by playing pick-up games during their free time.
There are also those who take their passion a notch higher by joining leagues exclusive for Filipinos.
“Masaya kapag may mga pa-liga dito,” related Aldhrin Guiao, a former varsity player at Colegio de San Lorenzo who now works in the thriving IT industry in the Lion City.
The 26-year-old Guiao is just one of many Singapore-based OFWs who regularly play in several basketball leagues organized for a Filipino community that is close to 200,000 strong.
In fact, in a span of two weeks, two title games will be played among Filipino ballers. One will have a team of Mapua alumni going up against their counterparts from different Pampanga schools in an inter-school championship. In early April, a champion team will also be determined in a league among IT professionals.
“Masaya at competitive din,” said IT operations manager Rolando Prado in a chat with Manila-based reporters, describing the basketball landscape among Filipinos working here.
Prado and his wife own the famous ‘Lutong Pinoy’ restaurant located at the Lucky Plaza Mall in Orchard Road where most of Filipinos converge to get their taste of Pinoy food and other merchandise.
Prado also acts as manager of a few teams seeing action in Filipino leagues, including the group of Mapua alumni and a ballclub in an IT league that bears the name of the ‘Lutong Pinoy’ restaurant.
So far, Prado has been successful in managing his teams, with the trophies they’ve won a can’t-miss presence in one of of his restaurants located at the Lucky Plaza mall called ‘Lechon Pinoy.’
Lutong Pinoy, which also attracts several Filipino players from the Asean Basketball League (ABL) during their stop in this progressive city – where Game Four of the finals against the Westports Malaysia Dragons is set Sunday – likewise sponsors a much-bigger league for Filipinos in the city called Gilas Basketball League that has 30 teams competing in two divisions - the 5-foot-10 below and 5-foot-8 below.
Prado first set foot in Singapore around 16 years ago when only a single league for OFWs was being held.
But with more Filipinos venturing into business here, several basketball leagues have sprouted and the number of teams have consequently grown.
“Every weekend sila naglalaro. Kapag opening ng liga, maraming tao. May ensayo kapag hindi sila busy sa trabaho. Nagpapakundisyon talaga ‘yung ibang teams,” bared Prado.
Filipino basketball leagues are also not lacking in familiar faces. Among the notable ones include Nestor David, who plays as part of the UP alumni team, the same school he played for in the UAAP during the 2000s.
The leagues are very competitive, too, according to Prado.
“Meron din konting cash prize at siyempre bragging rights. Competitive ‘yung mga laro. Talagang pisikalan, lalo na sa championship,” he said.
Prado said being both manager and player keeps him close to the game closest to Filipinos' hearts, while away from home.
“Kapag kasi nag-support ka, nandoon ‘yung competitiveness in me na kailangan mong manalo. Sinasabi ko rin sa mga players na maging competitive pati sa trabaho,” he said.
For Guiao and the other players, basketball keeps them preoccupied and ease homesickness while living away from their families.
“Nakakawala ng stress at nakakawala ng homesickness,” said Guiao.
Prado added: “Nabo-bored sila, naho-home sick. At least dito, meron silang something to look forward to.”