(The article 1st appeared in the Insight, Man to man section of Men’s Health's October 2012 issue)
WHEN I look at my pictures during my first few years in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), I remember how I used to be painfully shy and a little bit defensive, which people mistakenly took as my being somewhat aloof. But the thing is, aside from my basketball skills, I had to use those as my weapons against the world of Philippine basketball.
Back in 1981, when I first came to the Philppines, I played for a very controversial national team. The public didn’t embrace us. So almost automatically, it put a black hat on me. I still carried that when I moved to the PBA after three years. Add to that the enormous amount of hype and publicity I got, and a lot of people were turned off by my entry into the PBA.
Although I understood their position, I still found it very painful to read some of the articles written about me. Some were also very racist. That made me become kind of an introvert. But I think the way I handled it — the hype, scrutiny, [and] criticism — was exactly what I needed to do. I didn’t read the newspapers very often. I didn’t get involved with my hype nor saturate myself with it — doing so would have been counterproductive. Instead, I focused on my work. I worked hard every day at practice, and when the time came to cross the line, it was 100 percent all business to me. See, I knew what I could and couldn’t do as a basketball player. You’ll win games, and you’ll lose games. You can’t get too high or too low on yourself, and you really need to kind of maintain a balance in what you’re doing.
I think that’s how every Filipino-American player should act. They should never get too involved in their own hype. Because the reality is they’re here. If they were that good, they probably wouldn’t be here. I used to say that to some American imports. Whenever they would get cocky and say, 'Oh, I’m gonna score 70 points here,' I’d always tell them, 'Hey, always remember there’s one thing we have in common. We were cut somewhere along the line.' Because when you start believing your own hype, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. You always have to look at it like you always have to be better. Always think, 'I’m never good enough.' I was my harshest critic. That’s why hype never overcame me.
But, of course, that only applies to me. I was never critical of my teammates or how the game was played here. I think it’s common sense that when you come into a new team, let alone into a different country, with a lot of hype, you have to work hard, share the basketball, and never criticize anyone — at all. It would be plain dumb to do that. So I tried to get along with everybody. I also realized that even though there are some things being done differently here as opposed to the States, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wrong. One thing about basketball is there might be different philosophies, but basketball is basketball.
And besides, I’m not a critical person. I’m the total opposite. I’ll always remember this vision in the PBA, which I thought was extremely difficult to witness and was very new and a little bit different to me at that time: when a player makes a mistake or two in a game, often the coach will yank him, substitute him. That walk from the court to the bench is the longest walk in life, and often his teammates won’t say anything, let alone move. So what I used to do was I would go over to the guy, give him a high five, and say, 'Hey, man, it’s okay. We’re good. Don’t worry about it. You’re going to get back in.' I’ve always believed that emotions play big into performance.
So that’s what I remember about the early years. By ’85, I was a little more relaxed. I was already married. My wife is from Ilocos. I eat a lot of dinengdeng and pinakbet. I have a malunggay tree in my backyard — the true benchmark of an Ilokano. I was at home with my team, Great Taste, back then. We had a great team, a really strong team. We were all young. The chemistry was good. I was playing for Baby Dalupan, a coach I loved. At one point, we won four straight championships. The ownership was very supportive. Everything just came together.
It was also around that time when I began to understand the tremendous passion and knowledge that the Filipino basketball fans have. I knew basketball was important here, but I didn’t realize that there was such tremendous passion. When I talked to people back in the States about Philippine basketball, I always tell them about how different the fans here are.
Here in the Philippines, they want a good show [and want you to perform], they want to see good basketball, but there’s also a connection with you individually. There’s almost an 'ownership' of you, and there are expectations of you that you have to fulfill. That’s why it’s really important that players know that one of their jobs here is to make sure that they engage and accommodate the fans. That will make their life a lot better, and they will have tremendous fan support.
That’s the formula for being a successful Filipino basketball player: First, you have to have some talent because if you can’t play, you can’t fool anybody. But if you have some talent and you play hard every night and you show some humility and you’re willing to engage the fans? They will love and embrace you. It took me a while to get there, to understand that. That’s why I’ll always remember those harsh comments. They were in Tagalog, but I knew enough Tagalog to know what they were basically saying. But when I got it, when I understood it, and this is true especially later in my career, if you were up there heckling me, you’d be taking your life into your own hands because I had some fans who would come after you. Sure, it didn’t happen overnight. But I found that once the Filipino fans embrace you, they’ll stick by you forever.
KEEP FIT AT 50
There’s a reason why Ricardo Brown looks just like he did during his heyday in the ’80s — that’s minus the ‘stache and ‘fro, of course. Here’s how he does it.
POWER WALKS. “I’m almost obsessed with working out. I’ve had three back surgeries, so there are certain things that I can’t do. But what I do with great passion is treadmill workouts. I do a lot of ab work there through power walking. I basically just throw uppercuts for 30 minutes straight. Then I do staggered workouts: five minutes at 5.2 miles per hour (mph) and 30-second sets at 4 mph. I do that for about 35 minutes.”
WATCH WHAT YOU EAT. “I’m very disciplined in what I eat. I eat a lot of grilled chicken breasts. And as I’ve said, my wife is from Ilocos, so we eat a lot of vegetables. I don’t go out and eat a big hamburger with fries and stuff like that. Part of that is, it’s just who I am and also because of my back. If I get heavy, if my stomach gets soft, my back’s going to suffer. And for my age, I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been since I played. It’s from hard work. It’s not natural. I could sit back and eat a bag of potato chips every night, but it wouldn’t help me.”