Lessons for Filipinos from the NBA
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-05-22
Basketball-loving Filipinos are now glued to their television sets in following the hard court drama of the NBA (National Basketball Association) Conference Finals. In the East, the Chicago Bulls are matched against the Miami Heat. In the West, the Dallas Mavericks are facing the Oklahoma City Thunder.

From among the four contenders, only the newly recharged Miami Heat was considered a serious Playoffs contender early on in the season. The Miami Heat had three awesome superstars - Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Early season favorites had been the defending champions Los Angeles Lakers and its archrival, the Boston Celtics. The Miami Heat was considered the Dark Horse.

Who would have thought that the Dallas Mavs would sweep the LA Lakers? Who would have thought that the Miami Heat, erratic for a good part of the season, would eliminate the Boston Celtics in five games? Only Nostradamus could have predicted that but alas for Lakers and Celtics fans — it had come to pass.

As we Filipinos enjoy the unfolding climax of this NBA season, let us also learn a few nuggets of wisdom from the global success of the NBA.

Lesson in standards and incentives

The NBA got to be a global success because they set for themselves high standards and they offered very enticing rewards for those who would meet if not surpass the standards. Our “pwede na yan (that will do)” attitude has no place in the NBA.

The NBA can stare any other basketball league in the world and state that they are the best. Once the kings of basketball in Asia, we can only dominate now the Southeast Asian Games. It was pwede na yan that got us to this state.

For senior citizens like me who have followed the NBA since it was first telecast here during the mid-1960s, we have witnessed NBA players reinvent new levels of playing excellence. Impressive as the Bill Russells and the Bob Couseys of the 1960s were, the Magic Johnsons and the Larry Birds of the 1980s topped their brand of basketball. Just as we thought that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird established the ultimate in player performance — along came Michael Jordan.

One thing the NBA is rich with that we Filipinos could use a moderate dose of is a culture of excellence. It’s time we realized that pwede na yan only translates to “hanggang diyan ka na lang (that’s as far as you go).”

Lesson in fair competition
The transitions from one dynasty to the next King of the Hill that we have witnessed in the NBA were made possible by fair rules. Every NBA team is given the equal opportunity to improve its team roster. The least performer gets to pick first from the new players joining the league. Salary caps maintain balanced competition.

The NBA has ensured that they will complement the excellence of their players with equally excellent officiating. The league leaves no stone unturned in ensuring that all NBA referees are competent and fair. Not too long ago, they sacked a referee for suspicion of game fixing. That referee, Tom Donaghy, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for felony conspiracy charges involving games in the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons.

One of the biggest reasons why we have a backward country is because of the Opportunity Gap. Many Filipinos do manage to earn a college degree but when they venture into the job market, they find that there are not enough jobs available or they are forced to accept salaries not commensurate to their qualifications. This is also why we have millions of our countrymen working overseas.

We have one administration after another announcing that they will bring foreign investors to our shores in order to help develop our economy. One of the biggest disincentives to investors is unfair competition. An investor should not have to seek political patronage to be able to do business here. An investor should be assured that our laws are uniformly applied to foreigners and Filipinos alike.

Lesson in teamwork

In the NBA, almost always the better team won. In the 1968-69 Finals of the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers, the Lakers appeared to have the stronger lineup because they had Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor playing for them. However, NBA championships are won by team play and not by impressive player resumes. The ball passing, aggressively defending Boston Celtics beat the LA Lakers in their 1968-69 engagement in the NBA Finals.  

The core of teamwork in the NBA is team defense. You cannot play good defense if all five players on the court will not do their prescribed tasks and cover for a fellow player when his man gets loose. The greatest champion teams of the NBA were all aggressive defenders. The 1960s Boston Celtics, the late 1960s and early 1970s New York Knicks, the 1980s LA Lakers and Boston Celtics, the late 1980s Detroit “Bad Boys” Pistons, the back-to-back champs Houston Rockets — they were all great defenders.

Even the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls were great defenders. They had the likes of Dennis Rodman to ensure that they dominated the boards. The last winning play of the last Michael Jordan championship with the Bulls, played against the Utah Jazz, was triggered by a Michael Jordan defensive gem. In the closing seconds, during a crucial Jazz play that could wins the game for the Jazz — Michael Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone.

It’s not that we Filipinos are incapable of teamwork. Our Bayanihan (community spirit) is all about teamwork. Filipinos are genuinely kind and considerate people who would like to help if asked and if it is in their capacity to help.

It could be the inequities in our society that push Filipinos to be more self-seeking, to be envious, to be ever on the alert for an opportunity for predation. Indeed, we are a people with deeply contrasting behavioral patterns. No doubt, this “schizophrenic” aspect of our national character was induced by experiential as well as educational circumstances.

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