Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Black Superman

Speaking of Philippine Basketball, I was reminded of Bill Simmon's tribute to David Halberstam where I learned that one of my favorite authors actually wrote about Billy Ray Bates in his book "Breaks of the Game". I haven't read the book but it seems that David Halberstam was not impressed with Billy Ray Bates.
"The underdog grew up on a cotton farm. He could barely read. He could barely stay in school. A freelancing guard with powerful legs, there were dozens of prospects just like him, players with more than enough talent who fell through the cracks for whatever reason. When he landed on the team that wasn't so perfect anymore, he saved a wasted season playing the exact one-on-one style that the coach despised. By the time the playoffs rolled around, fans knew his name and announcers breathlessly pumped him up in pregame shows. During the final few minutes of the Seattle series, teammates cleared out for him and stood around as the underdog tried to beat three guys off the dribble at once. Sometimes, he even did. The perfect team had become something else, just another screwed-up team in a screwed-up league."
At that time, NBA games were not shown in the Philippines so the first time I heard of Billy Ray Bates was when he became an import for my favorite PBA team, the Crispa Redmanizers. It was 1983 and he became instrumental in making Crispa win the 3 PBA tournaments held that year, which in the Philippines is referred to as a grand slam. It was the second time Crispa won the grand slam. Billy Ray Bates was a joy to watch, he seemingly could make shots from anywhere, he does not really play defense but when he had to, he delivered. I remember watching him play against Norman Black, the quintessential Philippine import who have led and will lead his teams to championships. Billy Ray Bates described his experience then.
""Those people, they loved me," he later told The Oregonian. "There, I was like Michael Jordan. I could have anything I wanted. All I had to do was snap my fingers. I had my own condo, my own car and my own bodyguard with an Uzi. Had to fight off the women.""
Billy Ray Bates' later life was less than stellar, but I will always remember him as the Black Superman of Philippine Basketball. I am confident that my contemporaries will too.

Highlights from Youtube

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