Bones & Bears

Manila Bulletin - - Views • Features - By JOSÉ ABETO ZAIDE gmail.com joseabetozaide@

DE­SPITE LeBron James’ 42point game, Celtics swamped Cleve­land again,107-94 to take 2-0 lead on home court; while War­riors stole Game 1 at Hous­ton home court, 107-94. As hoopla-crazed Pi­noys would say, bilog ang bola.

*** To reach out to the Filipino com­mu­nity abroad, we never miss two wa­ter­ing holes – church events and bas­ket­ball. This ac­count is about the sec­ond, about a team that didn’t have a prayer, but sur­prised even them­selves and up­ended oth­ers to be­come cham­pi­ons.

As Philip­pine Am­bas­sador, I was asked to open bas­ket­ball games all over Ger­many, be­cause to Pi­noys hoopla still tops football. One of our fa­vorite stops, (be­cause it pro­vided pil­grim com­fort to guests and five-star hospitality), was the Filipino Catholic Com­mu­nity (FCC) an­nual bas­ket­ball league in Essen hosted by the Camil­lians, Fr. Di­et­mar We­ber and Fr. Manny Ta­mayo. (Fr. Ta­mayo is a young priest from Pam­panga, a diminu­tive point for­ward with the court savvy of Johnny Abar­ri­en­tos. He is ca­pa­ble of tricks on the hard­court that he might chas­tise at the con­fes­sional.)

*** On my sec­ond year, I kept my prom­ise to not just in­au­gu­rate the tour­na­ment, but to field a Philip­pine Em­bassy team. We com­peted at the Septem­ber 2001 tour­na­ment as the Bones & Bears team, (af­ter our Em­bassy in Ber­lin and its ex­ten­sion of­fice in Bonn). Our gray-and-white play­ing togs with a Ber­lin Bear clutch­ing a gi­ant Bone was spon­sored by ABS-CBN. I in­tro­duced our “Myth­i­cal First Five” (more myth than real, our courage greater than our strength): Con­sul Gen­eral Joey “Big J” Ji­meno, “Kaba­bata ni Jawo, cen­ter,” (mak­ing him a big hit and dar­ling of the bleach­ers); Manny Co­mia and Gary Aux­il­ian, for­wards, “Dalawang Vice Con­suls na madal­ing lap­i­tan para sa pass­ports… maasa­han sa as­sis­tanceto-na­tion­als, kahit anong oras man;” and Con­sul Solfie Con­fi­ado “po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cer” and my­self (also play­ing-coach) as guards. The rest of the team - Ron­nie Vil­lanueva, Eric Rubas, Molly Mo­rales and sons (Jamil, Joey Jr., Rom­mel, An­dré) were ac­tu­ally the real hit­ters and main­stay play­ers.

I played half of the time be­cause rank has its priv­i­lege. I also said words which would prove prophetic, “Bones & Bears will not be cham­pi­ons… but if you want to be cham­pion, you have to beat this team!” We won our first game, and were elim­i­nated on los­ing our sec­ond game to the Caviteños, who even­tu­ally be­came cham­pi­ons af­ter best­ing six other teams.

We didn’t win the cham­pi­onship, nor the best-in-uni­form de­spite the gen­er­ous sup­port of ABS-CBN Europe. But we were voted the most sports­man­like team at the FCC league 2001. And our deep bench made friends, ex­tended pass­port ser­vices and were con­sulted on var­i­ous ques­tions dur­ing the two­day af­fair.

*** For the 2002 FCC tour­na­ment, we re­turned with vengeance – with “im­ports” of four strong play­ers from the com­mu­nity. This time our uni­forms were spon­sored by our hon­orary Con­sul Josef Wiedler’s com­pany Gothap­last, a plas­ter-man­u­fac­turer with prod­ucts sim­i­lar to our lo­cal Salon­pas. The high num­bers plas­tered on our backs like band-aids were ac­tu­ally the real age of the player.

Still, we beat Bruser Berg, 47-39, and the ti­tle fa­vorites Young Oldies, 41-31, on Satur­day, to qual­ify for the Sun­day quar­ter­fi­nals. But at great cost. Our star for­ward Eric Rubas pulled a mus­cle and could not raise his right arm next morn­ing. The first thing we did on reach­ing the sta­dium was to seek out the ven­er­a­ble san­sei who was a known hilot to put Eric back to­gether.

We beat New Sox, 38-31, to step up for the re­match and the cham­pi­onship game vs. Young Oldies, whose strong Paris im­ports had ear­lier rough-housed their quar­ter­fi­nals and semi-fi­nals op­po­nents. They were aching for re­venge on Bones & Bears. By that time the Young Oldies coach must have read our play – “basta li­bre, shoot.” But I had an­other se­cret weapon: I sic-ed Ron­nie on their play­maker; hound­ing him all over the court. We up­set their play: the ball-hawker lost his mo­men­tum, missed his shots and was forced into er­rors and sev­eral turnovers.

To fast-break a long story, we won the cup, beat­ing cocky Young Oldies by a wider mar­gin, 46-30. (They had even of­fered bet­ting odds “plus 5” for Bones & Bears). It was a heady feel­ing to be cham­pi­ons; although this time we did not win the 2002 most sports­man­like team tro­phy. There were much frayed nerves, er­rant el­bows, and the ref­er­ees had to stop the play twice to keep the game from de­gen­er­at­ing to box­ing-brawl.

***

I hate to dis­ap­point our boys; but we are not in the busi­ness of win­ning cham­pi­onships: Our role is to cham­pion ev­ery­one’s cause. So at for the 2003 tour­na­ment, Bones & Bears came in uni­form, but only as deco­rous vis­i­tors. I again in­tro­duced our own “Myth­i­cal First Five” and our con­sular ser­vices to the bleach­ers; and we re­turned to mak­ing-friends-and-in­flu­enc­ing-peo­ple. Fi­nally, I do­nated the Am­bas­sador’s Cup, which will be kept per­ma­nently by the team which wins three con­sec­u­tive tour­na­ments.

***

This is how a team with­out a prayer of win­ning be­came cham­pi­ons, chose good­will, and re­tired to the Hall of Fame.

Culled from the book “Bababa, ba? Anec­dotes of a For­eign Ser­vice Of­fi­cer.” FEED­BACK:

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