Since 2015, I have been documenting the religious iconography in jeepney art, along Aurora Boulevard. This documentation is an offshoot on my research on public art and historical landmarks of different cities of the Philippines. My fascination with the religious themes in jeepney art grew from how unusual the combination of images are composed onto the jeepney, especially with the solemnity of the religious images being rendered beside images of popular culture. Part of those pop culture images are that of sports. And in the fields of sports, the most popular game to all Filipinos is basketball.
It is not surprising to find images of NBA players on the jeepneys, as the Filipino’s love for basketball can seen in every barangay (the smallest local government unit), with makeshift basketball courts found in the streets, or cleared out rice paddies and forests. Even with the popular Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Filipinos also keep up with the latest news on the NBA, as they do see these players as the best in the world.
In 1910, basketball was first introduced to the Philippines as part of the Physical Education programs of the public school system, under the American colonial regime (1898-1946). And by 1911, several schools were hold Interscholastic meets, with basketball as the main sport, among women. Later on, the Philippine National Basketball Team was organized, and they took the gold medal in the first Far Eastern Championship Games, in 1913. And from 1914 to 1923, the Philippines would continue to win the gold seven more times.
In the collegiate circuit, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was established in 1924, with basketball as the focal point for the championship games. This was followed by the founding of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), in 1938. Even if the schools that participate in the NCCA and the UAAP are all based in Metro Manila, these days, their basketball teams have a strong following among Filipinos in other provinces.
In 1936, the Basketball Association of the Philippines was organized, and the Philippines would join the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), on the same year. And in 1938, the first commercial basketball league was initiated, with the Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA). During the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Philippines ranked 5th in the world, winning four games out of 5, and reach the third qualifying heat and lose to the USA. In fact, J. Marzan Street in Sampaloc, Manila, was named after Jesús Marzan, a local resident and one of the basketball players in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
In 1951, basketball was introduced to the Asian Games, and the Philippine National Team would win the gold on that year. The Philippines would continue to dominate the basketball court of the Asian Games, up to 1961. During the 1954, during the FIBA World Championship, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Philippines took the bronze with a 5-2 win-loss record, which is still considered the best record for any Asian country in the World Cup. Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga y Matute (1936-2016) was named during the selection of the FIBA World Mythical Five, as the 3rd leading scorer in the whole games. The first FIBA Asia Championship (now the FIBA Asia Cup) was launched in 1960, and the Philippines would win the gold from 1960 to 1964, as it was lead by the tournament’s most valuable player Carlos Velasco Badion (1935-2002).
In 1975, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) was inaugurated, and was followed by the Philippine Amateur Basketball League (PABL) in 1983. The PBA is noted as the first professional basketball league in Asia, and it is the second oldest active league in the world next to the NBA, which was formed in 1946. From 1994 to 2017, the Philippine National Team has won 8 of the 12 SEABA Championships, which is hosted by the Southeast Asia Basketball Association; and has won 17 of the 19 Southeast Asian Games men’s basketball tournaments, from 1977 to 2017.
With rich history of international and local achievements in basketball, the game has become the unofficial national sport of the Philippines (the official National Sport is Arnis). In fact, many NBA superstars have recognized how big their Philippine fan base is, and have come over to give basket ball clinics and promote products to their local adoring fans. This idolization and portraying of NBA players on jeepneys may seem to clash with the religious iconography right beside it, or may conflict with the strong sense of nationalism of the Filipinos. However, the Filipino’s love of basketball knows no boundaries of nation, faith, or reality, as seen by the popularity of the1993-1996 Japanese basketball amine television series: “スラムダンク” (Slam Dunk). And the Filipino’s wide acceptance of world culture expands beyond food, music, film, and sports; as Filipinos expand their interest and knowledge in world mythology, which is the subject to the next and last article on the jeepney and culture.