Why Basketball is a Major Part of the Filipino Culture

By Marianne Blando

“Who’s your first love?” I asked my kuya (older brother), whom I thought to be too shy when it comes to girls. “Basketball,” he condescendingly responded. My 9-year-old self found his answer unacceptable because I was asking for a who and not a what. Plus, how could you love a sport like that?
Growing up with a kuya who loved basketball meant getting your face slammed with a basketball because he was trying to do a blind pass, seeing him do his unconscious fade away shot with an imaginary ball, following his eyes as you speak to him while he’s dribbling. He had posters of the late Kobe Bryant and a miniature ring and ball in his room. He played in the basketball team of his university, and he still signed up for different leagues outside his school. When he had nothing to do, he went outside to play street basketball wearing his tsinelas (flip-flops).
He’s gotten injured several times. He needed his eyelid stitched after getting badly elbowed. He got rushed to the emergency room after hitting his head on the floor due to an unsuccessful rebound, and other stuff that’ll make you queasy. The man just really can’t get enough of basketball.
His defense? “Ball is life.”
I saw all these as an arbitrary obsession over basketball – an infatuation. But as I got older, this “obsession” and the “ball is life” attitude unraveled itself into something deeper and larger than the game itself.
Basketball in the Philippines
Basketball has been ingrained in the Filipino culture that if there’s one thing you’ll see most often in communities, it’s gonna be a basketball court. Basketball is a way of life, heck, it’s a religion for Filipinos as some might say. In the Philippines, the sport goes from the streets to arenas, and whether you’re a player or a spectator, all you’ll feel is the love for basketball.
Street basketball is the rawest form of basketball that you’ll commonly see in the Philippines. As it’s called, the game is played on the streets. It doesn’t require a referee since it’s more like a casual pick up game. All it takes is people who want to play, a wooden board, a metal ring, and of course, a ball. Its simplicity and sense of pakikisama (solidarity) reflect so much of the Filipino passion for basketball because you come to the game as you are, almost to the point of fully identifying with the game.
There are plenty of leagues in the Philippines where if you’re in college, especially in Manila, you can try out for the intercollegiate leagues held by either of the two popular collegiate athletic associations in the Philippines known as the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and the Philippine National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). If you’re aiming to go for basketball as a profession, you can look into the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) or renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao’s Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL).
From all of these, the beauty of the Filipinos’ undying passion for basketball is that they’ve honed physical and mental skills that they can apply even out of the court. This is because it’s the sport that brings people together, and at the same time, it’s the sport that allows for self-improvement.
Since basketball is a contact sport, injuries cannot be avoided, just like what my kuya experienced. But despite the wounds from scraping one’s knee on the concrete floor, the blisters from playing with either only tsinelas (flip-flops) on or even barefoot, the countless times of getting hit and falling on the ground, players always always always stand back up to do better than they did the first time.
Outside the court, what Filipinos have is the grit to rise from various adversities. As we may have read or heard, the Philippines faced the casualties brought upon by the Taal Volcano eruption last January 12, 2020. Yet we’ve seen the sense of pakikisama (solidarity) through Filipinos spreading social awareness, informing people where to get the much needed N95 masks, fundraisers, and more to help the victims affected by the eruption.
It’s this immeasurable resilience and appetite for improvement that is underlined by the Filipino values seen on and off the basketball court.
Thus, the Mamba Mentality.

Kobe Bryant and The Mamba Mentality
Last January 26, 2020, the whole world mourned the death of the five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant. Kobe Bryant is one of the Filipinos’ most beloved NBA heroes. Numerous basketball players, spanning from street basketball players to PBA players, have imparted the impact of Kobe Bryant in their lives.
His philosophy of the Mamba Mentality has been powerful that his legacy is continuously lived out by each and every player, whether from the streets or from arenas.
Kobe Bryant has been millions of people’s reason why they started playing basketball, and they all got to share the love, not only for the sport but for the love for life as well.
So to my kuya, I agree. Ball is life, indeed.