Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Review: Pacific Rims by Rafe Bartholomew

Well, kind of.

All along I had called him "Reyf", it seemed more sophisticated, more fitting to a tall, white, blonde man: more American. It turned out he hates being called that, (it's pronounced as Rahf). The players and coaching staff from the Alaska Aces, the club who took him in as some sort of an Insider, had injected an offensive pun. They called him Reyfist. How Filipino.

This is more a testimony of the author than the book. Because frankly, nothing in there surprised me. Well, nothing except the talk-off that ensued between Roe Ellis and Tim Cone during the halftime huddle of an all-important PBA Finals game 6 - - in some level, I guess I knew that the players and coaches are bound to clash at one point, I just didn't expect it to go down as dramatically. I would've loved to see it, but when I think about Tim Cone yelling "Fuck you" and kicking off a board, I scare off and change my mind. Everything about the flip-flops, the weird, albeit mesmerizing, rims, the traces of Basketball in all walks of Filipino life, and most importantly, the phenomenon that is the Ginebra Fandom (and how it really takes you on a cloud nine to be chanting GINEBRA! GINEBRA! even if you were losing), are somewhat old news to every Filipino hoops fan. Rafe's historical account of Philippine Basketball was more an offering to non-Filipinos; we, however, could only nod in recognition.

But still, I found myself squinting in either laugher, amazement, and disgust in the tales, as if I was only encountering these stories for the first time. There's something about an American writing about the most colloquialy Pinoy trademarks that is truly endearing. I can't believe Rafe had stopped at random sari-sari stores and taken part in corner-of-the-street leagues playing three-on-three with sweaty men who probably made fun of him in local dialects every time they get the chance. But Rafe loved all of it - every single bit of it, and because of that, Pacific rims becomes more than just a Basketball Book, it becomes a commentary on the beautiful country that Philippines is, and a reminder that some of us aren't loving it enough.

Halfway through the page, the pessimist in me was leaning into the thought that maybe Rafe was being phony. Countless people have helped him to achieve what would come to be the breakthrough in his career, ofcourse he owed the Philippines hearty praises. But when I got to the chapter when he started defending the Fil-Ams and their westernized swag, he proved to me his sincerity. I, too, find this Fil-Ams a little too airy for comfort, and to have an American defend them sets the point of the book's truth and the author's commendable candor. I also got the sense that when he described the Filipino players' strange fodness for carressing each other's butts, he was creeped out a bit, and that all the more warmed my heart because it meant the Philippine Culture was still very much our own, despite being reviewed as the melting pot of all foreign norms and thus, lacked identity. A dedicated gay heckler whom the players treat as if they didn't know the "ladyboy" lusted them incessantly - that's pure Pinoy for you, and I was kind of proud.

Let me share to you my favorite line from the book. Now this line came in many forms all throughout the pages, Rafe sees to it that this point was clear consistently, but this line, I think, painted the best picture of the immense love for Basketball Rafe said Pinoy had: "The devotion it must have taken to build an entire court from scratch touched me. It was one of the most sincere expressions of love I've ever laid my eyes on."

For a PBA fan, Pacific Rims was the locker-room pass I've always wanted. Granted, I would've much appreciated if it took me that deep into the Ginebra team rather than Alaska, but the Willie Miller anecdotes made up for it. I've always known the Thriller was a clown, I just didn't know it was that much, and for that, and for all the locker room exlusives, I'll forever be thankful for. You, Rafe, had just made a fangirl's dream come true.

It was during the last chapter, when the book got into a play-by-play narrative of Alaska's championship rally, that I found myself really manifesting the love of the game. When I read Fred Uytengsu's pre-game pep talk -- "I take a lot of pride in this organization because we play by the rules; we do it by the book. We're decent human beings. Guys, you are great men. Tonight, you are going to beat the little men." - - I felt a hot sudden surge of air in my nasal area, the one which is usually a pre-emptive when I'm about to cry. Well, I didn't. But I was almost there, and that's exactly what Basketball does to you, even if it was some other team, it was still Basketball, and it could very well move you to tears. I don't exactly remember watching that game, but as a die-hard Ginebra fan who took the Gary Granada lyrics of the 90's Alaska reign over the Gin Kings seriously, as a Tim Cone non-believer and a loyal, often-harassed, follower of Mac Cardona, I was probably on my couch enthusiastically waiting for Alaska to lose. But to be taken back to that moment, in the behind-the-scenes of Alaska's debacle, I almost wished I could've rewind back to that game and cheered for the Aces instead. I felt for them at that moment.

I also knew how the series was going to turn out. But I poured into those chapters feeling like it was all just happening now, gasping over late-game scrambles as if I didn't know Alaska was eventually going to be champions anyway. I guess that explains why Basketball Fans still watch replays with the same mood they watched the real thing with - there's just something about the tipping of the ball, the flight towards the basket, the monumental pauses the ref takes before making the call, and the joy that moves through your entire body if the call favored your team - - that even if you watch it a thousand times over, the magic remains the same.

And that's what made reading Pacific Rims an unforgettable experience; the passion Rafe had for writing the book I share - - definitely not as much, not even close, but still - - the language he'd written this love story in, I understand. And that made me feel the same unexplainable flutter in your heart that Basketball gives you: like you were part of the team, like you belonged. And that to me seemed quite marvelous.

*The last sentence was borrowed from Paulo Coelho's Zahir


  1. Great commentary,I will buy a copy of that PRs

  2. You should sir, It's better than all the good reviews combined.