Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Do not believe if somebody would tell you that the first Filipino-American in the NBA is Miami Heat head coach Erik C. Spoelstra. But forgive them for they do not know their basketball too well. No doubt, Spoelstra is the first NBA coach with Filipino American roots. He is proud of his Filipino roots. His mother is Elisa Celino from San Pablo, Laguna. He occasionally visits his mother’s hometown and visit Manila to conduct clinics and other activities to basketball fans, especially children. Coach Spo undeniably made history as first Fil-Am coach to reach NBA Finals. But is he the first Fil-Am in the NBA? It’s “No” according to this site.
The first half-Pinoy in the US pay-for-play league is Raymond Anthony Townsend, a A 6’3″, 175-lb point guard from UCLA who was the last pick in the first round (22nd overall) of the 1978 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. He concluded his NBA career in 1982 as a member of the Indiana Pacers. He also played in Italy for Banco Roma during the 1984-85 Season.
Raymond is the son of Ray Sr., (an American), and the former Virginia Marella, who happens to be a Filipina from Balayan, Batangas. This makes him a half-Filipino and the first in the NBA. Townsend (born December 20, 1955 in San Jose, California) is now a retired professional basketball player. At present, Townsend is the youth sports development coordinator in San Jose, California and was honored as UCLA Pilipino Alumni Association's Distinguished Alumnus of the Year on May 2, 2009.
Raymond Townsend reportedly explained, “I am a proud Filipino but in those days when I played, your culture or heritage were never an important issue because the game was dominated by the black athlete. Now with the influx of international players, the NBA is now commercializing the sport internationally with their marketing and taking their business into the world.” He further stressed that, “Little did the NBA know how much Basketball is the unifying factor for many of our people”. Aside from Townsend, Oklahoma City Thunder's ace guard Nate Robinson is also reportedly has 1/8th Filipino blood (Honestly, I do not know what that fraction means neither I am familiar with hematology!).
Townsend visited Batangas in the early 80s as a guest player in an exhibition game which was played by Freddie Hubalde, Terry Saldana, and other local players. He tried to apply in the PBA as import for two particular teams in the 90s but to no avail. Team officials said that Townsend was already “too old” for their teams.
Hey, the NBA Finals 2011 will begin tomorrow, June 1, Wednesday (Tuesday in the US) and just like 5 years ago, Miami and Dallas are the two teams that will be competing for the Championship. The rosters changed and no longer the same. Pat Riley handed the job to Erik Spoelstra and Avery Johnson to Rick Carlisle. Vengeance is ours, said the cowboys from Texas.
Call me an unpatriotic monster if you wish but I will not root for the Miami Heat in the Finals only because of Erik Spoelstra having a Filipino blood. Like Dirk, I am loyal to our team, the Dallas Mavericks. There are two questions heading for the series including my loyalist's reply:
Can the Mavs bounce back on Heat this time?
Can Dirk be stopped?
(Photo from Getty Images)