June Mar Fajardo will be a key player for the San Miguel Beermen in game seven of the Philippine Cup. Photo: Courtesy of the PBA

PBA Philippine Cups Finals | Manila | May 15

Destiny or Dynasty? To be or not to be? These are the questions weighing heavy on the minds of Philippine hoop fans as the upstart Magnolia Hotshots prepare to meet the dynastic San Miguel Beermen in a deciding game seven on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum for all the glory in the ultimate championship of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).

Yes, they do have a penchant for hyperbole in the Philippine sports media, where they like to frame things almost in a biblical context.

However, it comes from a place of great passion and basketball is a national obsession like nowhere else in the world. Nowhere. The roots of the game stretch back to the late 1800’s when American colonizers introduced both basketball and baseball into school curriculums.

But while baseball icons Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig famously came through Manila in 1934 on a barnstorming tour of Asia, the game never really caught on.

Basketball, though, was far more engaging to Filipinos and the national team’s bronze medal victory at the 1954 FIBA World Championship remains the only medal won by an Asian side at either a world championship or an Olympic Games.

In 2023, the Philippines, along with Japan and Indonesia, will co-host the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Long before the NBA was on every TV in the country, the PBA ruled. Founded in 1975 when a group of teams sought to break free from the clutches of the Basketball Association of the Philippines, it is not only the first professional basketball league in Asia but also, according to league historians, “the second oldest continuous professional basketball league existing in the world after the NBA.”

Folk heroes

The PBA has spawned a number of local folk heroes, most notably Robert “Sonny” Jaworski, the “Living Legend.”

Born in Manila to a Polish American father and Filipino mother, the point guard became the first player-coach in the history of the PBA over a distinguished 23-year career and managed to parlay his mythical stature into a six-year stint in the country’s Senate.

While a number of the NBA stalwarts have also played in the PBA, among them Kevin Porter, Cedric Ceballos and Reggie Williams, there is a special reverence reserved for local heroes, hence the significance of the Philippine Cup.

Unlike the Commissioner’s or the Governor’s Cup, the Philippine Cup technically has no imported players and was known until 2005 as the PBA All-Filipino Cup. It is by far the most prestigious of the three competitions and while the Beermen have won 25 league trophies over the years, their current run of four straight victories in the Philippine Cup has come to be their defining moment.

The Beermen have been described by locals as a cross between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, the two most successful NBA franchises, and after a dry spell in the mid-1990s, they have returned to prominence with a vengeance in the 21st century.

Arguably the coolest team nickname in all of sports, the Beermen also made history when they became the first professional basketball team to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series by beating the Alaska Aces in the 2015-16 Philippine Cup finals.

Commonly referred to as the “Beeracle” and the “Mother of all Comebacks”, the victory has now taken on mythical status. 

YouTube video

Looking to make it an unprecedented five straight titles, the Beermen are once again led by towering June Mar Fajardo. Standing close to seven feet tall, Fajardo is nicknamed ‘The Kraken’, after the legendary Scandinavian sea beast, and the five-time reigning conference player of the year was instrumental in the Beermen’s 98-86 game six victory to force Wednesday’s pivotal showdown.

In a winner take all game seven matchup, all clichés apply and compounding the drama will be 16,000 fans crammed into Araneta Coliseum, the storied arena where Muhammad Ali outdueled Joe Frazier in the legendary “Thrilla in Manila” fight.  The choice is yours, Philippines – destiny or dynasty? Take your pick.

Fifth Italian Film Festival Bangkok | Bangkok | May 16-26

Turnabout is fair play. After the Far East Film Festival wrapped things up last week in northern Italy, the Italians are returning the cinematic favor by hosting a series of domestic films in Bangkok over an eight-day period starting from May 16 at Cinema Oasis.

“It’s actually more a revue than a festival,” Marco Gatti, the director and organizer of the festival, said. “But we call it a festival and it will be festive.”

There will be no limos and VIP’s, no red carpet to walk either. But while it will be short on star power and industry heavyweights, the event will nonetheless showcase a new, more open and international wave in Italian cinema with 10 first-run films in Asia.

“Things are evolving in Italian film,” Gatti said. “Thanks to platforms like Netflix, our filmmakers and technicians are being exposed to cinema and film techniques at the highest levels now.”

While legendary and influential director Federico Fellini came to define Italian cinema by blending fantasy and baroque images with raw drama, his appeal was mostly among erudite cinematic fans.

“Not many people outside of Italy, other than hardcore film fans, knew Fellini’s name when he was alive,” Gatti said. “Now his work gets all kind of exposure and renown thanks to platforms like Netflix. And Italian cinema, as well, is dealing with more international themes.”

The festival is organized by the Dante Alighieri Cultural Association of Bangkok and according to Gatti, the crowd is traditionally a mix of half Thais and half foreigners. The Italian musical Forever You kicks things off and the festival runs through May 26.

Tim Noonan is a writer based in Bangkok and Toyko, covering sports and culture. Follow him on twitter @T_NoonanEast

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