WHAT do Mayor Edgar Labella and Vice Mayor Mike Rama have in common other than their passion for politics? It’s their love of basketball, a sport that they played in their younger years.
Labella was the star player of our Liberal Arts intramural team at the University of the Visayas and later captained their law school squad at the University of San Carlos. Rama, on the other hand, was the hotshot who helped rescue the Gullas Law School squad from its usual and anticipated place at the bottom of the intramural games also at the UV.
Their playing days are over, gone long time ago, but I’m sure they still remember what it takes to win, the importance of understanding one’s role in the team and playing his strengths while covering a teammate’s weakness; and that each game is a unique experience from which valuable lessons can be learned, including those that the team should have won but lost and those that seemed hopeless but where the team salvaged a win.
Rama inevitably references basketball when he talks about his political career, crediting the game for honing his other skills. Indeed, the game can shape someone’s future. But can it influence a nation’s present?
Players, coaches and team owners of the National Basketball Association hope it can. Last Thursday, six teams still in the hunt for the NBA title boycotted their games, producing a domino effect that almost resulted in the cancellation of the league’s 2019-2020 season. The Milwaukee Bucks started it all, refusing to report to the court for their game against the Orlando Magic. The Magic could have claimed a forfeit but chose the high moral ground and went back to their hotel.
The Bucks are from Wisconsin, where three days earlier in a small city called Kenosha, the police shot a Black man seven times on the back while trying to enter the driver’s side door of an SUV where his three young children were waiting. Nerves were still raw from the killing of George Floyd also by policemen in May in Minneapolis when Jacob Blake met his fate. Blake survived the shooting but barely, he is paralyzed from the waist down and, according to his lawyer, will need a miracle to be able to walk again.
(Blake was unarmed at the time that he was shot although the police would claim in an afterthought that a knife was found inside his SUV. The tale is of course familiar to us, inured as we have become to claims that victims were killed in a shootout, but the claim still floored me perhaps because I never thought that the narrative could change just as conveniently in the good old United States of America.)
About 90 percent of NBA players are Black so it was not surprising that the brunt of another act of police violence against men of color should weigh heavily on them. LeBron James, who has been very active in the fight against racial injustice, may have summed up the feelings of every Black NBA player when he said after the Lakers’ Game 4 win over the Portland Trailblazers: “I know people are tired of hearing me say it but we are scared as Black people in America.”
As the players’ outrage grew, the NBA season hung precariously in the balance. The philosophy behind the boycott was best summed up by a player who famously said, “you deny us justice, we will deny you entertainment.”
The players have since agreed to play the remaining games of the tournament with Chicago Bull great Michael Jordan, who is now the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, playing a key role in the negotiations. I hope that their brief strike had a positive influence on the conscience of the American nation.
In the meantime, we can have our entertainment back. We might even see a resumption of the NBA games as early as today. I’m sure Edgar Labella and Mike Rama will be watching. The mayor called last Sunday to ask if my cable TV signal was good and said he would call Cignal to complain after I said yes.
Who knows if, after watching the games, they will become even better - and more successful - teammates.