They also can play. In just about every barangay, street corner, and province clearing, you’ll find a makeshift wooden hoop ready to fall over, surrounded by little kids, teens, and grown men (and women!) alike, running and jumping barefoot or in slippers, playing the game they truly love.
But while the Philippines is huge on hoops, they fall shy on exporting their own Pinoy players to participate in the NBA. So, has there ever been a Philippine-born player in the NBA?
Let’s find out by reviewing some possible candidates:
The embodiment of Filipino hoop dreams, Jordan Clarkson is a legit Pinoy player who is enjoying a solid NBA career. However, Clarkson, born of an African-American father and half-Filipino mother, is only ¼ Filipino by blood. And while he was born and raised in the U.S., he's carried a Philippines passport since 12 years old. Just as important, Clarkson identifies with his Filipino heritage and roots.
"After one of the natural disasters they had over there, I saw a picture where it's flooded, and kids are still playing basketball with the hoop still standing," Clarkson told a reporter after Typhoon Yolanda. “Just showing love for the game over there and how pivotal basketball is, how far it stretches.” He started his career with the LA Lakers and signed a 4-year, $50 million contract before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in February, where he shares the court with Lebron James.
The conversation about Filipino players in the NBA often quickly turns to Erik Spoelstra, the head coach of the Miami Heat who is also half Filipino (on his mother’s side). Although he never played in the NBA, Spoelstra was one of the youngest head coaches in NBA history, as well as the first Asian American head coach in major U.S. sports, and won multiple championships with the Heat.
Most Filipinos under thirty years old might have only heard of the name "Raymond Townsend" from their father or grandfather, but Townsend is a half Filipino (his mother is from Batangas, his father, an American). However, Townsend was born in San Jose, California, not the Philippines, although his credentials on the basketball court are not in doubt. After productive collegiate years at UCLA under the storied coach John Wooden, Townsend was drafted by the Golden State Warriors, where he played until 1981. In 1980, Townsend accompanied a group of fellow NBA players as they visited the Philippines, playing exhibition games in Manila, Olongapo, and Cebu.
Wait, Nate Robinson, the diminutive 2010 Slam Dunk Champion who appears to be African-American is Filipino? Possibly. Maybe. A tiny bit. In fact, Robinson is on record that he's 1/8 Filipino. “That is true,” Robinson says. “I’m like 1/8th, on my momma’s side. But that’s like digging down the line though. It’s like great, great grandparent.”
Now, it’s starting to get weird. This New Jersey Nets and Washington Wizards player was drafted into the NBA in 2005 and enjoyed an unspectacular journeyman career. Curiously, Blatche once publically claimed that he was Filipino. When further questioning revealed that neither his father nor mother are Filipino, it was revealed that he just wanted to become naturalized as a citizen so that he could play for the Philippines in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. You can't blame the guy for trying – even if he is African-American, stands 6’11” and plays center.
Google “LA Tenorio Houston Rockets” and, at first glance, you may think that we finally found a Philippines-born NBA player. But no.
Tenorio grew up in Makati and played college ball at Ateneo de Manila, then for PBA powerhouses Ginebra, San Miguel, and Alaska. In 2014, numerous reports and articles circulated across the Internet claiming that LA Tenorio just signed a 2-year contract with the NBA’s Houston Rockets. He was widely celebrated as the first pure Filipino ever to make the NBA…until it came out that the report was a hoax. When asked point blank if he ever signed with the Rockets, Tenorio said, “I wish that was true, bro.”
This isn’t an article about what could have been, but Filipino Kobe Paras (PBA superstar Benjie Paras' son) carried the torch for a while as the best chance to make the NBA.
He played a season of college ball in the U.S. at Creighton, before transferring and then dropping in 2017 out to pursue a pro career, instead. It might be in the PBA or the Euroleague, but it doesn't look like he'll be playing in the NBA.
We don’t know, but he’s out there somewhere, running around barefoot, shooting a worn ball at a homemade rim with NBA stars in his eyes.