Out of bounds
August 19, 2012 by Eric Michael Santos
Out of bounds
By Eric Michael Santos
I grew up in a small rural town in Bulacan where, as an adolescent and young adult in the early 1980s up to the late 1990s, I played basketball in scrimmages and amateur leagues (liga). Some of my most memorable basketball memories have nothing to do with the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
Basketball is a limited-contact sport with rules designed to prevent substantial physical contact between players, intentional or otherwise. It’s perfectly understandable when sometimes a defender accidentally rubs his johnson against your butt as he tries to stop your post-up move or in some instances a player unwittingly brushes his hand across your groin while boxing you out for a rebound.
In one of our post-game drinking sessions, a friend, perhaps emboldened by the alcohol, blurted out that certain guys we played against in practice games repeatedly initiated overly cozy physical contact with him. Emboldened by our friend’s unexpected forthrightness, we confessed to having similar experiences with the same guys at one time or another. The suggestive jokes and raucous laughter that ensued were just smokescreens for our homophobia. We were actually divided on the issue: one group gave the suspects the benefit of the doubt (“It could all be accidental, blown out of proportion by our malicious minds.”) while the other—I was part of this clique—believed the incidents happened far too often to be chalked up as unintentional.
Eventually, we were able to confirm that the players in question were in fact straight-as-an-arrow heterosexuals.
Someone we never suspected surprised us all. I refused to believe the rumors when I first heard them. As far as I could tell at that time, he exhibited no telltale signs, at least on the hard court. Whenever his name came up in conversations, the focus would invariably be on our grudging admiration of his basketball skills. He played the big guard position to perfection—a stocky, shifty offensive monster who slashed through defenders (yours truly included) to make highlight-reel lay-ups and buried three pointers with mechanical regularity. He was a consistent member of the all-star team and was once voted MVP in our town’s basketball league. A decent-looking guy, he had quite a number of adoring female fans.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, I bumped into him in a bus terminal. Though the encounter was brief—the usual “Pare, kamusta na?” small talk—I was able to make enough observations about his voice, eye movements, facial expressions and gestures. Alarm bells in my head rang and my gaydar went into hyperactive mode. The rumors were true.
[Author’s note: Age and experience have cured my homophobia. I have several friends who are gay, and I have nothing but respect for them.]
Personal hygiene isn’t among the first things that come to mind when basketball is mentioned, but if you’ve ever played the game you know it should be. Sweaty adolescent and adult males playing in close proximity, often in hot, humid and enclosed conditions, make the basketball court a steaming B.O. depot.
In the hundreds of practice and official games I played in, there were a lot of instances when I got a whiff of body odor on the hard court. So did many of my friends. After such games, we’d try to identify the “offender” by triangulating the hard court sequences and spots in which we had smelled B.O. Crude as it may seem, the method was usually spot-on.
But there was one guy we never had to use our triangulation method on. His 6’ 2”, 200-pound frame and killer post-up moves only partly explained his being a potent defensive and offensive threat. Guarding him or being guarded by him was like running head on into a solid wall of stink. Taking one for the team, in this case, was a gross, monumentally unfair understatement. A pungent, musky, onion-like stench that made your eyes water and gave you a throbbing headache, it was B.O. on steroids.
In our town’s amateur basketball leagues, the play-by-play announcers often provided more entertainment than the players on the hard court. The announcer would usually be the head or a member of the league’s organizing committee and sometimes the random kibitzer who just happened to be around and had the guts to take on the job.
Most announcers performed decently when they did the play-by-play in Filipino but fumbled once they ventured into English territory. When a player committed his fourth foul and (under amateur rules) was on the verge of fouling out, the announcer would proclaim:
“Foul number 18 Dela Cruz! Dela Cruz, warning!”
Okay, nothing grammatically wrong with that. But then Dela Cruz commits his fifth and final foul.
“Foul number 18 Dela Cruz! Dela Cruz graduate!”
The same grammar rules applied to team fouls. When a team committed four fouls in a certain quarter, one foul shy of the penalty situation, the announcer would holler:
“Warning to the penalty!” (A less commonly used variant: “Warning for the penalty!”)
In the heat of the moment, a character named Buddy often forgot he was the announcer. During a crucial stretch of a game, a player of the team Buddy was apparently rooting for makes a steal at half-court and breaks away from pursuing defenders for what should be an easy, all-alone lay-up. Unable to resist the temptation to state the obvious, Buddy on the mike yells:
“I-shurbol mo ‘yan! [Make that lay-up!]”
In the dying moments of a playoff game, the point guard of the team ahead by one is milking the clock, dribbling away precious seconds. Buddy, aghast and angry at the defending team’s irrational inaction, can’t take it any longer and yet again gives coaching instructions through the public address system:
“Pawlin n’yo, pawlin n’yo! Anak ng…b’at ayaw n’yong pawlen?! [Foul, foul! Son of a…why don’t you foul?!”