The Thrilla In Manila: Nate Robinson Talks About His Filipino Roots
By Gerald Narciso
“I hope to hear more from Nate Robinson. He is going to have an entire country looking up to him as an inspiration. I am part filipino as well and proud to say “I am pinoy.” – YouTube user Pacman344140Hagler
Manila might be more than a dozen time zones away from Los Angeles, but people in the Philippines are fully aware of what’s going on with the Lakers as well as the other 29 teams in the league. To put things bluntly, Filipinos are crazy for the NBA. And by crazy, I mean like what college football is to people in South Bend. Or what soccer is to people in England and what hockey is to folks in Toronto. Get the point? The league has also taken notice of the passion Filipinos have for basketball.
“For us, the issue is continued growth,” NBA commissioner David Stern told the Philippine Daily Inquirer earlier this month. “We try to be the No. 1 or No. 2 sport in every country. The two places where we know we are the No. 1 sport are the Philippines and China.”
Although there has not been any NBA preseason games in the Philippines as of yet, the league has sponsored several promotional tours there. NBA players like Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gilbert Arenas, Channing Frye and Andre Iguodala have all visited the southeastern Asian country of 92 million people in recent years.
Arenas wrote this in his NBA.com blog in the summer of 2008:
“Then we stopped in Manila. It was a different world. I’ve never seen
fans like that in my life.”
“I was stunned. They made me feel like an NBA star. Any NBA players out there: If you’re having a bad day, or you’re having a bad career, go to Manila. They’ll bring your spirits up, trust me.”
The country’s interest in NBA basketball is amazing considering the fact that they don’t have a player in the league that they can truly identify with. Although Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is half Filipino, there has never been a Philippine-born player in the NBA. Raymond Townsend, who was drafted in the first round of the 1978 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors, was born in America and is half Filipino.
Since Townsend, there hasn’t been anybody with any Filipino blood to play in the NBA – or at least one that was known anyway. But that all changed recently as it was revealed in this YouTube video that the Knicks’ Nate Robinson has some Filipino in him.
Being Filipino myself, naturally this was of interest to me. Before the Knicks played the Raptors on Friday night, I approached Nate in the locker room and asked him if it was true.
“That is true,” Robinson said as he sat at his locker. “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.”
Looking somewhat surprised, Nate asked me how I found out. I told him about the YouTube clip and how they debated whether that 1/8th was enough to put him on the national team. I also told Robinson about fans in the Philippines and how crazy they are about basketball. Robinson shook his head in amazement and smiled.
“I know that’s what I heard, somebody told me that on Twitter,” Robinson said about the news breaking about his Filipino genes. “I didn’t really take it too seriously. But we’ll see how it goes. Playing on the national team would be pretty cool though.”
I then asked him if his mom had maintained any customs or cooked Filipino food while Robinson was growing up.
“Naw she doesn’t, but she was raised in a Filipino family,” said Robinson. “But I’d really have to ask her about the history behind it and how it was.”
But just because Robinson’s immediate family doesn’t practice Filipino traditions, doesn’t mean the Seattle native is in the dark when it comes to the culture.
“I eat the lumpias (Filipino egg rolls) and everything,” says the 5-9 Robinson. “I have a lot of Filipino friends and we always ate it with sweet and sour sauce. My boy Sylvester, he lives with me. He’s Filipino and black. His mom, makes lumpias for us all the time and we go buy the ingredients when she comes over.”
While seeing Robinson suit up for the Philippine National Team is extremely unlikely, it does give the country another reason to love NBA basketball. Fans in the Philippines probably already love the two-time dunk contest champion – this will just skyrocket his popularity there. You see how much pride us Filipinos have with boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao. Now we can also say we have Nate Robinson.