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Basketball defines Filipino culture as much as eating lumpia, lechon, and sinigang. In this article, we tackle the country's obsession with this sport.

If there is one thing in the world I can easily bet my soul on, it would be the fact in every Filipino subdivision, there is at least one area allotted to basketball courts.

Even when you pass by narrow alleys where shanties lean against each other, it is guaranteed that a basketball hoop will stand tall amongst the dwellers, each waiting for their turn to play. 

So this had me thinking... why are Filipinos fascinated with basketball? 

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During the American colonial period, basketball was introduced to Filipinos through the Youth Basketball Association (YMCA) and the school system. In 1910, it was initially a women's sport and was played during interscholastic meets from 1911 to 1913. 

At the time, female basketball players were questioned by conservative unions and Catholic churches. The aforementioned groups frowned upon the bloomers (usually a dress over the loose-fitting pants) worn by women in basketball. This event would, later on, result in a decline in the number of female basketball players.

The first men's national team championed in the first Far Eastern Championship Games in 1913. In the succeeding years, the Filipino obsession with basketball grew rapidly that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which had basketball as its main sport, was established in 1924.

In 1936, the Philippines became a member of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). In the same year, the country made its debut in the Olympic games where they finished fifth, the best result of an Asian team in Olympic basketball history.  

The feats of the national team continued. The team has dominated the Asian Games from 1951 to 1962. The country was eventually given the right to host the third FIBA World Championship but was suspended after former President Diosdado Macapagal refused to issue visas to players from communist parties. 

In 1938, the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), an athletic association of eight Metro Manila universities in the Philippines, was established.

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Asia's first professional basketball league and the second oldest league following the National Basketball Association (NBA), was founded in 1975. In 2007, FIBA recognised the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas as the national basketball body for the country.

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Famous Players 

Philippine basketball has seen a number of good players; there is head coach and former Senator Robert Jaworski who was able to play 23 seasons of the PBA; Ramon Fernandez, who in his time was a triple-double waiting to happen; and Bogs Adorno, a three-time MVP who made an impact in Philippine basketball through his shooting prowess. 

Alvin Patrimonio was also among the best basketball players of his time. He was once dubbed the "Iron Man" for once holding the record for most consecutive games played at 596.

Players that are also worthy of a mention are Benjie Paras, who was once named the "Tower of Power" and Johnny Abarrientos who was dubbed "The Flying A" for being an incredible point guard despite his small size.

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Why Filipinos Love Basketball? 

The answer to this question remains relative. But in Lou Antolihao's Rooting for the Underdog: Spectatorship and Subalternity in Philippine Basketball, he said that Filipinos root for their players as this was their only way of pitting and winning against bigger countries.

"Generally, while rooting for the underdog, the Filipino basketball players are clearly not only cheering for their favourite teams, but also for themselves and the many other real underdogs outside the playing court," he said. 

"The popularity of basketball in the Philippines partly hinges on the sport's evolution into a subaltern spectacle, an important site where the struggles of ordinary people are symbolically played out in the basketball arena," the author wrote. 

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