On regular weekdays, they are like most Filipino immigrants working hard to establish their American dream while attending to household chores and other daily responsibilities. But after Friday, there are a group of kababayans that turn into Weekend Warriors.
â€œWe call them that, weekend warriors, because itâ€™s only in the weekends when they get to play like this. They say the basketball games provide a respite from the daily stresses of their lives,â€ said JP Panganiban, Commissioner of IBA which stands for Inland Basketball Athletics, the league that organizes basketball games for Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the Southland.
IBA opened only last September 18th, with 10 teams; and a year later there are now 36 teams participating in four different divisions â€“ 45 yrs and up; 35 yrs and up but 6 ft and below; 35 yrs and up premier open; and 18 yrs and up open competition. And donâ€™t dismiss the heart of these weekend ballers. The games are intense and hard-fought.
â€œWe give them a chance to shine. They are like superstars in our leagueâ€¦even just for the weekend. Kaya nga â€˜yung tawag namin sa liga IBA, in Tagalog, that means â€˜ibaâ€™ or different. Thatâ€™s the different treatment our players get during the games on weekends, itâ€™s like star treatment,â€ added Panganiban.
Gerard Gallardo, one of the star players of Toyota Central team, couldnâ€™t agree more: â€œIâ€™ve been playing basketball. Iâ€™ve joined other leagues also; but I think this is one of the most organized. And we really give our all in games. Last season our team went undefeated but we lost the championship to another team. We vowed to come back and redeem ourselves but we also lost during the play-offs to the same team that beat us last year,â€ he said.
But while they try to beat each other out inside the court, the players, their teams and supporters treat each other like family after the final buzzer rings. And according to Panganiban, this is also one goal of IBA â€“ to foster camaraderie among Filipinos, to build up the Filipino community through the sport of basketball which is also a favorite pastime among kababayans.
And because it is important to Filipinos, Roberto Tavera, Head of the Filipino Department of Toyota Central, says the dealership in downtown Los Angeles has supported a team because it is fully-committed to serving the Filipino community.
â€œCommitted talaga ang Toyota Central na pagsilbihan ang mga Pilipino. Hindi lang sa hiring ng Filipino employees sa among dealership at pagbibigay ng mga promo na makakatulong sa ating mg kababayan naÂ makabili ng kotse. Sumusuporta din kami sa mga community events na mahalaga para sa mga kababayan,â€ Tavera said. He was present at the win-or-go-home game in Ontario last Sunday to cheer for their team.
Toyota Central bowed down to a team that had help from two former professional cagers. Brandon Sison got his start playing for Ateneo de Manila University at the University Athletic Association of the Philippines. He moved to play in the semi-pro Philippine Basketball League before eventually getting drafted to play in the Philippine Basketball Association. Since moving to the U.S. a few years ago, he has become a licensed real estate appraiser and has been married for 5 years now.
â€œMe and my friends like playing pickup games. But we also enjoy joining leagues. Basketball is important to me for physical exercise. The challenge was finding time. Usually weekends are reserved for relaxing with family and friends. But I canâ€™t imagine myself not playing basketball. So I find the time,â€ Sison said.
Sisonâ€™s teammate in the Philippine leagues and now at IBA Tonichi Pinzon is also a licensed real estate appraiser. Heâ€™s now married with a 1 and Â½ year old son. Both his wife and baby go to the games to watch him and offer support.
â€œBasketball is a form of exercise for me. Itâ€™s also a way for me to get together with friends,â€ he said.
Panganiban says there will be more familiar faces and ex-professional players in the future of IBA league. But whether they are experienced cagers or just a basketball fanatic â€“ these warriors are in it to win it – – – be it a trophy or honor for their respective teams; or a clean bill of health for themselves.
â€œMasaya kami ditto, nagkikita-kita ng mga kaibigan, naglalaro. At nakakap-pag-exercise pa. Mahusay sa katawan ang basketball,â€ says Willie Colderia, Controller at Toyota Central in downtown Los Angeles. â€œNagpapasalamat din ako sa Toyota Central dahil sinusuportahan nila â€˜yung team namin.â€