Fuel or Distraction: On watching basketball during a historical event

By Karlo Lovenia

“At this point, Wala akong pake kung sino man manalo.”

May 11, 2022, 2:37 PM. 

After days of madness concerning the Philippine national elections, the HumbleBola team found time to talk about Game 2 of the UAAP Finals for a short while. At that moment, in what could have been an opportunity to discuss the crucial game at hand further, one of the most passionate Blue Eagle fans in the group could only say that he did not care anymore.   

Not caring about sports. Not caring about basketball. Not caring about your favorite sports team. In a vacuum, it seems blasphemous to have such thoughts. 

But we don’t live in a vacuum. Most of the readers of this article live in the Philippines, which will soon be led by Bongbong Marcos Jr., son of dictator and kleptocrat, Ferdinand Marcos. It probably sounds insane for foreigners that’s actually going to happen, but for Filipinos, this is the reality they’re in. So for less than half of the population, that stretch from May 9-11 was incredibly grim. The energy was dead. Basketball – even with a game involving their favorite sports team – was far from their minds. 

May 11, 2022, 8:08 PM.

The Ateneo Blue Eagles had just beaten the UP Fighting Maroons, 69-66, in an instant classic that had quite the memorable ending. The HumbleBola chat was alive. Despite the group being mixed with Ateneans, Iskos, Lasallians, and even one very passionate Adamson alumnus, they were united in that moment in doing one thing: slandering Ricci Rivero.

It was a hilarious scene that was both refreshing and comforting. But it wasn’t just that single scene that created this feeling. Slowly but surely, as the game progressed, the HB chat livened up and started to act the way you’d expect HumbleBola to act. 

Brash. Confident. Bold. Arrogant, even. Some might even say, we might have been acting like sadbois. But this is what HumbleBola was. During that game and the hours that followed, it felt like HumbleBola was normal.

Refreshing. Comforting. Normal. Everything felt right.

May 12, 2022, 10:05 AM.

Until I suddenly felt something was wrong. Things felt right… in the middle of the impending presidency of a Marcos. Was I supposed to feel this way, especially since 20 hours ago, all I felt was doom and gloom? 

I started to question the role sports played in the middle of such a historical event. I felt like everything was fine; did that mean basketball was a distraction from the reality we face off the court? 

And to be fair, I’m not the only person to feel these things. Even NBA players, during the 2020 NBA Playoffs, felt similar emotions in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement and the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. They acted on these emotions, with one example being the Milwaukee Bucks opting to boycott Game 5 of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic due to the shooting of Jacob Blake. 

Playing basketball in the middle of a historical event felt wrong. Two years later, from the perspective of a fan at least, watching basketball in the middle of a historical event felt wrong. To feel normal felt wrong. I wasn’t supposed to feel normal.

The afternoon of May 12, 2022.

After a quick lunch and some reflection, things suddenly didn’t feel normal. Instead, things felt… balanced.

From 1:15-2:45, I held an important meeting with my team in my day job. It was the most animated I was the entire week. At that moment, I felt passionate.

After a few more meetings, I found some time to read posts about current events. I felt angry.

Then, as the day wrapped up, I talked to the HB team again about updates in the Philippine Basketball. I felt excited.

Passion. Anger. Excitement. They aren’t the same, but they also have their similarities. Those three feelings make you feel alive. 

Grief and darkness no longer dominated my thoughts. Instead, it was something I only felt whenever I’d think or consume something that triggered that emotion. 

It was the first time this whole week that I felt such. I had some form of control over what to feel and what to do. I felt alive. I felt balanced. That wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t watched and experienced Game 2 of the UAAP Finals.

Because basketball doesn’t have to be a distraction. Consuming it doesn’t have to be a privilege that is weaponized for evil. It doesn’t have to let you forget about the reality that’s happening outside the court. It can be fuel that injects life back into your system, especially when things are looking bleak. 

And there are times, just like now, when we need that fuel to remind us that you can feel alive, even in the middle of an impending Marcos presidency. 

One Big Fight on the court. An even bigger fight off it.

Matatapang, matatalino, walang takot, kahit kanino. Lalaban hanggang dulo, ganyan kaming, mga Pilipino, kahit pa si Marcos ang nakaupo.

Tuloy ang Laban.

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