MANILA -- Jordan Clarkson was a curious courtside guest during the Ateneo-La Salle match in the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup on Sunday at the Filoil Flying V Center in San Juan. As soon as he took his seat, more than a dozen press photographers immediately swarmed around him.
“This sure is different,” he said softly as he compared how he is received here in the Philippines as opposed to playing for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA.
“I mean it’s crazy there too but here, I think it’s crazier because people know I’ve got roots to this country. So that makes it personal.”
It is a tantalizing thought for the young and talented Clarkson to be playing alongside fellow NBA veteran Andray Blatche in leading the Philippines back to the Olympics.
Back when the basketball world was young, the Philippines routinely made the world’s biggest sporting event. But the world, or at least Asia, has not only caught up, but it has surpassed what the country was known for — being the region’s hoops superpower.
Now to the world at large, the 1972 Munich Summer Games maybe be mostly remembered for the tragedy of the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered by terrorists. To this basketball-crazy republic, respectfully to the victims of the tragedy, it was also the last time the national team made the competition -- making it a 44-year drought.
With the revitalization of the Philippine National Team under the program of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, there is excitement, especially with the two silver-medal finishes in the FIBA Asia tourneys and now, the opportunity to sneak in through the backdoor via the Olympic Qualification Tournament this coming July.
(READ: Chan glad to see Blatche is fit and ready to win gold)
Clarkson, despite the noise of the college basketball match, found time to share his thoughts in this summer of excitement.
“Playing in the NBA is the fulfillment of a personal dream,” he said proudly. “What basketball-loving person doesn’t dream of that? It’s all I ever dream about. But if I can help lead the Philippines to Olympic glory or international success, then that’s fulfilling the dreams of millions of Filipinos. I’d love for it to happen as I get the best of both worlds.”
Coming over was one of the best experiences for him in his 23 years on this planet. “You hear about the extreme love for the game over here and it’s a great experience to be a part of it. When you see it for yourself, that’s the amazing part. I heard Kobe (Bryant, Clarkson’s former Lakers teammate) talk about how he was received here and how he loved it, it got me even more excited. And having a television commercial here was cool.”
Clarkson bared that watching the Philippines come oh-so close to booking the Olympic slot during the last FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha, China was painful to watch.
“It was disappointing to feel so helpless. I wanted to play so badly. I thought that I could help Dray (Blatche) and the guys. It was disappointing on so many levels, man," he said.
The wheels of Clarkson’s release to play are turning so agonizingly slow yet the young lad still carries that torch of hope.
“It is unfortunate that I still cannot wear the Gilas jersey. There’s a process that we’re going through with FIBA before we get clearance. Hopefully, it is sooner than later. But if and when that happens… you all watch out."
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