By Gianna Llanes
They say there are no small parts, just really small people. We may be the smallest people running around the court, but we do hope that our part in bringing the best viewing experience for basketball fans (like us!) is big. In front of the camera, we are limited to projecting ourselves through the words we say. But, behind-the-scenes, we put the entirety of our hearts, souls, and minds into the game.
I remember receiving a call from the MPBL staff a night before the Anta-Rajah Cup opening, asking me to be present for the commencement at Araneta Coliseum. At that time, I didn’t know what to expect since I only heard tidbits about the league from Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes (who I had previously worked with when I reported courtside for Adamson University in the UAAP). I thought the opening was going to be so minuscule that, during the parade (to my surprise) the announcer called out my name. I had a Starbucks drink in hand, then – not thinking I would be declared as an official part of the coverage team. And as the drums banged and the music played, I was at center stage with the two hundred players from the founding teams. We all shared the same view of extremely bright lights casting shadows of the few silhouettes in the audience. For me, this was a representation of the MPBL’s beginning – the vacant seats of the venue an epitome of the league’s unfamiliarity, but the bright lights embodying its infinite potential. And that abundant potential alone was enough of a factor to convince me that surely, I wanted to be a part of the MPBL’s journey to growth.
Flashback to my first time sighting the league. Ryan, my boyfriend who plays for Valenzuela, asked me to watch one of his preseason games. There wasn’t much of a crowd back then. Within the audience, I only saw one other girl my age – her bright blonde hair unmissable. She was by her lonesome at one of the front bleachers, but she was watching the game attentively – phone out of sight. And that same attentiveness was present at every game I spotted her in the crowd. So to my delight, mid-season, I was told K Realubit would be joining me in covering courtside duties.
K has been a witness in watching the league grow since day one – before it was even televised. “I saw the hard work that every single person gave in order for it to reach this point,” she sayid. “It wasn’t easy.” One of the most fascinating stories she’s followed is of Pasig Pirate Cojak Melegrito. “He went through a lot in order for him to be where he is right now. He’s a tricycle driver turned into a basketball star. And like Cojak, we all have a story to tell and we get to share that story thru this league,” she shared. This, for her, is the most satisfying thing about her job, adding, “I think that’s the beauty of MPBL – New faces coming together to achieve one dream.”
K Realubit wasn’t the only one who was an avid follower of the league from its humble beginnings. Nikki Viola watched the opening from her home and every game after that not just to support her friends, but also because she always loved the sport.
For me, it wasn’t always easy being the only courtside reporter covering two games a day, three days a week. When I had preplanned trips for my other occupations, it was difficult to find a fill-in. Many of the courtside reporters I’ve worked with before were uninterested in covering – not caring much about the league or being already occupied with their new lives away from the scene. However, Nikki happily agreed – no questions about compensation, size of audience, or amount of exposure. All she cared about was her love for reporting and her passion for basketball.
Nikki exuded nothing but confidence in front of the camera on her first day – but revealed she was actually very nervous! “They asked me to interview Chester Saldua, Big Mac Andaya AND Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes all on the same day! I almost cried out of nervousness!” she shared. But, one important component of the MPBL kept her sane – what all of us courtside reporters attend to now as our happy pill. “The MPBL staff and prod were so nice to me during that time, making sure that I was well-taken care of. They made me feel like I was already part of the family,” Nikki said. “So it feels so nice to actually call MPBL my home now.”
Like I said, because MPBL was just finding its niche during the Anta-Rajah Cup, it wasn’t the easiest finding a fill-in when I couldn’t be present for courtside reporting. Many of the talents I contacted underestimated the league’s reach. Therefore, I was scared out of my wit when I found out that neither K nor Nikki could cover for me as I went on a work trip to Sydney. Upon arrival, I opened my laptop and was absolutely relieved hearing a voice killing her report. She was giving me a run for my money!
The newest member of our team, Sheila Salaysay, offered a new perspective when covering games – being a former collegiate volleybelle herself, she sympathizes with these athletes. She said, “Seeing how our players exhibit the fire in their hearts every time they step into the court just gives me the motivation to never lose that desire for the sport (or any sport for that matter).” Like a lot of these athletes, she also wanted her shot at the pros, which is why she appreciates the window of opportunity the MPBL opens. She quotes Manila All-Stars Coach Philip Cezar in saying, “Nandito na lahat sa ligang ito – college, pang-baranggay, at pang-professional,” Sheila said. “This job has given me and the other courtside reporters the chance para mas lalo pang ma-appreciate ng mga tao kung sino at ano bang klaseng mga manlalaro ang sinusuportahan nila!” adding, “Iba ang pakiramdam pag pinapanood mo ng live yung games! Makikita mo na todo-suporta ang mga fans. Nakaka-boost ng confidence.”
Our part as courtside reporters may just be a piece in completing the league, but the amount of support we’ve been given from the MPBL staff, the players and coaches, and most importantly, the fans, makes us feel like we are truly part of an unbreakable circle. I remember seeing memes that called me ‘Courtside Reporter ng Bayan,’ and feeling my heart warmed to be noted as an important component of the league. Never would I have thought that a multitude of people would ask to have photos, would send the most heartwarming messages, or even approach me with delight in public.
What’s most magical for me is that the MPBL initiates that push for people to reach towards their dreams amidst already going through the most grueling journeys. Small-town boy Ian Melencio almost brought me to tears when he told me how his family celebrated his name first being in the headlines. I’ve known Ryusei Koga and Ivan Villanueva’s struggles for a while, and I’m now ecstatic for them in making a name for themselves with the Paranque Patriots. My boyfriend, Ryan Arambulo, moved from California to the Philippines five years ago and experienced a lot of downfalls in trying to make it in the country, but every time he suits up for Team Valenzuela, he tells me, “This is it. Finally, it’s time for me to fulfill what I came here for.” And these are just a few of the incredibly inspiring stories we hear as w e cover each game.
I’ve previously had my stints in front of the camera, but there is no denying that the feeling of home the MPBL provides is incomparable. From an empty audience to sold-out venues, the league has shot for the stars but has also remained grounded with how much like family they make everyone feel. Behind the scenes, we laugh together, cry together, eat together, and appreciate the league’s growth in union – because we were all a part of it. We are all teammates trying to fulfill the greater purpose of being united in fervor for Philippine basketball.