By: Lorne Chan Spurs.com
Kat Arambulo’s request for a university graduation gift was a simple one for Spurs tickets…and for the 17,000-mile round trip required to get to the AT&T Center.
Arambulo is a Spurs fanatic from the Philippines, and she’s not the only one from the basketball-loving country.
Filipino fans have often made pilgrimages to San Antonio and other NBA cities, as it is the country’s most popular sport.
“The Philippines is really crazy about basketball, it’s just how we are,” Arambulo said. “Sometimes, the NBA games are on at around 4 a.m., but I’ll still watch them.”
Arambulo, 22, stood in shock on Monday as her favorite player, Kawhi Leonard, signed a basketball for her. She said she’s watched the Spurs for about 10 years, streaming the games online. Now that she’s seen the AT&T Center in person, watching the games will be a whole new experience.
“I’ve loved the Spurs since and always loved the way they play together,” Arambulo said. “I still can’t believe that I’m here. I’ve had to pinch myself 10 times.”
The Spurs, like many NBA teams, count millions of social followers from The Philippines.
Basketball was introduced to The Philippines shortly after the sport’s invention, brought over by the YMCA to the islands during a period of American colonization. The Philippine Basketball Association is the second oldest continuously existing in the world after the NBA, and even world champion boxer and Filipino hero Manny Pacquiao is the coach of a PBA team.
Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland played in the PBA and became a naturalized Filipino citizen, playing for the Philippines National Team in the 1985 Jones Cup, an international FIBA Asia Tournament. Engelland led The Philippines to the title, scoring 43 points against Team USA and earning legendary status in The Philippines in the process.
The city of San Antonio has plenty of ties with Filipino basketball as well. Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson, the only current Filipino-American NBA player, grew up in San Antonio. Another San Antonio native, Chris Ross, has been named Philippine Basketball Association Finals MVP for the past two seasons.
With a large Filipino-American population locally, the San Antonio Filipino Basketball League has been running since 1991. League commissioner Lyndon Duano said there are currently 10 teams, with 80 percent of the players from The Philippines or of Filipino descent.
“Filipinos love basketball so much that you see people playing in the rain or in their chanclas (flip-flops) over there,” Duano said. “They don’t even need the ball to bounce, they’ll still find a way to play.”
If you have a Spurs Story, email Lorne Chan at email@example.com