ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: Each year on Labor Day weekend in the US, thousands of Filipinos participate in basketball tournaments held in different cities all over North America. This has been a tradition for many of our countrymen living in the US and Canada, whose love for the sport of basketball never wavered. Various Pinoy groups organize these tournaments every year to satisfy the urge of US-based kababayans for competitive basketball.
But of all these groups, the Philippine Inter-City Basketball of North America (PIBNA) is considered the pioneer and longest running group to date. This year, PIBNA celebrates its 40th anniversary with the staging of the annual tournament in Maryland. Over 70 teams from different cities in the East Coast of the United States and Canada came to the New 24 gym in District Heights, Maryland for PIBNA’s 40th edition of the games held on September 3 and 4. PIBNA opened ten divisions this year – Open Division, 11-under, 13-under, 15-under, 17-under, 20-under, 5’11” and under, 35-over, 45-over, and 55-over divisions – for players of Filipino descent. The cities of Chicago, Jacksonville, Hamilton, Charleston, Michigan, Boston, Tampa Bay, Jersey City, Middlesex and New York were represented in the different divisions, while the neighboring states of Maryland and Virginia cast selection squads from their major cities. Canadian cities Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa also sent delegates.
I was fortunate enough to be invited by this year’s commissioner, former National Team skipper and San Beda Red Lion Louie Brill to witness the event. When I entered the New 24 gym, I was awed by the sight of perhaps over two thousand Pinoys that filled all ten basketball courts, which played simultaneous games. And to think that PIBNA is only one of four similar tournaments being held in the East Coast alone on the same dates, reportedly with almost identical number of participants.In the 11-under division, some teams had girls in their rosters. The Open Division was the most competitive, with several former varsity players in the Philippines. In fact, the team from host Maryland had two former Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) players in Ogie Menor and Elmer Espiritu. Other former pros in the event were Ato Morano (New York), Bryan Punzalan (Chicago), and the legendary Manny Victorino (Middlesex). Former San Sebastian College giant Pep Moore and San Beda guards Jethro Dejano and Maui Decena were among the participants as well. Morano is still deadly with his outside sniping, unleashing five treys versus New Jersey. He now lives in Virginia even when he was a long-time resident of NYC. Menor and Espiritu saw action in the PBA just a couple of years ago but decided to settle in the States with their families. Menor coaches a high school travelling team from Tampa Bay as a part-time job. He is also a certified high school referee in Florida.
I would say the most interesting division was the 17-under age group, which was rich in talent. I saw several potential players in that division that can suit up in the NCAA and UAAP here. Among the stand-outs in that group is Ron Harper, Jr., yes, the son of NBA great Ron Harper. He was accompanied by Filipino mom Maria, who is herself a former NCAA Division 1 cager. The Harpers reside in New Jersey. Ron Jr.’s team New Jersey and the squad from Jacksonville, Florida are likely to dispute the 17-under plum.
PIBNA’s organizers worked double time to stage a successful event. Brill sought the help of friends from the East Coast based San Beda alumni group Washington Bedans. He was assisted by San Francisco-based Don Pejoro, a former San Beda Red Cub.
PIBNA tournaments are held yearly in different cities but mostly in the East Coast. The event also continues to grow, with more cities wanting to be part of the fun. Next year, groups from Chicago and Florida are offering to host the event.
The games were both fun and intense, with occasional heated moments in tight contests, especially in the 45-over and 55-over groups. But at the end of the games, all players shook hands and parted as friends. After all, they get to see one another every year at the PIBNA tourney.