It’s no secret that Filipinos revel in the game of basketball — from the sport becoming a center topic of discussion at family get-togethers to multi-generations gathering around the living room on a game night.
The support for the game was no different this week, as the heavy downpour in Los Angeles wasn’t enough to deter many of them from arriving in droves to the Staples Center for the Los Angeles Clippers game versus the Atlanta Hawks. On Monday, January 8, the Clippers held the annual Filipino Heritage Night, as they have been for the past nine seasons since 2009.
During the event in 2016, Raymond Townsend — the first Fil-Am player in the National Basketball Association (NBA) — was honored by the team and met with Fil-Am fans in the audience.
This year’s celebration went beyond simply handing out commemoration memorabilia, as the entire night was specifically programmed to honor Fil-Am fans, from pre- and post-game activities and the halftime show.
“The Clippers have an incredibly diverse fan base, and we work hard to build authentic connections with our fans and the broader L.A. community through events like [Monday’s] Filipino Heritage Night. We continually strive to give our fans a fun, exciting, and highly engaging experience at each game,” Matt Paye, the Clippers’ vice president of marketing, told the Asian Journal.
Roslynn Cobarrubias, co-founder of global talent discovery platform & creative network Mydiveo and one of the organizers for Monday’s Filipino Heritage Night, told the Asian Journal that the program was orchestrated “with different elements” to highlight the Fil-Am community in Los Angeles.
“Generationally, we all grew up in a household where basketball was big and always playing on the television. Just historically, Filipinos are very talented at basketball — many of us may not be the right size but we are very big fans of it, and have always watched games in person or on television and have bought a lot of merchandise,” she said.
The game against the Atlanta Hawks kicked off with R&B singer Jessica Reynoso, whom Apl.de.Ap discovered through “The Voice Philippines,” singing the National Anthem.
During half-time, Apl.de.Ap energized the crowd with his performance of “Bebot” and “I Gotta Feelin’” with Reynoso.
Apl.de.Ap told the Asian Journal that the night was a “proud moment to celebrate our Filipino culture in an American setting.”
“Filipinos are all over the industry but we don’t get to shine or we are quiet and like to be in the background. But today, we got to express ourselves, be loud, and show our culture,” he said.
Eighteen-year-old Filipina Kyla Fajardo-Santos — the youngest member of the Clippers Spirit Dance Team — got to dance alongside Apl.de.Ap during his set.
“The thing with being a dancer, it’s not really work for me. I love my job because I get to dance every single night,” she told the Asian Journal. “I’ve gotten to dance with artists like tonight with Apl. This is one step closer to my dream.”
A portion of the night’s ticket proceeds benefitted the Apl.de.Ap Foundation, which helps students in the Philippines by building classrooms and computer labs. Currently the foundation has built 34 classrooms and plans to create more with the help of the night’s funds.
“We worked closely with Apl.de.ap of the Black Eyed Peas to create a unique and authentic game experience for Filipino Heritage Night and to give back to the community, with partial proceeds from Filipino Heritage Night ticket sales going to the Apl.de.ap Foundation. The event was a win for both the Clippers and L.A.’s Filipino community,” Paye added.
Further showcasing Filipinos’ love for basketball, after the main Clippers game (wherein they narrowly won 108-107), a special match between two teams — led by Apl.de.ap and DJ E-Man of radio station Power 106 — was held featuring Fil-Am celebrities and influencers in various industries from entertainment to fashion.
“We wanted to give something back to the people who purchased tickets that they wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere, and that was the post-game with Filipino influencers alongside some fans who wanted the opportunity to play with the stars on either Team Apl or Team DJ E-Man,” Cobarrubias said.
She remarked that the night’s festivities were successful in part by DJ E-Man, who was a “perfect fit to work together.”
“[A]s the music director of Power 106, he produces a weekly celebrity basketball games for high schools across LA and a big yearly one for charity at USC,” she said.
Those on the court included actors Dante and Dion Basco, choreographer Brian Puspos, and rapper P-Lo. Kobe Paras was also present at the game, serving as assistant coach to Apl’s team. Both teams were outfitted in custom jerseys, representing Clippers’ colors and the Philippine flag, made by Filipino brand New Jersey Sets.
Fil-Am radio personality Manny Streetz Guevara said he attended Filipino Heritage Night and participated in the celebrity game as a way to give back “to our heritage and how we grew up.”
“Basketball is a great connector in our community. Filipinos play basketball at some point in their lives,” he told the Asian Journal. “It was so fun to be alongside people I grew up watching on TV or singing to their music. I finally got to meet them and play with them.”
Coinciding with Filipino Heritage Night, the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) also had a presence at the Staples Center on Monday, inviting people — Fil-Am or not — back to the Philippines. This is part of the department’s partnership with the Clippers to feature the country in the team’s home games this year.
“Among the several scheduled games lined-up in 2019, we specifically requested that we must be part of the Filipino Heritage Night to show our support to the Filipino-American community’s efforts in promoting Philippine pride and fostering solidarity among Filipinos in the community,” DOT-Los Angeles attaché Richmond Jimenez told the Asian Journal. “Basketball is the Philippines’ number one sport and is a game watched by many even far ahead of boxing and beauty pageants. This game attracts viewers across demographics, thus PDOT-LA [found] it a fitting venue and platform to promote the Philippines and attract fun-loving people to come to our country.”
Basketball teams, such as the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets, also have their own versions of nights to recognize their Fil-Am fans. Other sports teams like baseball, from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the San Francisco Giants, do annual celebrations as well.
“When Filipinos are together, we’re able to show the strength our community and be a voice so that these large mainstream corporations understand the power of the Filipino dollar. Just having us incorporated on a large scale, whether it’s heritage night, an artist on television or an actor or politician, is huge. With the taboo and the crab mentality in our community, we don’t really rally to support one another but it shows at sporting events that we can and we do,” Cobarrubias said. “It’s bigger than just going to a Clippers and Hawks game. It’s actually showing our buying power and our community, bringing a voice and family together, and doing something fun so we can then support each other in other areas.”