Jordan Clarkson on embracing basketball and his Filipino roots

IN just his third season with the National Basketball Association (NBA), Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson has already made a name for himself as a viable asset for the franchise.  The 24-year-old belongs to a crop of Filipino Americans who have broken the glass ceiling in the U.S. in fields such as arts, sports, fashion, technology and business. 

In the NBA, he is considered as the third one with Filipino blood, alongside Nate Robinson — who is one-eighth Filipino — and Raymond Townsend, who played his last game in 1982.

During a meet and greet with Filipino-American fans in New York earlier this month, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who was attending several meetings in the U.S., said that the sport of basketball and the LA Lakers in the NBA have a huge following among Filipinos. He referred to Clarkson as a Fil-Am ambassador of basketball among younger Filipinos and fellow Fil-Ams.  He also recognized Jordan’s father, Mike Clarkson, for his effort to bring Jordan closer to the Filipino community.

“Thank you for the support. I’m just gonna say thank you because I don’t know what else to say. Salamat po,” Clarkson said in front of the crowd. The fans rewarded his short speech with a loud applause.

Late last year, the Brooklyn Nets hosted its first Filipino Heritage Night at the Barclays Center. The Nets had a game versus the visiting Los Angeles Lakers. Fans came in droves to see not just the Nets but the Lakers as well, particularly Clarkson.

The hoopster’s management team saw the impact that the player had on Filipino fans during that day that they asked its event organizer, community leader Mark Anthony Agbuya if a similar event can be done.

Agbuya built a team and coordinated with the Philippine Consulate General’s office to come up with the meet and greet that eventually coincided with the launching of Clarkson’s fan club in New York.

At the press briefing before the community event, Clarkson, his dad Mike and college coach Tim Fuller responded to questions from the Fil-Am media.

Jordan revealed a few fun facts about his personal life, his favorite food (chicken adobo and sisig), his love of the game, how much hard work it is to be an NBA player, his love for the Philippines, his appreciation to his fans and his deep passion for the sport.

The soft-spoken point guard said he feels very honored for all the support his Filipino fans have been giving him since he joined the Lakers organization as a 22-year-old rookie back in August 2014. He was drafted in the second round by the Washington Wizards and eventually he was traded to the Lakers. Prior to joining the Lakers, Clarkson played basketball at Tulsa University for two seasons before transferring to the University of Missouri.

In his rookie year, Clarkson averaged 11.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.86 steals and 0.20 blocks in 59 games. He was also the first-ever Lakers player to be named the Kia NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month, an award he received in April for games he played in March this year.

“Playing with the Lakers is a blessing and I feel very honored for the support [I’ve been receiving]. It shows how much love and support there is and I will do my best to represent,” he said.

Dreams to play in the PH

One of his goals is to join the Philippine national team. Asked if it will ever become a reality, Clarkson said that they have been talking with the proper authorities.

“It is really good if everything works out with FIBA. My team is working with them as well,” he shared. “I have been involved with the team, practicing with them. There’s an opportunity to do that and I want to do it. It’s just everything has to be worked out.”

To say that basketball is a popular sport in the Philippines would be an understatement. That is why Clarkson has become the embodiment of pride in the community.

And as Sen. Cayetano said, back in the Philippines, especially in the ‘80s, Filipino fans were either one or the other.

“Either Boston Celtics ka or Los Angeles Lakers. Toyota or Crispa. Marcos o Aquino,” he said, the audience applauding in agreement.

Since joining the Lakers organization, Clarkson has been working extra hard to prove his worth and the team’s fans from across the globe have seen how prepared he is in every game, physically and mentally.

Despite the adulations, there would always be criticisms and put-downs but Clarkson is not someone who would be bothered by those. He is focused on his game.

“Just work hard, you’re always going to be doubted,” he shared. “Just do what they say you can’t do and prove everybody wrong.”

And when asked what playing with legends has contributed to his well-being, he said that more than the advice given to him, it is the work ethic that he hopes to emulate from the sport’s legends, like former teammate Kobe Bryant.

“Be professional, no matter what is going on in your life or no matter what is it you are doing,” he said. “Wake up, go to work, put your heart in it. Even during practice, put everything on the line.”

Looking back, Jordan said he realized he could be an inspiration to young Filipinos when he was able to visit the country for the first time.

“After my rookie year in the league when we first went to the Philippines and to see the impact I had in the country, I didn’t really know how much impact I had over there. Seeing that was my turning point in getting me want to come back,” he shared.

He has not been back recently but he looks forward to making another trip when his schedule permits him to do so.

From Manila to Pampanga to the shores of Boracay, Clarkson could very well be a tourism ambassador as well.

“We were there for a while so we went to a lot of places. I’ve been to Boracay. It’s beautiful out there. Although I’m not a big vacation guy, I’d definitely go out there for vacation,” he said.

Filipino heritage

Clarkson proudly declared that he got his work ethic from his mom and his lola, strong women both who faced adversity and succeeded.

“My grandma, my mom, they work hard, and that’s what I got, I work hard. I feel like I’m always the underdog, and so as Filipinos, we fight, that’s what it is,” he said.

His mom Annette Davis and dad Mike met in the military.

“We were in the Air Force together at technical training school and we were friends and family ever since then,” Clarkson’s dad said, responding to questions on how they met. The couple divorced when Clarkson was small.

Like his son, Mike Clarkson is thankful that Filipinos have embraced Jordan and that an entire country is supporting him.

“Jordan has an entire country that supports him, that in itself is humbling,” the basketball player’s father said. “In turn, he understands the responsibility that goes along with it and that’s important… he’s gonna excel at whatever he does, but he’s gonna make sure the Filipino community is proud of what he does.”

Before the end of the press conference, the 24-year-old Lakers guard fielded one of the last few questions, another one that was Filipino-related.

“I’m not the happiest guy all the time but seeing the Filipinos, everybody is always happy and smiling,” he said, initially with a serious face but trying to stifle a smile. “It’s probably the best thing I could take in all of that, probably the only time you see me with a big smile on my face.”

Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at [email protected].

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