THE mark of a great athlete is his ability to transcend generations of spectators. In the past, the glory of being an athlete was immortalized in poetry and the other arts. These works recreated the sporting feats that ordinary citizens could look up to. Verses flowed with dynamism. Vases were meticulously painted. Vigor was captured with the sculptor’s chisel, and the athlete, at the height of his powers, will remain there, encased in stone. The tools may have changed, but the admiration remains in our current flux.
Here in our basketball-crazy country, basketball players are looked up to as heroes by the adoring masses. There are also villains who are just as loved as their counterparts. Their names are remembered and weave through our pop consciousness with the least effort. And yes, a basketball career in the Philippines could be a promising one. The Philippine Basketball Association is home to the best basketball players. Some come and go while other players stay and enjoy long and fruitful careers. For the latter, the best example will be veteran Nicholas “Nic” Belasco.
Coming in as a lanky 6’6 forward from the University of Notre Dame of Maryland, Nic was among the players who led the Filipino-Foreigner surge of the PBA in the mid 90s that changed the complexion of the league. Nic talks about this, “We did change it a lot because our training in the U.S. was different. We had more discipline in taking care of ourselves. The younger generation grew up watching us play. So they took over from what we started.” As a third generation Filipino-American taken in as the second pick by Sunkist of the 1997 Draft Pick and armed with superb training in the United States, the young Nic thought that playing in the PBA will be a walk in the park. “When I came in, guys like Alvin Patrimonio and Nelson Asaytono were killing me,” Nic shares when asked about how it felt like playing in his early years. But he eventually adjusted with the level of competition here. Definitely his years with the fabled San Miguel Beermen of the early to mid 2000s were among the best. Nic shares with enthusiasm, “My best times in my career.” Multiple championships, mythical selections, all-star appearances, and playing for the national team were among Nic’s accolades during those golden years with the Beermen. Playing alongside great teammates like Olsen Racela, Danny Seigle, Danny Ildefenso, Dorian Peña, and Dondon Hontiveros, while under the tutelage of master tactician Jong Uichico; indeed it was a good brew.
Nic has been around the league and to other places. After his stint with the PBA he decided to pack up and go back to the States with his beautiful wife Mafie and his kids. The basketball player, who has a degree in psychology, became a mental health specialist for the Edgewood Center for Families in San Francisco. But again, the call to ball is hard to resist. Getting in shape was a priority. After 2 years of being out of professional basketball, he started playing as an import for the Malaysia Dragons in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL). Belasco revealed again that he could still play as he helped in steering the Dragons to a third place finish in the six-nation tourney. Then, it was back to the PBA with the Powerade Tigers who were still feeling the euphoria of a near Cinderella finish of the previous season. Now at 38, as the elder statesman of the League, he feels that there is still something left in the tank, “these young kids can jump higher and they’re faster, but I know all the tricks,” he lightly confides. And in sports, there is a premium in youth, but experience is a different sort of fuel that could only be gained once the youth makes a transition over time.
And as he runs on the court, providing tough screens for teammates, knocking down an occasional three, or getting that rebound for an extra possession, Nic becomes the embodiment of an athlete who refuses to be satisfied with his laurels for now. For the ball continues to bounce.
Catch Nic Belasco in action with the Alaska Aces and your other favorite players and teams on the 38th season of the PBA starting September 30.
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