8 Pinoys Who Have Brought Local Talent to the NBA
Feb 12, 2022   •   8List Editor
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Feb 12, 2022   •   8List Editor
The NBA’s ongoing 75th season saw two Pinoys for the first time sharing the hard court. Last October, Utah Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson and Houston Rockets’ Jalen Green, two of the league’s most promising stars who have Filipino ancestry, impressed basketball fans around the world — as their teams went head to head in a match that Salt Lake would eventually ace, 122–99.
Filipinos all over the world tuned in to their TVs and devices through NBA League Pass – the league’s premium live-game subscription service available to PLDT Home Fiber subscribers – to see them make history. As the Philippine basketball community grows, more Filipino talents – players and coaches alike – are proudly representing the country and realizing their dreams of making it to the NBA. In case you didn’t know, Clarkson and Green aren’t the only Filipinos who have showcased their talents on the NBA floor. Meet the rest of ‘em here!
To new and young Filipino fans, Jordan Clarkson might be the most familiar player in the league who has ties to the Philippines. Clarkson was born in Florida, while his mother and maternal grandmother trace their roots to Pampanga.
In 2014, Clarkson was selected with the 46th overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards prior to being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Highlights of his Lakers tenure included playing with the late Kobe Bryant and joining Taiwanese guard Jeremy Lin to form the first Asian-American starting backcourt on March 25, 2015 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Utah Jazz, Clarkson has now found a home in Salt Lake City. Here, he earned the “Flamethrower” nickname, after averaging 18.4 points and hitting 203 three-pointers off the bench during the 2020-21 season. He would become the first player in Jazz history to win the Kia NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
Clarkson represented the Philippines in the 2018 Asian Games, leading the team to a fifth-place finish – the country’s best in over a decade.
The third and most recent NBA baller of Filipino descent is Jalen Green, who has the tools to become a future star. This young gun with Ilocano roots (his mother Bree Purganan hails from Ilocos Sur) was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, before deciding to forego college to join the NBA G League Ignite — a team for elite NBA Draft-eligible players.
During the 2021 NBA Draft, Green was chosen second overall by the Houston Rockets, becoming the highest-drafted player with ties to the Philippines. In his third regular-season game against the Boston Celtics, Green recorded a team-high 30 points, including 8 3-pointers, which made him the first Rockets rookie in history with 30 points and 8 threes in a single game.
Green will be traveling to Cleveland for NBA All-Star 2022 as a member of Team Worthy in the Clorox Rising Stars and a contestant in the AT&T Slam Dunk.
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, who is of Filipino descent through his Laguna-born mother Elisa Celino, made history as the first-ever Asian-American head coach across all four major North American sports leagues and the first Asian-American head coach to win an NBA championship.
Spoelstra’s starry future in basketball seemed to have been set early on, with his father being former NBA executive Jon Spoelstra and his grandfather being the late sportswriter Watson Spoelstra. In 1995, Spoelstra joined the Miami Heat, serving as a video coordinator for two years before being promoted to assistant coach.
Spoelstra nabbed his first championship with Heat as an assistant coach in the 2006 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. Two years later, he was handpicked by former head coach Pat Riley to be his successor. He has since won the NBA championship for Heat twice as their head coach, which he accomplished in Miami’s back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. In April 2021, Spoelstra left his mark on NBA history again after becoming the sixth head coach to win 600 games with a single franchise.
Recently named as one of the 15 Greatest Coaches in NBA history, Spoelstra will be leading Team Durant during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland.
New York native Andray Blatche was drafted straight out of high school and selected 49th overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2005 NBA Draft. In 2012, Blatche signed with the Brooklyn Nets for two seasons before moving on to play in the Chinese Basketball Association in 2014.
Blatche may not have Filipino blood, but his heart bleeds red, yellow, and blue. Also in 2014, the 6’11” center became a naturalized Filipino citizen who would suit up for the Philippine national basketball team in multiple international competitions, including the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships and the 2017 SEABA Championship.
In a tweet just last December, Blatche expressed his desire to play in the PBA. This naturally excited Pinoy basketball fans, some of whom even tagged the local pro league under the tweet.
Clarkson seems to have received all the raves for being the country’s rep in the NBA in the past decade but hardcore fans know Raymond Townsend, whose mother hails from Balayan, Batangas, as the first-ever player of Filipino descent to join the league. Born and raised in California, Townsend attended college at UCLA and trained under legendary coach John Wooden, who led the university basketball team to a 10-time championship in the NCAA.
Townsend was selected 22nd overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 1978 NBA Draft. He played for the Bay Area franchise for two seasons prior to joining the Alberta Dusters in the then Continental Basketball Association in their 1980-81 season. Townsend would return to the NBA with the Indiana Pacers for one year during the 1981-82 season and then continue his basketball career across professional teams in Brazil (E.C. Sirio, C.A. Monte Libano) and Italy (Virtus Roma). Among the towering American ballers, the proudly Pinoy Townsend proved that the usually typecast ‘shorter’ and ‘slower’ Filipinos could break through the league, too.
Now a dad of two, Townsend later established his own training company – RT Basketball – and has helped develop over 23,000 young basketball players for the bigger leagues while consulting for basketball leagues in over 15 cities in the US.
Here’s a fairly new NBA talent showing promise to be the next Spoelstra.
For over a decade, professional player-turned-coach Jimmy Alapag played in the PBA for Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters and Meralco Bolts. After formally retiring as a player in 2016, he turned his focus to coaching — beginning with his role as an assistant coach for Gilas Pilipinas. In 2017, he then became the head coach for Alab Pilipinas in the ASEAN Basketball League and handed the team its first and sole ABL championship following a duel with Thailand.
In 2019, Alapag helped coach the Stockton Kings, the NBA G-League affiliate of the Sacramento Kings. A year later, he and his family permanently moved to Los Angeles, California to start a new life — and it seems the move has since been doing wonders for Alapag’s coaching career. In 2021, Alapag joined the Stockton Kings again as an assistant coach, powering the team to its second Summer League title at the expense of the Boston Celtics. The big win eventually led to another coaching opportunity for Alapag, returning as the team’s assistant coach this 2021–2022 season.
Born in Parañaque, Bobby Ray “Ray-Ray” Parks Jr. was 13 when he moved to the US with his father, Bobby Parks Sr., who was a former NBA player and a seven-time PBA Best Import awardee and Hall of Famer. After playing for Melrose High School, Parks returned to the Philippines and joined the National University Bulldogs in 2011. During his UAAP career, he was hailed MVP for two consecutive seasons (2011-2012).
He played for the Dallas Mavericks in the 2015 NBA Summer League and joined the Texas Legends in the 2015–16 D-League season. From 2015 to 2017, Parks also joined Gilas Pilipinas to represent the country in various international competitions. He helped capture the gold medal for his homeland in the 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. Since August 2021, Parks has been playing for the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins in the B.League. He recently joined fellow Filipinos in the B. League Asia Rising Star Game in January 2022.
Jr. NBA – the league’s global youth basketball participation program – has been staged in the Philippines since 2007, producing several prominent players here and abroad.
In 2015, Ginebra San Miguel’s Aljon Mariano became the first Jr. NBA alumnus to play professionally in the PBA, while Kiefer Ravena was selected 2nd overall in the 2017 PBA Draft. Currently, other notable Jr. NBA alumni have joined the local professional league including Regile Kent “RK” Ilagan (Alaska Aces), Aljun Melecio (Phoenix Fuelmasters), and Kib Montalbo (TNT Tropang Giga).
With Jr. NBA alumni receiving world-class basketball instruction, it didn’t come as a surprise that some of its alumni here would showcase their talents elsewhere. Former Ateneo star Thirdy Ravena, who became the first Jr. NBA Philippines alumnus to play professionally in the Japanese B.League, has played for the San-en NeoPhoenix since 2020. Following the same path is Ravena’s older brother Kiefer, who joined the Shiga Lakestars in 2021. Fellow Jr. NBA alumnus and former UP Fighting Maroons star player Kobe Paras also signed with the Niigata Albirex for their 2021-22 campaign. Last January, Paras and both Ravena brothers played in the B. League Asia Rising Star Game.
Finally, the latest and youngest Jr. NBA alumnus making a mark internationally is the 7’2” center Kai Sotto, who was also part of the NBA G League Ignite. In December 2021, Sotto made his debut with the Adelaide 36ers in the Australian National Basketball League.
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