A look at the Philippines players who made it to the NBA
Hank Biasatti was the first athlete born outside of the US to play in the NBA, way back in 1946. Born in Italy and raised in Canada, Biasatti spent a season with the then Toronto Huskies playing six games before being drafted by the Celtics prior to the 1947 season. He played a grand total of zero games before switching back to the MLB, where he had played before his brief career in basketball. Since then, the NBA has progressively become home to more players hailing from all over the world, with 21.8% of players in 2020 being classed as international players. The talent of these players has improved with each passing decade, so much so that the MVP in each of the last three NBA seasons was born outside of the US (Giannis Antetokounmpo 18/19, 19/20 born in Greece and Nikola Jokic 20/21 born in Serbia).
Asia is the lowest represented region in the league, with just 22 players getting on the court since the league’s inception. Furthermore, there has not been a lot of Filipino representation in the league. However, there are currently two active players of Filipino descent playing in the NBA and a third non-active player who retired in 1985. Let us take a look at how they managed to make the leap to the big league.
If the hype is to be believed, the Philippines could not wish for a better representative than Jalen Green. A six-foot-six shooting guard, Green opted against going to college and instead joined the G-League after graduating from San Joaquin High School. After a year in the minor league, he the 2nd overall pick in the 2021 draft, signing for the Houston Rockets and subsequently becoming the highest drafted Asian-American player in NBA history. During his time in the G-League, Green recorded a season-high 30 points, seven assists, and five rebounds in the first round of the playoffs against Raptors 905. He finished the season with an average of 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. Rockets General Manager Rafael Stone has even referred to him as a “transcendent athlete” and an “extraordinarily exciting prospect.” With all this hype surrounding him it is easy to see why Rockets fans are excited to see Green lace up and get on the court when the season starts. Whilst their chances at glory in the 21-22 season may be low — betting at a sportsbook will get you 50000 odds for them to win the NBA Championship — fans could be in for a thrilling season watching their best young prospect.
A seven-year mainstay in the NBA, Jordan Clarkson was born to an American father and Filipino mother and represents the Philippines internationally. He has been a valued member of every team he has played for. In his freshman season at the University of Tulsa, Clarkson was named in the 2011 Conference USA All-Freshman team. He averaged 16.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 33.9 minutes per game in his sophomore year, later foregoing his final year of college eligibility and declaring early for the draft. In 2014, he was the 46th overall pick, signing for the Washington Wizards before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on draft night. In recent years, Clarkson has excelled at the Utah Jazz. After averaging a career high of 18.4 points per-game in the 20/21 season, he won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award and his performances have helped Utah Jazz become real contenders for the 2022 championship.
Whilst only serving a short time in the league—three years spread between the Indiana Pacers and the Golden State Warriors—Raymond Townsend has the honour of being the first ever Filipino-American to play in the NBA. A six-foot-three point-guard, he averaged nearly 28 points a game for the Camden High Cougars in his senior year before playing college ball at UCLA. There, he became an NCAA champion in 1975 and earned first-team All-Pac-8 honors during his senior year. He was then drafted 22nd overall by the Golden State Warriors in 1978 and played there for two seasons before concluding his career with the Indiana Pacers. A trailblazer for Asian-American Basketball fans, his everlasting legacy has helped pave the way for the likes of Green and Clarkson and will continue to inspire future generations.
Born in Syracuse, New York, Andray Blatche has not an ounce of Filipino blood in him. However, in 2014, the Philippine Senate approved a bill to officially make him a citizen, as to allow him to lace up for their national team. In August 2014, Blatche was named in the Philippine FIBA Basketball World Cup squad and averaged 21.2 points, 13.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game over the five games he played in, eventually helping them to their first World Cup win in four decades. He went on to play in the 2015 FIBA Championship and future qualifying games before picking up a gold medal in the 2017 SEABA Championship
Whilst Filipino’s may not have been well presented in the league in numbers, the few who have made it are a credit to those they represent. Their work on and off the court to put Asian-American basketball players on the map has and will be appreciated by fans for years to come and Townsend’s legacy lives through Green and Jackson. With all the talk surrounding Green’s potential, it seems only a matter of time before the Filipino community have a bona fide star and they will no doubt get behind their man like only they can.
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