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This Isn't Your Dad's UAAP Anymore

Something we can all learn from this UAAP season.
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It's easy to forget that 'fan’ is really just a shortened version of ‘fanatic,’ which refers to a person of extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal. And in a country where basketball—in the words of Pacific Rims author Rafe Bartholomew—is "a cultural force on par with the Catholic Church," it’s no surprise that many Filipino hoops fans tend to go off the deep end in their love of the sport.

No single matchup captures this obsessive reverence quite like the basketball rivalry between Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University. In their recently concluded Season 80 Finals meeting, which ended in an ADMU victory, members of both communities bore witness to a series that reeked of Seventies nostalgia: physical games and off-court drama in all its ad hominem glory.

Basketball as a crusade
Religious overtones dominate the UAAP (and the NCAA). Watch live games enough, and apart from the alma mater hymns after the buzzer, you’ll notice fans young and old muttering unsolicited prayers, perhaps even clutching rosaries.

On this count, Philippine college basketball is rife with irony and hypocrisy, for one could argue that the holy verses uttered during timeouts are often drowned out by the chorus of expletives and warm wishes (assuming hell is a warm place) from both sides. The most popular hand gesture isn’t the sign of the cross either.

And while players and coaches can get tossed, it’s still rare for an ejection to happen outside of the court. During the epic Game 2 duel between ADMU and DLSU, a spectator threw a bottle at the Archer bench, which caused a minor commotion. It begs the question: who keeps the fans in line?

Cyber warfare
To college basketball fans, trooping to the venue for a big game is considered a pilgrimage, especially if it’s to the hallowed halls of the Araneta Center. But for many who—for whatever reason—only watch the games from the comfort of their living rooms, one way they get into it is to grip their smartphones like swords, keeping the fires burning for the online flame wars. If in the stadium, players and supporters shove and heckle each other, the keyboard warriors back home dig deep into their couch trenches, with their artillery of Likes and Tweets, expressing their battle cries of fury and disgust in 280 characters or less.

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The recent ADMU-DLSU matchup brought out the worst. All the classic quips were unearthed: “Green is the color of envy,” and “You only win once in a blue moon.” For the Ateneans, taking jabs at La Sallian intelligence is a choice move. The archers' bows often aim at the disente brand of Katipuneros, recounting historic instances of their rivals' unbecoming behavior, such as L.A. Tenorio’s cheap shot on Jerwin Gaco in 2003, or the burning of planks inscribed with names of the DLSU team in 2008. On both sides, their memory is outstanding.

Nothing survived the banter, from the low-hanging fruit of bad officiating, to players’ looks and families, to bribery allegations against program benefactors such as Danding Cojuangco. The generation gap showed as well, as older alums fired away with homophobic slurs, only to be called out by millennials. Even the cheers drew condemnation, with young undergrads knocking on decades-old anthems, angering the purists. These were the most brutal to watch unfold, seeing those from the same side tear each other apart.

The telling difference from previous years was the weaponization of social media. Alums raged over dirty plays revealed in videos that would surface online after games (only showing those in their team’s favor), commenting emphatically without taking the time to choose their words. Those words proved sharper in real-time. La Salle's Ben Mbala even sounded off on apparent racial attacks.

Learning from our mistakes
Someone once wrote in an online forum that Ateneo and La Salle alums are cut from the same cloth. That the student profile is essentially the same. They're two sides of the same coin, and if they played in the United States, they'd be the Duke Blue Devils. Everyone else would hate both of them, equally.

But where there's hate, there's always room for love. Despite the wrinkles of unbridled online freedom, the friction between rival schools is still a substantial upgrade from forty years ago.

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As a Facebook user in an ADMU group wrote: “Today you have a pro-Ateneo and pro-La Salle crowd seated together. Something unheard of in the '70s because of the violence that would escalate.”

He’s absolutely right. We’ve come a long way. And while social media is still filled with so much of that familiar noise, there were also outlying instances of encouraging sportsmanship—like the hashtag #AnimOBF advocating "peace and love" between the two sides. Rather coincidental with the '70s comparison, isn’t it?

Twitter user @sergiewonder even captured this moment after the heated Game 2 of the Finals:


So, yeah. Let's kiss and make up, shall we? To the oldies: Ease up on the cursing, the kids are watching. To the younger fans: Get off your moral high horses, don’t forget who keeps the lights on. Here’s to calling for more level-headed discussions, measured behavior, and fair play between players and all the members of school communities across Philippine college basketball.

After Ateneo's win, La Salle was bathed in blue as respect for their longtime rivals.

Stay humble in victory, and gracious in defeat.

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Ben Pablo
Ben Pablo is a Manila-born writer who calls the road home, eager to tell the stories of the world. Follow his work on Facebook.
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