A Hate Letter to Kiefer Ravena

I hate Kiefer Ravena.

There. I said it. It obviously seems like an outrageous statement towards such a charming guy, but hear me out. Let me tell my side of the story.

From the moment I stepped into the SLAM 2017 Draft Suite, I already saw that he was there.

Of course, he was there.

I treaded my way through the event, keeping him in the corner of my eye. Just in case.

It was finally inevitable to avoid confrontation when we both approached to start a conversation with the ever friendly Carlo Pamintuan. I sheepishly looked at him as Carlo started introducing us to each other.

Not that I needed any. I knew exactly who he was.

We reached our hands out for a formal greeting and as Carlo introduced me, I quickly followed up with my own personal statement.

“Hi, I hate you.”

Through my smile and firm friendly handshake, I sincerely meant it.

Kiefer, I hate you.

That actually wasn’t the first time I had met Kiefer. No, we had crossed paths plenty of time prior to that. Where else would all of this hate have built up from? To get to the root of all the hatred, we have to trace back to late April 2015.

I had attended to watch a Gilas Cadets practice one day at Meralco Gym where they were to play in a tune up game against Blackwater. Here’s what I had wrote about Kiefer in that game:

“This was the biggest surprise for me. [The Cadets] started the game with star point guard Kiefer Ravena, who had a solid performance on both offense and defense, but he didn’t wow me as much as I expected for a guy who had been pegged as a potential Number 1 [PBA Draft] pick alongside Moala Tautua’a and Bobby Ray Parks.”

That was my first live encounter with Kiefer. I didn’t know much about him; he didn’t know anything about me. And yet, I had already built up a sense of disliking. At that moment, it was more of a neutral unimpressed vibe. Little did I know that those feelings would change drastically very soon.

The Gilas Cadets had been practicing for the SEA Games 2015 which was approximately one month away. I had never watched any SEA Games basketball prior to that year, but I figured that the Philippines were a strong team. Especially with Ray Parks, Troy Rosario, and Jio Jalalon. Yeah, they were going to be great judging from that one practice I watched.

But Kiefer? Nah, he’s just pretty decent for all I knew back then.

Fast forward another month and change and there I was in the stands of OCBC Arena, the venue of that year’s SEA Games. As a Thai, I was pretty bummed out that Thailand had lost to Singapore in the elimination round, setting them up against the Philippines in the semifinals. I hadn’t given Thailand much of a chance since this was the Philippines they were going up against. Sure, it was mostly a bunch of college players and Marcus Douthit but it was the goddamn Philippines.

Now knowing how it eventually went down, you can imagine how excited I was during that entire game. Thailand had gone up by as much as 13 at one point and though the Philippines had roared back to claim the lead, Thailand were still hanging in the game.

With less than one minute left, Thai guard, Nattakarn Meungboon, whizzed right by his defender and put in a layup. That got Thailand to within just one point at 76-75 with 30 seconds to go. I was screaming in excitement at the top of my lungs in the stands.

Down by only one in a two possession game? There was hope.

Here’s the thing about the ending of that game. The defender who allowed Meungboon to waltz in for that layup was none other than Kiefer Ravena himself. As a 21-year-old who had just allowed his defender to score two crucial points, no one would have blamed Ravena if he had done anything else than what eventually happened in the following sequence.

Almond Vosotros had been on fire for the whole game and was waiting in the corner. Troy Rosario was having a monster game and walked up to set the pick. Marcus Douthit had half a foot of an advantage over his defender and was waiting in the paint.

Instead of possibly looking into those other options, Kiefer calmly walked up and brushed away Rosario’s pick.

This is where the hatred begins.

For a solid 16 seconds in the most crucial play of the game, the ball was always in Kiefer’s hands and all his did was dribble to size up Wuttipong Dasom on the top of that 1-2-2 zone.

The second most hurtful thing about that sequence was that there was no advanced basketball brilliance involved. There were no double-pin screens or curls or movement away from the ball to fool the defense or fake hand-offs or any of that nonsense. There was no left-to-right, behind-the-back, through-the-legs, throw-off-the-face, fancy dribbling to set it up. The entire play could have been explained in one short sentence:

“Kiefer Ravena got the ball from the inbound, dribbled up to the three-point line, and made the shot.”

And that was it. The three put the Philippines up by four with only 19 seconds left in the game.

The most hurtful thing in that entire sequence was what came instantly after was that smug “not-a-big-deal” look Kiefer had on his face after he made the shot. The fact that he made the shot, making the face he made, making sure that the cameras got a clear shot of his expression was the most painful part of it all.

Because every time I watch that replay, he’s always there glancing and smirking, with that yes-I-just-did-that expression.

From that moment on, I had made my mind.

Kiefer, now I hate you.

Eventually, I got over that. Or at least I got better at bottling up that hatred for Kiefer.

It was difficult at first. Since I was following basketball, it was hard to avoid the name Kiefer Ravena. I started following UAAP basketball in Ravena’s last season with Ateneo, so I was instantly a La Salle fan that season. Though Ravena didn’t win the title that year, he had plenty of his moments, and that annoyed me.

Shortly after, Kiefer played for the Mighty Sports Club in the Merlion Cup. I was quite happy when Jimmer Freddete singlehandedly beat Ravena and Mighty Sports for the title at OCBC Arena. But even then, Kiefer was lauded for his superb defensive effort on Jimmer.

Kiefer and I almost ran into each other for the first time when he was a late addition to the Alab Pilipinas ABL squad in the playoffs. I watched as he lost in the first game of the semi-finals, once again in OCBC Arena. But even then, Kiefer was the brightest spot on the team. Even as the Alab Pilipinas dropped the following game to be eliminated from the ABL playoffs, Kiefer was still the team’s best player.

After intensively following a certain player, trying to dissect his game as much as possible searching for flaws, I came to eventually respect that Kiefer really was a highly-talented and intelligent basketball player. He could seemingly fit into any team that needed him and be effective. After almost two years of closely tracking his career, I had come to immensely respect the talented player that was Kiefer Ravena. But still, no matter how much respect I had…

Kiefer, I still hated you.

A full two years after the seeds of hatred had been planted in my heart for Kiefer, things were about to come full circle in SEA Games 2017 Kuala Lumpur. He was named to the Philippines National Team once again, in search for his 4th straight SEA Games gold medal. The Philippines National Team were pitted in the same group as Thailand, and would be playing in their opening games.

It was once again a tightly contested game and Thailand had a 71-69 lead with less than five minutes to go. I should have known better than to raise my hopes, especially with Kiefer on the court. But hate blinds you sometimes.

A minute later, the lead had already gone back to the Philippines but it was only a two-point game and Thailand just needed a defensive stop. The shot clock wound down to less than five seconds as, who else, Kiefer got the ball in the left-side corner surrounded by Thai defenders.

As if it was nothing, he drained the clutch fadeaway baseline jumper, extending the lead to a two-possession game in what seemed to put the nail in the coffin for good.

“That was clutch,” the commentator had said.

Yes, it was. Just like old times.

After all this time, after many years, nothing had changed.

Kiefer, it seems like I just might always have to hate you.

On the evening of May 28, 2018, news broke out that Kiefer had been suspended by FIBA for a duration of 18 months. He wouldn’t be able to play for the national team. He wouldn’t be able to play for his club team. He wouldn’t even be able to practice.

Despite my deeply-rooted loathing for him, I took no joy in his absence.

Just as he was counting down the days, waiting to return and play in front of his fans; I also crossed the days off the calendar, waiting for the day to root for whichever team he would go up against.

Now he’s back, at least for practice. By August 24, he’ll be cleared to play for the national team once again. By November, he might already be preparing to play for the Philippines national team once again for the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers where they have been grouped with Thailand. By December, it’s not crazy to think he could be called upon to go for his 5th SEA Games gold medal where he would possibly have to go through Thailand.

There was no enjoyment over the past year with Kiefer out of the picture. What’s the point of all this if I couldn’t watch him get beat? Now that he’s back – with the opportunity to be go up against Thailand not once, but twice in the span of just a few weeks – everything just feels right.

Kiefer, I will always hate you… but it’s good to see you back.

Wish you all the best in your return… except anytime you play against Thailand.

Additional photos from FIBA.com and Kiefer Ravena’s Instagram