WORDS by Kobe Dayao
There was a time when we were kids when we would take trips to the toy store and act like the four-sided stall was our oyster. Before we all started shopping for furniture, groceries, and all those not-so-fun adult stuff, we shopped for colorful plastic figures cased in a hard and transparent plastic box. It was like a never-ending carnival ride with all the choices displayed on those wooden shelves.
There were Power Rangers on the far left side as you entered the store. Every color, minus the red ranger, which was always sold out. To the right, doused in lights and speakers, were the always-too-expensive-for-you gaming consoles with all the game discs locked and kept neatly in a glass case. And right smack in the center? The latest action figures of whatever Marvel, DC, or Indiana Jones spin-off movie that came out recently. There was something for every kid that bugged their parents to take them to the store. The choices were overwhelming at some point, but the good kind. The kind that you would never want to end, and the kind that you wish you had endless amounts of dough for.
That’s the kind of overwhelming experience I had when I took a trip to the NBA Store.
It was the first time in years since I last stepped into a physical NBA store. This was the association’s 29th store globally, and the fifth to have opened in the Philippines. The first one, the flagship and most memorable of any Filipino fan, opened in 2014 at Glorietta 3. It was a 1,000 sqm space—the NBA’s largest retail space outside of the US—that covered two floors, and had interactive stations for the fans and even a free-to-use Playstation for anyone who wanted to flex their game on 2K. Take some notes, Philippine toy stores. Let’s not forget about the museum-styled memorabilia section; filled with everything from game-worn, autograph jerseys to signed basketballs.
That store, together with the three others in Mandaluyong, Cebu, and Trinoma, ceased operations in 2018. This wasn’t exactly a day to remember for those who loved having the ease of purchasing any team-branded items at any given day and time. But there was more to it. The closure of the store didn’t just mean no more access to your favorite Celtics plushies, but it also signified the absence of an avenue where the fans could connect to their favorite NBA players. Whether that was by buying a piece of their team merch, or actually meeting them in person through events organized by the NBA Store team.
The NBA Store was more than just a retail store you’d head over to when you forgot to buy your dad a gift for Father’s Day. It was more than just a place to go window shopping while your mom was taking a stroll somewhere else. It was a meeting ground for NBA Champions, Hall of Famers, the everyday hoop nerds, basketball encyclopedists, and just people who share the same intense passion for the game.
And when that space was taken away, it was like all those connections, too, were taken away.
But after three-and-a-half years of waiting, the team at NBA Philippines, together with basketball retail giant, Titan, have managed to bridge those connections yet again.
The new boutique isn’t as large as the stores that came before it, but it leans on a key element that is heavily influenced and practiced by the Titan side—the art of storytelling.
The semblance of being in a toy store was evident the moment I made my way to the stall and saw the nearly 10-feet tall, blue-and-red-outlined silhouette of Jerry West.
As you make your way to the entrance of the store, you’re instantly greeted with a runway-styled path leading to a display of jerseys with some of the current best names in the league. The lighting on the hardwood-covered runway made it feel like you were at center-court, getting ready for a game. Or to be the halftime performer for one.
You turn to the left, and there’s a TV screen that has NBA League Pass on 24/7, and a display of New Era caps in various designs to level up your support for your favorite team. On the far back side, a sneaker wall with some of the best hoop shoes from Nike, Anta, and more. In between that and the TV, and a personal favorite of mine, you’ll see another display of jerseys, throwbacks this time. From a replica of MJ’s team USA practice jersey, an AI tribute jersey embossed with his career achievements, to a classic purple and gold, round-neck, No. 8 jersey of Bean, this toy store just keeps getting better and better.
The experience you get out of the store, however, lies in the details of the four-corner space. By the cashier, a poster of Giannis winning his first championship greets you with open arms (literally and figuratively) as you get ready to cash in your new purchases. By the changing room wall, there’s a life-sized poster of Boban Marjanovic reminding you no matter how many socks you double-up on, you’ll never even come close to his shoulder height.
But probably one of the best details of the store lies at the head of the cashier counter. Hanging atop there like a jersey in the rafters, is the final score and stat line, including field goals, of Kobe Bryant’s last game for the purple and gold.
My trip to the new NBA store felt like my first-ever trip to that 1,000-sqm space in Glorietta. There was a sense of happiness, joy, excitement, and anxiousness all wrapped up in one. The plethora of items was, again, similar to a toy store, overwhelming. It was hard to pick out one specific piece to take home to commemorate the day. Should I get a shirt? The MJ practice jersey? How about a gold Wilson ball? Should I try my luck on a box of Panini cards? The choices were endless, all I had to do was make the right one.
But then, as I took a second to decide on what I was going to get, I didn’t see other people clamoring for what to buy. There wasn’t anyone deciding on which pair of Stance socks they should get, or trying on any sneakers for their next Sunday game. None of that. There were only people in the store talking UAAP hoops, NBA Playoffs, the PBA draft, all their hot takes going back and forth, and all of them catching up through the one sport they all share the same fiery passion for.
This was when I knew that the space for connecting hoop nerds, basketball encyclopedists, the average fan like myself, and legends of the hardwood was back.
The store breathes new life for Filipino NBA fans. As a country that’s still on the verge of recovering from the gut-punch brought by the pandemic, the opening of the store arrives just in time for the basketball-faithfuls who are eager to get. It’s an insignia for better things to come, and hopefully, the start of new memories, experiences, and stories to tell for this basketball-crazy country.