Playing for the Same, Playing for More

More than an athlete.

If you have to know just one thing about LeBron James, it’s that motto. Championships, sure. MVP trophies, yes. Space Jam 2, cool. But his greatest accomplishment, when all is said and done, will probably be a simple but incredibly powerful phrase:

I AM MORE THAN.

His latest signature sneaker is the best representation of being much more than what others may define you as. On the surface, it is once again the pinnacle of achievement in basketball footwear technology. Past its hardcourt performance however, it is undeniable proof that – whether via colorways or details or handwritten midsole notes – the message is what’s most important.

First in the country to wear and hoop in the Nike LeBron 17s are six athletes at various points in their careers. Jeron Teng is returning from injury, on the brink of turning the corner to become a full-fledged star player, again. CJ Perez was the breakout performer on the World Cup Stage, ready to bag gold against the region’s best before the year ends. Aaron Black has gone from DNPs to triple-doubles, and has barged his way into top-of-his-draft-class discussions.

Impressive, outstandingly talented, deserving of every praise in the book. These players, these men, should be written about more. And they will. But not here. This is more than a shoe review. This is more than a re-telling of an exclusive, Tuesday-night workout. This is more than.

This, in many ways, has more to do with LeBron James than just his sneaker. He’s known for his otherworldly work ethic. His commitment to preparation, to sharpening his mind and body, to improving every facet of his game, it’s unlike most other athletes’. His is an underdog mentality, always working and grinding regardless of wins and losses. It’s as if he’s out there to prove something still.

That’s something the three ladies present that night know a thing or two about.

Trina Guytingco, Bea Daez and Kent Pastrana aren’t as famous. When the surprised passersby outside the Nike Hypercourt in BGC stopped and took their phones out or yelled ‘Idol!’ through the chain-link fence, it wasn’t for them. Play after play, however, drill after drill, bucket after bucket, the ooh’s and aah’s weren’t because the men were doing what was expected of them, it was because the women were doing what they expect of themselves – each and every time they step on the court.

The ladies got on the court, with the same intensity for this workout as they have with every game they play. It’s all part of their routine – going as hard as possible at every practice so that their minds and bodies are always locked on top gear. There is no ‘turning it on’ for them. Frankly, it’s because they never turn it down to begin with, let alone turn it off. Stretch, weave, layups, jumpers, ballhandling, they’ve got their own sequences and drills they each like doing. It’s automatic, it’s done ‘til perfection.

Women’s basketball isn’t as popular, isn’t as watched or participated in here in the Philippines. That’s a shame. These ladies are proof that their style of play is must-see TV; and that anyone who wants to get on their level shouldn’t hesitate about following their hoop hearts and picking up the game.

Leading up to what will be a historic game on October 13, it was a perfect opportunity to get to know the protagonists of a whole-new chapter of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry. Finally, the Lady Archers and the Lady Eagles will square off live on TV, on a Sunday morning at the MOA Arena, with the ABS-CBN Sports + Action cameras capturing and broadcasting every second of action.

Two of these ladies will be on center court, with the other on the mic calling the action. What a time to be alive.

Kent Pastrana, the young Lady Archer balling far from home, is the prototype of what a Filipina baller can be. Long, athletic, with a tight handle and a smooth touch, her natural talent is only exceeded by her cant-miss potential. “Marami akong ibang sports na nasubukan dati, pero ‘di ako masaya. Dito talaga sa basketball ko napalabas ‘yung talent ko.” She laced her 17’s tighter than the rest of the other athletes, double-knotted them like she’s done her whole life. It’s support she values most, it’s support her fast-charging, hard-stopping, direction-changing game requires.

“These are hella bouncy! Oh I like these. Let’s go already!” Trina Guytingco loves to hoop. More than most any other person you’ve ever met, guaranteed. She is absolutely head-over-heels crazy in love with hooping. As soon as she laced up, she started skipping, hopping, euro-stepping in place. If ever the largest Max Air ever put on a LeBron silhouette needed more testing, it was certainly getting it from Trina, all this before even picking up the leather. The Ateneo Lady Eagle smiled and laughed as everyone else started to get a feel for the new ‘Brons. While they were still getting ready, she was ready to get ‘em. “Someone once commented on my Instagram and said ‘I bet I could beat you one-on-one.’ And I was like, ‘You know what? Come see me! I’m not backing down.’” Yeah, she was made for this.

Dazzle. That’s what they called her when she recently wore National colors. Bea ‘Dazzle’ Daez. It’s a clever play on words but also probably the most accurate way to describe Bea as a person, a broadcaster, an accountant, but most of all as a baller. She’s fiercely competitive, unafraid to get in your space and defend like the entire game depended on that very possession. Her ball-handling is elite, only her perfect jumpshot form is more impressive. She commended the shoe’s weight (or lack of it) immediately after her first sprint. It takes speed to beat professional athletes off the dribble. It takes speed to dazzle. Bea was practically ‘retired’ from ball. That’s what happens when there’s no pro league to graduate to. She tried to make the National Team before and failed. She was wearing a face mask to protect a broken nose just two months ago. And then, she came back. “It’s every girl’s dream to represent the country. It’s my dream still. I’m so honored to have been part of the team.”

Dazzling, yes. Tough? Hell yes.

Her dream of Team Pilipinas duties shrinks however compared to the collective hope that all three shared: “In the next few years, I hope that there will be a professional league for women,” Bea shared. “Sana after college, may susunod na paglalaruan, may future as a career,” Kent added. “We have to put a spotlight on all these girls playing so well now, so that the other younger girls who love the game will be motivated to get better and take us to the future,” Trina said with conviction.

What was painfully clear watching these six athletes run three-man-weaves and ball-handling drills and defending each other full-court was this: sometimes we overcomplicate the simple. Sometimes we put barriers and hurdles where there should only be even concrete (or if you’re lucky, smooth hardcourt). Aaron, CJ and Jeron saw the same thing Bea, Trina and Kent saw. For the most part, they saw other hoopers there to help each other get better. In little, smaller moments, they saw either an open teammate filling the lane, or an unfortunate defender about to get scored on.

Soon enough, as what often (but not often enough) happens when someone who’s never watched women’s basketball actually sees it up close for once, the people peering through the fence stopped saying things like “Ang galing ‘nung babae!” and instead started saying things like “Ang galing!”

I retract.

Yes, this is about a shoe. A top-level performer of a signature sneaker finally arriving to our shores in extended sizing made for every size, kind, and type of baller. The Nike LeBron 17 is the best LeBron ever. Because of what it’s made out of, because of how it was made, because of how it makes you better on the court. But also because, in any size, now in every size, it’s actually, truly, finally for all.

Yes, this is a re-telling of a Tuesday-night workout among six top-level athletes. On the surface, to an untrained, unschooled eye, it may have looked unusual. But to the people actually between the lines, it was nothing more, nothing special – just hoopers hooping.

This isn’t meant to patronize, to unnecessarily glorify the ordinary. For Bea, Trina and Kent, high-level elite basketball players period period period, that night was just another day to get better, to play the game they love.

Their excellence allows for nights like this to be ordinary for them. One day it will push so many others to work, to fight, to defy barriers and hurdles so they too may become so excellent that equality becomes nothing rare, but an expectation.

On the court, to those who really know, they are basketball players. Period. Period period.

It is because of that that they are more.


Catch Bea call the game as Trina and Kent square off this October 13, 10 AM at the Mall of Asia Arena. Live telecast of the Ateneo Lady Eagles versus the De La Salle Lady Archers will be on ABS-CBN S&A and via livestream on sports.abs-cbn.com.

Know more about these athletes on their Instagram accounts: @beadaez, @trinaguytingco @kentpasrtrana.