“Magandang hapon. Ang pangalan ko ay Dray Live.”
(“Good afternoon, my name is Dray Live.”)
That was as hard to say as it was to type, but maybe this Tagalog greeting and other customs will be Brooklyn Nets’ center Andray Blatche’s new reality as he is now officially a citizen of the Philippines. Yes, the 27-year-old Syracuse native is, as Wikipedia states “an American-Filipino professional basketball player” after being granted citizenship by government officials on May 26th. This has humorous hints of Chappelle’s Show “Racial Draft” skit written all over it (“Konichiwa, bitches!!!” I know, different language, but you get the gist). Mind you, Dray’s first time ever stepping on Filipino soil was last Sunday.
The Philippines have been starved to bring awareness to their national basketball team, Gilas Pilipinas, as they prepare for the FIBA World Cup in August, by pilfering any NBA talent. As the team’s coach, Chot Reyes stated via Twitter, Blatche was the only one willing to take his talents to Manila[i]. “The opportunity that I’m receiving to come out here to the Philippines is something that you’re going to wish for,” Blatche said during Tuesday’s introductory press conference. “When they asked me to come I was excited.”
Let’s hope for the country’s sake they are equally excited for Blatche’s freewheeling, Euro-stepping, questionable shot selecting, Homer Simpson “D’oh” inducing, game that Nets fans simply sum up as, “Blatche gonna Blatche.” In a sense, the 10-year vet is Brooklyn’s version of Knicks’ guard J.R. Smith—you praise him when he excels and curse him when he does something boneheaded, but you don’t stay neutral on the subject. After being amnestied by the Washington Wizards and deemed a cancer by his former employer, Blatche— then-Nets’ coach Avery Johnson’s reclamation project—flourished his first season in Kings County, averaging 10.3 points on a career-high in field goal percentage at 51.2% and improved those numbers the following year, dropping 11.2 and 5.3 (vs. 4.9 boards the season before.) How that will translate on a height-deprived Gilas team whose team captain, Jimmy Alapag, is listed at 5’9” is yet to be seen. But you can bet a sock full of nickels that Blatche, at 6’11”, will be the go-to-man. Besides, with names like Lillard, George, Irving, Curry and other young guns of the NBA filling out Team USA’s roster, there wouldn’t be any chance for Dray Live to shine this summer even if he was added to the 28-player pool …which he wasn’t.
And that right there is the real motivation behind this ploy. Aside from factoring in his impending free agency—playing solidly this summer will help his stock greatly if he performs well and as Nets’ GM Billy King pointed out to the Wall Street Journal, would allow “him continue to play and work on conditioning,”—this could be Andray Blatche’s chance to spotlight himself and and revel in a nation’s adoration. Say, perhaps, like former (New Jersey) Net and petroleum jelly eater Stephon Marbury, who is beloved in China where he currently plays for the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association. In 2012, the team built a statue in his honor after he led them to their first championship, and he’s since won another ‘chip for the Ducks in March. If Andray Blatche “Blatches” his way into the hearts of his, er, countrymen, Filipinos will spin whimsical yarns about his legendary exploits and shout his name from the peaks of The Chocolate Hills to Rizal Park, just like native son—and ironically, now basketball coach of the Kia Motors expansion team—Manny Pacquiao. Imagine that. Just please, Dray, don’t take on a musical career.
[i] It was reported in January that Denver Nuggets’ big man JaVale McGee was also a target of Gilas Pilipinas, in hopes to join the former Washington Wizards teammates on their national team. A bill has been filed for McGee’s “naturalization” and he could still join the team in time for the FIBA World Cup. But McGee’s leg injury might put the kibosh on that.
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