First of many: Clarkson and Green inspire a nation

Published October 30, 2021, 2:00 PMMiguel Flores

The showdown between Jordan Clarkson and Jalen Green was proof that seeing Filipinos in the NBA is no longer a pipe dream.

Photos from Getty Images | Artwork by Melvin Rodas

Yesterday, the final score felt like it didn’t matter.

When the Utah Jazz faced the Houston Rockets, some things mattered more than winning an early regular season game. For millions of basketball fans an ocean away from Houston, yesterday’s game meant hope.

Utah's Jordan Clarkson and Houston's Jalen Green became the first two players of Filipino descent to share the court in the NBA. Think about that for a good second.

Filipinos have loved basketball since the Americans brought it to our shores in the 1940s. Since then, Pinoys have engaged in a one-sided relationship with the sport. We will play on our bare feet, on concrete, or with a hoop made of aluminum wire and scrap wood. We love it that much.

But generations of Pinoy hoopers have been told that they were too short, too non-athletic to ever play at the highest levels. There’s been a recent FIBA World Cup appearance, a handful of homegrown Filipinos making the G-League at one point, and a budding generation of young Filipinos trying to become legitimate prospects. There hasn’t been a breakthrough for Pinoys, however, at the biggest stage of the sport.

RELATED: Historic night for Filipinos as Clarkson, Green duel for first time

But yesterday, the country’s dreams of having Filipinos in the league seemed a lot less impossible. Clarkson, who has played for the Philippine national team, took on Green, whose legend grew after his visits to the country as a high school prospect. It meant so much for fans when the NBA started having Filipino Heritage Nights. It was momentous to have actual Filipinos playing in the game.

The Jazz came away with the wire-to-wire win, 122-91. Clarkson and Green even got matched up against each other on several occasions. Clarkson, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, finished with 16 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Green, the second pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, managed 13 points, three rebounds, and three assists. 

A lot needed to happen for both players to make yesterday happen. Clarkson arrived in the NBA as a second-round pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2014 draft. He found his niche as a streaky scorer with the Lakers, but his career took a slide when he got traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers midway through the 2017-18 season. On a Cavs squad that was dragged by LeBron James to the finals, Clarkson struggled to muster any offense in the playoffs. When the Cavs faced the Golden State Warriors in the finals, Clarkson shot himself out of the rotation by going 3-for-13 in the first two games of the series.

The next season, LeBron left Cleveland. Clarkson remained, chucking up shots for a Cavs team destined to make the lottery. Clarkson’s big break didn’t come until the 2020 trade deadline when he was shipped to the Jazz. Utah needed his scoring and Clarkson was at a point in his career when he was tired of moving squads. The 2020-21 season was Clarkson’s best, coming off the Jazz bench and providing a dynamic scoring option. Utah finished with the best record in the West and Clarkson won Sixth Man of the Year, a sure spot in the league, and a nice contract extension.

Green, on the other hand, didn't want to conform. Coming out of high school as the second prospect, Green had several top-rated college programs willing to take him in. Instead, Green chose to be the face of the G-League Ignite program. With Ignite, Green got tested, facing G-League teams with players just a few steps away from the NBA.

Many expected Green to get exposed, but instead, he flourished. He averaged 17.9 points on 45 percent shooting. He flashed the skills of a potential superstar. Going second in the draft, Green was tabbed not just the future of Houston, but also the NBA.

“Us two being here is just super inspirational for the youth, for every Filipino-American, every Filipino, every with Filipino blood. This is something that can never be done again because we are the first. Hopefully, we see more [Filipinos] come through the league,” Jordan told the media after the game.

Green is only 19 years old, Clarkson is just 29. It’s safe to say we’re going to get more Filipino Heritage Nights and more matchups between these two. Whether or not Clarkson’s Jazz win a title or Green wins Rookie of the Year, both have already done a lot just by showing their fellow Filipinos that they, too, can make it.

Hopefully, the Filipino Heritage Night involves a lot more Pinoys.



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