‘Hoops Paradise’: All about connecting to audience

Published March 26, 2023, 2:00 PMYoyo Sarmenta

The podcast was able to mix information, history, nostalgia, and fun with a topic as vast as Philippine basketball.

Episode 5 of Hoops Paradise features Raymond Townsend, the first Filipino-American player to make it to the NBA.

Much has been said about the Philippines’ passion for the game of basketball but only a few have told it with as much enthusiasm and attention to detail as Hoops Paradise: The Philippines’ Love of the Game.

From historical facts, exclusive interviews, and untold stories, along with quirky comments that hoop fans would know, the 6-part podcast series distributed by iHeartPodcasts, available on the iHeartRadio app and everywhere podcasts are heard, dives deep into the love affair of Filipinos with basketball. 

Not only was the podcast able to summarize decades of Pinoy basketball information into bite-sized pieces, it was also able to share that rich history and connect it with a wide range of audiences. 

Whether you’re an old head who knows all about the glory days of Caloy Loyzaga or the Crispa Redmanizers, or a longtime fan who can remember all the players who visited Manila, or a new basketball fan who’s rooting for the first homegrown Filipino to make it to the NBA, the stories make you feel included. 

Hosts Cassidy Hubbarth of ESPN and Nikko Ramos of Titan are not only storytellers but are fans who participate in discovering the Filipinos’ love for the game. The stories have the right balance of “Did you know?” and “Hey, this is something interesting you should know about.”

It was also nice to share that love for the game with those who are just as passionate, such as Hubbarth, Ramos, and their guests. Everyone in the country knows how we’re crazy for hoops but it’s a different level to have that craziness validated.

“I think that's the hope for a lot of people listening to the podcast, whether you're Filipino or not, that you just have a connection to whether it's me or Nikko or the people we're talking to,” Hubbarth said.

Listening to coach Tim Cone mention “there’s religion, there’s politics, and then there’s basketball – and those are the three things you talk about in the Philippines.” is like a Leonardo DiCaprio pointing at the TV meme moment. Or when coach Erik Spoelstra said that he remembers in detail his visits in the country, we fans feel seen by one of the greatest coaches in the game. 

There are heavy doses of nostalgia throughout the podcast but not so much that you’ll drown in a sea of old stories. Instead, imagine being around a dinner table with drinks just talking about basketball with friends. Like Hubbarth said, it’s the connections that make the show alive. 

When Ramos talked about having classmates call a tito or a friend with a payphone to know the score of the NBA Finals, you know what he’s talking about in those pre-smart phone days. When they talk about the legend of Billy Ray Bates, you have your own memories that flood your mind of how just great the Black Superman was. And when the topic shifted to players visiting the country, you probably had flashbacks of lining up outside the Araneta Coliseum or an NBA store just to catch a glimpse of stars.

“I think that's the hope for the podcast that it's engaging, it's entertaining,” Hubbarth said. “We're  trying to teach you about the Philippines’ love for the game, but we're also trying to entertain you, and have you feel like you're in on the conversation with us. … People really feeling seen by the podcast, and feeling a part of a community that is being brought together.”

It was also nice to hear yesteryear stories shared in a different way. For diehard Kobe Bryant fans, it’s probably 50-50 to those who already know about the story when he did the tinikling dance. When you heard the confirmation from one of the episodes, the story reached legendary status even further. Another anecdote is Kobe’s relationship with Kat Tan, the one-armed Mamba. You probably know Kat, but you probably haven’t heard that Kat was so starstruck to meet Kobe that she couldn’t even eat in front of him. It’s a small, funny story but entirely relatable if you were in the presence of the Mamba. 

Even the “guess the Filipino word” segment, where Hubbarth attempts to figure out a Pinoy basketball slang, also makes you feel you’re in on the conversation. We all have that one friend who doesn’t have “pakikisama” or that older cousin who knows to use his “gulang” or his veteran wits to get ahead of you. 

The podcast was able to mix information, history, nostalgia, and fun with a topic as vast as Philippine basketball.

“Hopefully, this is by no means the first domino. We're not claiming that at all,” Ramos said on the possibility of doing similar content discussing Filipino hoops. “We stand on the shoulders of a lot of great, great people and great, great projects…  And you know, hopefully we're able to kind of nudge and push and encourage so someone else out there would do a project that's in and around the same neighborhood of topics that we've covered.”

“Each episode is like each chapter in this book. Could there be, you know, more chapters added later? That's the hope,” Hubbarth said. “We're ending basically the series talking about will we one day see a Filipino-born player end up in the NBA.”

It is often said that the Philippines’ love for the game of basketball runs deep. That it is a unique love affair by a little country in the Pacific with a global sport. That a nation with an average height of 5-foot-1 follows a game dominated by giants. All this and more is true. Hoops Paradise was able to put that love front and center while being collectively proud of being a Filipino basketball fan.