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Arwind Santos stole the headlines from PBA’s San Miguel Beer when he directed a taunt a Talk N Text import Terrence Jones, a black man who has a Fil-Am son, when the talented import committed a foul in the second quarter of Game 5 of the PBA Finals held last August 14, 2019. The taunt was in the form of a monkey-like gesture.
The incident made rounds in the social media universe and generated millions of comments and reactions that rightfully highlighted the racist part of this act.
I’d like to share a piece of my mind on this matter to Herald Express readers, with the mindset of keeping the topic generally within the confines of basketball while touching the more important racism part once in a while.
Be like Mike, Larry: the best “Mess with your Mind” Men of all-time
When I heard Santos’ reasoning of committing the gesture as part of playing mind games, my mind flashed back to acts of my two favorite NBA cagers growing up, NOT because of any racist act but because of what I perceived as their supreme confidence and their ability to play mind-games with class.
You see, NBA greats Boston Celtic Larry Bird and Chicago Bull Michael Jordan are arguably the two best “trash-talkers” of the NBA all-time.
Back when they were playing, mind-games were better known as thrash-talking and were a real part of the game. Words to one’s opponent were a cool component of the game back then because they mess their minds and get them not to focus on the game. It is probably still applied today, although to a lesser degree.
Bird and Jordan were the best in using this aspect of the game to their advantage without saying words that could offend any collective group, at least based on reported incidents. I’m sure words by both men have hurt the feelings of their opponents, but that is where it ended. It was just a “modified basketball play” if I were to say.
Here are some samples of what they used to do:
Bird probably came up with the ultimate messing minds act of them all when he would tell his opponents the exact play, that he will get the ball and what he will do in a game and goes to execute it the way he told them.
Every true-blue Celtic fan knew the name Xavier McDaniel. He is associated with this act. McDaniel was once assigned to guard Larry during the dying seconds of a game when Bird tells him what they’re supposed to execute: “I’m going to get the ball right here and I am going to shoot it right in your face.”
Bird got the pass, found the spot he told McDaniel and then makes the shot. “I didn’t mean to leave two seconds on the clock,” Bird told McDaniel as the Seattle Supersonics failed to reverse the tide in the final attempt.
The best Jordan mind-game I ever heard was from NBA great Steve Smith in an NBA Open Court episode.
Smith, who plays the same position as Jordan and often guards him when their teams faced, says Jordan tells him a high number when he makes his first basket, Like 48, after connecting a jumper or a dunk. That number goes lower after each made basket.
Smith was dumbfounded about what it means until after a few sequences when he realized Jordan was doing a countdown! By the time the count reaches zero, Jordan has 50 points against the defense of Smith! (Imagine having a negative number, haha.)
These are amazing, creative ways to play mind-games!
The monkey-like gesture is not Cool at all!
The monkey-like gesture, or any gestures similar to it, does not have a place in the court or even outside of it because of its racial component. It is an act that could provoke anybody to commit retaliation, even a violent one. We, as Filipinos, have been the subject of this gesture before and we didn’t like it a bit, even if it was genuinely made as a joke.
The game of basketball, or any sport for that matter, should be played like how it is to be enticing to fans, a battle of talents. In basketball, dribbling, scoring, dunking, defending, court savvy, and the like are the things to watch.
True, mind-games are part of the game. They should remain to be basketball mind games though.
Santos was probably just playing mind-games
In defense of Santos, I think he genuinely didn’t intend his act to emphasize the racial part of it.
Dissecting his interview right after the game, He talks about how the act was a part of basketball (his kind of basketball I presume), thinks of how it could give his team an advantage, and was directed to Jones because he was talented.
Nowhere in any part of the interview shows was he aware of the possible consequence of his act. Look at how he reacted when he was ask about chances of giving an apology. It’s even safer to say he was ignorant about the other interpretation of the gesture he made. It is likely that Santos will be eventually cleared of racism but not of ignorance.
That, though, is not an excuse to justify the act.
Santos is a gifted, talented player. There is no debate here. Just think about the number of teams he repeatedly made cry because he sank dagger baskets that made them losers of multiple games. This definitely earned him the right to play mind-games because he can back it up.
He just need to clean his act, be mindful about things he do or words he say. The monkey gesture definitely means something more. It hurt Jones. It hurt the Talk N Text organization, his teammates, his league. It hurt the black race. It probably even hurt the Filipino race.
The good thing is Santos unwittingly opened a lot of eyes on the consequences of acts like this. A lot had been educated more about racism.
I could see Santos, and others who have the same mentality about mind-games, come out better after this incident. I would still like to see him play mind-games. He should just do better than the last act.
Look, even Beau Belga, who imitates a man shooting a rifle after hitting a dagger triple, somewhat finds a way to make his celebratory act cool even though this could be offensive to some members of society.
There are many creative ways to play mind-games and do court celebrations without resorting to acts that could have multiple interpretations where some of them are unsavory. It’s the players’ duty to find them if they want to use one.
By: Armando M. Bolislis
Banner art by Don Ray Ramos