Monday, February 26, 2024

New podcast ‘Hoops Paradise’ champions Filipino culture, community

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Cassidy Hubbarth hopes people ‘enjoy the ride’ of her new podcast, “Hoops Paradise: The Philippines’ Love of the Game”.

Despite there only being two Filipino-American players in the NBA, one of the biggest and most unique basketball fan bases comes from the Philippines.

What’s the reason there are so many hoop heads in a country where the average male height is 5-foot-4?

For answers to that question and so much more, check out the “Hoops Paradise: The Philippines’ Love of the Game” podcast.

The six-episode podcast series will explore the Philippines’ unique love affair with basketball and the NBA and how the sport has become a source of pride for the country, according to a release from iHeartMedia.

Co-hosts Cassidy Hubbarth of ESPN and Titan’s Nikko Ramos take a deep dive into the basketball-crazed fans from the Philippines. Hubbarth’s experience as a reporter and guest host on shows like “First Take” and “SportsCenter” brings her comfort behind the mic, but her pride in her Filipino culture makes her perfect for the show.

The weekly podcast, which is a partnership between the NBA and iHeartMedia, features special interviews from Hubbarth and Ramos’ in-depth discussions and storytelling. chopped it up with the duo and the podcast’s producer, Grace Fuisz.

Editor’s Note: The following conversation has been condensed and edited. I just listened to the entire first episode. I listened to all 40 minutes and I was entertained. You guys have such good chemistry. Whose idea was this?

Grace Fuisz: It was originally my idea. Okay, yeah, I got my creds now. I just knew somebody who had visited the Philippines, and they told me that a lot of what they did while they were there was play basketball with local kids. And they would tell me about these hoops on telephone poles, with rebar and stuff like that. I’d [seen] photos, and the idea that there were like basketball hoops on every corner was just something that kind of struck me – that image of hoop after hoop after hoop and just people playing everywhere. And we’re looking for our first narrative show to do. It just seems like every time we talk to somebody about it, these awesome stories came out of it and we just wanted to see what else was there.

And then how did you pick who’s going to be the host? How did this all come about?

Fuisz: I mean, we wanted to have perspectives. We wanted to have kind of a US perspective and a Philippines perspective. We wanted to have somebody discovering the stories alongside the listener, and also have like a more on-the-ground voice. We saw this interview that Nikko Ramos had done with Cassidy Hubbarth for Repubblica, when they sent us all our archive audio and stuff, we saw them talking and it seemed like a good fit.

I think you guys just have really good chemistry. Cassidy, talk a little bit about the podcast.

Hubbarth: We recorded this over I would say [an] eight-to-nine-week span. We started like in October. The setup is just a little bit different given that Nikko’s in Manila and I’m in New York, and Grace and our other producer Peter Coughter would love to say, ‘How is tomorrow looking?’ and it’s early morning for Nico but it was late at night for the rest of us. I think that type of recording time almost bonded us in a way [since] we’re all in separate places.

With us in the states like Grace is in Nashville, Peter’s in Atlanta, I’m in New York and, of course, Nikko’s all the way across the world, it still felt so intimate in that recording process. And I think our chemistry was there from the start, just the four of us. Nikko and I, we had a connection when we first talked on his podcast, because he’s just such [an] affable, lovable guy that he makes it easy to feel comfortable right away.

But I think also Grace and Peter set us up well to succeed. We had a writer, Rafe Bartholomew, who wrote Pacific Rims which is basically about the Philippines love with basketball, and to have him be kind of like our ghost writer, ghost voice behind the scenes really allowed us to not only be present with each other, but also feel like we were servicing the fans and the listeners with all the right reliance and all the right angles to introduce people to who may not be familiar with just the obsession that Filipinos have with basketball.

Talk a little bit what audience you are hoping to reach? Obviously, if you’re from the Philippines, you’re pretty interested in this type of content, but are you trying to just educate people? Who are you trying to talk to?

Ramos: I was just talking about that same exact thing with people at where I work yesterday. I think that there’s obviously the Filipino diaspora has been happening for decades, right? There’s Filipinos everywhere. I’m sure you have a Filipino friend, I’m sure they brought you over to their house, you’ve tried their food. That’s a common story for people all around the world, right? Because due to the very many layers and circumstances here in the Philippines, a lot of people from here go out into the world to find work, find ways to provide for their families, things like that. So, we’ve got our people everywhere. And I believe that this is something that will mean a whole lot to those people who, are maybe like Cassidy, who haven’t been back to the homeland in so long, or who have children who didn’t grow up to be as Filipino or not growing up as Filipinos, as they did probably. This is a way for them to be introduced to our culture.

But at the same time, there’s something that, while it’s super unique to Filipinos, and while it’s kind of crazy and difficult to explain, and we spent a lot of episodes trying to explain it. Why a country whose average height is 5-foot 3, 5-foot 4, loves basketball. Well, that’s so unique to the Philippines. I think it’s universal, though. People who spend all day and are very, very precious and protective of that court and that basketball culture, and you talk to them about Filipino love for basketball, they’re going to find something in common with that. I think people in a basketball-loving state like North Carolina, for example, the way they value basketball is going to be very, very similar to how we value basketball. So, I think it starts out as really that.

It’s kind of like this exploration into Filipino culture. But I think if given the chance, the podcast is really, really going to speak to people who belong as basketball citizens and identify as basketball citizens all around the world who would be like ‘Oh, okay, Southeast Asia, that’s where my people are. That’s where my fellow crazies are.’ And that’s why obviously iHeart and the NBA are such great partners to do this because of the audience that both of those great companies can reach.

Cassidy, what is your overall goal that you hope to accomplish with the podcast? I mean, obviously, I want to listen to episode two later on tonight. How many episodes did you guys record?

Hubbarth: It’s a six-part series. And it’s a little different for Nikko and I because when you listen to it, I’m basically going on the journey with the listeners. Because as Nikko mentioned, I haven’t been back to the Philippines since I was in college. Me as a Fil-Am, Filipino-American, I was born in the States. My mom was born in the Philippines, but she’s been here for close to 60 years. So, it’s just me getting a better understanding of my heritage, my background, this connection that, of course, that I have to the NBA. It’s basketball, and maybe roots of where that deep love comes from, and what I share in common with a lot of Filipinos. So what I hope [is that] people want to come along the journey with me and have a better understanding of not just the love that comes after basketball, but just the part that Filipinos, Filipino-Americans play in not just the NBA, not just in the PBA [Philippine Basketball Association], but just the basketball world in general.

Cassidy Hubbarth shares how ‘Hoops Paradise’ brings her closer to her heritage.

So, I think that’s the greater goal of this. This podcast is just to inform. And along the way, I’m being informed from the people that we’re interviewing, Nikko, our producers, so to me, that’s what the listening experience is. It’s okay for you to have no clue about the fandom in the Philippines or have some idea. Either way, we’re having fun talking about it, because it is fun. It’s basketball, and its people enjoying basketball. And so that’s what we’re hoping people get out of it.

Nikko, how’s it been received so far? Have you gotten any feedback?

Ramos: It is being received as this great piece of recognition. For a lot of us Filipinos, like I said, that love for basketball, no one knows more than we do. We are very, very self-aware, and how irrational and audacious that love for basketball is. We’re hosting the World Cup in a couple of months. The best basketball players and nations of the world are going to come here and we’re going to try to win a game. That’s how crazy it is. We were going out of our way as a nation to spend ludicrous amounts of money and put on a world-class staging event. But in the actual tournament, our hope is maybe we can get a game or two. Those aren’t necessarily things that you know, that connect, right? Like if you host the Olympics, you want to win the most medals. We’re hosting the World Cup with no illusions of being in the medal rounds. We’re hosting the World Cup because we want to introduce the world’s best athletes to, in our opinion, the world’s most passionate basketball fans. That’s it. And if Jordan Clarkson happens to just go crazy and score 60 points and we don’t lose to Team USA by 60, that would be a win for us. So that’s how ridiculous this love is, and we know it.

But to be able to have this project in the tone that it has, in a tone that is of discovery and understanding, and of equal parts research, and at the same time personal anecdotes from everybody that’s involved. What I’ve been getting so far is people are being really seen, like really recognized. And it’s something that people take pride in, right? Two episodes in, it’s 7:15 in the morning right now, I woke up to eight messages from a friend of mine in high school. And his eight messages were a combination of just laughing emojis. And at the same time, him saying, ‘Dude, I’ve been trying to tell people this’ because he’s since from high school moved to the US. So, that’s been the reception here in the Philippines. Obviously, Grace and the team have done an outstanding job producing the podcast just as a product, it’s top-notch, and me and Cassidy have tried our very, very best to get on the same level as our producers.

Yeah, you guys really know all the right things to say, Nikko sounds smooth, well done.

Ramos: But beyond that, though, it stands for something a little bit bigger than a quality podcast for the people who are here, the people who are from here. It’s something that they’re sharing around to friends and colleagues and with fellow Filipinos with a sense of, like, ‘Hey, we made it’ you know, like our crazy, stupid, love for basketball, people are starting to see it or recognize it and I think that that’s really important.

Hubbarth: And then that connection, I think here over in the States, a lot of people reaching out just saying, ‘It makes me miss being in the Philippines, it’s given me that familiar connection to home’ you know, my mom even said that to me and a lot of my Fil-Am friends here in the States saying like, bits of podcasts like rock back home, so that is the ultimate compliment you want to get.

What guests have you had come on?

Hubbarth: We’ve had a number of people, Erik Spoelstra, obviously he came on.

Ramos: Andy Thompson’s on there [NBA’s Vice President of Development for NBA Entertainment]. 

Hubbarth: It’s Klay Thompson’s uncle, who also was an import, playing PBA so I mean, we had a number of people join the podcast throughout our eight weeks of taping. One of my favorites obviously was Erik Spoelstra, who is excited to go back to the Philippines for the World Cup as well, he’s been several times.

Was there a nugget or something that Spoelstra said that was pretty good?

Hubbarth: Oh, he was just saying that whenever he goes over there, him and his assistant coaches are asked to like sign people’s foreheads and body parts. Spoelstra’s one of the top three coaches in the NBA right now. That’s the thing like, if you have like a percentage of Filipino in you, we’re going to claim you.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is one of the several guests on “Hoop Paradise”.

It’s funny, I actually was Googling that earlier. I was like ‘How many players are there from the Philippines in the NBA?’

Hubbarth: There’s two and best believe there are multiple Filipino heritage nights all over the NBA. [Most teams] don’t even have [a] Filipino player but best believe they have multiple Filipino heritage nights.

Ramos: Yeah, Jalen Green and Jordan Clarkson. And multiple teams celebrate Filipino heritage night. I think people really will start after the World Cup happens. You know how there’s all these Last Dance clips of the Dream Team not being able to get on the bus? Once the World Cup rolls along and Team USA comes here, you’re gonna see guys, whoever’s on that roster, those players actually start to need security to protect them. First of all, Spoelstra won championships with LeBron so that elevates it past whatever stratosphere he was on.

You guys have been awesome. I mean, we’re 25 minutes into our chat.

Hubbarth: I just hope people enjoy the ride. I mean, David Stern wanted this to be an international game. And I think what the fans in the Philippines represent is like the fandom of basketball. The NBA was there even before the game was supposed to be expanded nationally. So, we’ve been there. OG’s as they say, and Filipinos are OG basketball fans and you know, we’re putting people on to that fact.

Hoops Paradise: The Philippines’ Love of the Game” is distributed by iHeartPodcasts and is available on the iHeartRadio app and everywhere podcasts are heard.

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