The year was 1999. School had just finished and immediately the summer fever had caught on to us. Close the books and tidy up the bags because the moment had arrived. Yes, it was time once again for the Saudia City Basketball League. As kids growing up in Jeddah, the league was the only thing we would anticipate for the whole year. The SCBL had it all: basketball, friends, family, good food, pressure, and excitement. The big circus was in town.
Days before the school year ended, my dad would collect some of his friends and hold meetings on how the league would go about. They talked night after night discussing every detail, from registration fees to basketball trophies and uniforms. They’d look and ask for volunteers, people who’d be willing to coach teams, and man the game committee. As President, my dad would receive a large number of registration forms from kids all over the compound. And according to the ages, he’d segregate them into 3 groups: A, B, C. Group A would consist of teenagers aged 15 and above. Group B would have 11-14, and kids aged 10 and below were put in Group C. From these groups, he would form teams, and use the players’ scores from tryouts to balance the squads.
After a week of anticipation, my dad would post the teams on the bulletin board outside the court. Of course, I’d already sneaked into my dad’s files to see who’d be teammates with whom. The next day I’d call up my friends to head down to the court and look at the postings. It was like a wrestling match with all the pushing and shoving as we scrambled to see the lineups. Trashtalk was in play the moment one guy taunted, “John, ang bulok niyo oh. Pati kulay ng team niyo pangit”. Cusses here and there. Man, it was definitely on!
Finally, it was opening day. I remember being so excited for our first game, I slept late the night before to get tips from an NBA game I was watching while lacing up my shoes. As soon as my dad got home from work, he’d down a meal and change into his casual gear and we’d be off to NW-4. The promised land. NW-4 was our Araneta Center. The place where you’d get to showcase your talent in front of thousands of people, well maybe not thousands, but there were many. Every time I’d step on the court, a tingling feeling would take over me, proof that I was pumped up. I’d get excited and jittery all at the same time. The court was a beautiful sight. On the outside, two benches sat opposite each other, with the scoreboard and committee table in between. The white bold lines that traced the court’s inside gave life to the red and yellow paint that made up the freethrow area and the center circle. The orange steel rim, dropping a blue-red-white net, accentuated the black backboard. And then there were the crowd bleachers. This was NW-4. This was my happy place.
Everybody was ready and focused as the referees gathered the starting fives of each squad in the center circle. Tip-off. The ball gets thrown in the air and the clock starts. It was game time! Back and forth both teams went. A lay-up here, a block there. An assist here, a steal there. Players elbowed each other as they positioned themselves to grab rebounds. In between plays, I’d joke around with friends from the other team about how someone, during one play, looked as confused as a baby in a topless bar. One team would go on a run, and the other would get right back in. To everyone seated in the bleachers, this was entertainment. Then came the buzzer. The first half was over.
At halftime, not only did the players have a breather, but so did the crowd. It was a good thing there were food stands nearby to hush those grumbling stomachs. My mom owned a booth, selling sodas, water and coffee. She also sold potato chips, candies and other kiddie drugs. My aunt’s booth mostly catered to the adults. I remember how people loved her barbeque and devoured her “goto” for those cold windy nights. Placed next to her table, was my tita’s stand. She served tasty burgers and hot dog sandwiches, for those looking for a quick snack. Halftime was break time. As people exchanged conversations, the coaches and players had no idle time as they discussed the good and bad things that transpired in the first 20 minutes. Kids laugh and shout with rock candy crackling in their mouths as the referee blows the whistle to start the second half.
The battle goes on, the crowd screaming with every possession. All the in-game action was called by Mr. Astrodome. People loved the game commentator because he’d always entertain the crowd with his antics. Every time I’d be in the game, I would feel the urge to make a good play or get a couple of shots in. I try to do everything right as soon as I notice my crush watching in the stands, impressing my way to earn a “Good game!” remark from her after the game. The third quarter went by as things heated up when someone got a technical for arguing a call with the zebras.
It was down to the last quarter, where players thrive on pressure and inch their way towards the finish line. The defense of both teams would get tighter than airport security. The intensity elevated with every possession as sweat cloaked the players like flies on food. Every play was critical, every possession was crucial. In the end, my team would come out victorious. Of course we’d win, why would I opt to tell you guys otherwise? My teammates and I would high-five one another, expressing our jubilance. You’d always want to come out on top the first game to get the chance to tease the opposing team on how sucky they were.
As the players shake hands and exchange banter, the people in the bleachers gather their things and head out. The committee files the scoresheets, pay the referees and head home. What was once a loud and noisy place a few moments ago, now becomes silent, like a stop sign beside a road. My family always stays a little bit longer because my dad makes sure everything is in order before we lock the place up. I was tired like a monkey in the rain, but I soaked in the win. I always took a couple of minutes before leaving to go back to the court, shoot a few hoops, and picture how the game went, replaying in my mind each shot I made. All these made me smile. Yes, this was my happy place. This was the SCBL.