#REPYOURCOURT | Rep the Far East: Arwind Santos and Mac Belo

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This is a story about time, its complexities and consequences. Its endless future and untraceable past. We don’t know what else lies ahead for Arwind Santos, a multi-titled former MVP in the hunt for a Grand Slam, another feather on his already-loaded-with-feathers hat. We don’t know what will become of Mac Belo, an already-superstar that cares not for everything else outside of basketball that superstars usually crave and desire.

That side of the timeline, the one on the right that extends a second at a time, is impossible to predict. Going back, the opposite way, to the beginning, is similar in difficulty. Who knows the exact moment either of those men held a basketball as toddlers? Who can tell the precise time and place they fell in love with the game that has changed their fates forever?

So for the purposes of this exercise, for us to be able to tell this story, let us agree to set these parameters. Our timeline extends as far forward as the day we shot both of them for the #REPYOURCOURT video, and it reaches back to the moments they first stepped on the courts they proudly rep today.

Back in Angeles, back in Cotabato. Back before the draft, or the national team, back before the championships brought home to Morayta. Back before the neon, the headband and the buzzer-beater from the corner. Back when they were just another couple of kids trying to hang with grown men.

For Arwind, it was painful. Literally. His court was one riddled with guys who were more likely to elbow you than box out. They pushed, pinched, scratched and shoved their way through half court games to 21 that to the casual observer, it would look less like basketball and more like a brawl that happened to be taking place on a court.

Tirador mga kalaro ko. Talagang walang awa, pare. Di na nga gulang tawag dun eh. Halos literal yung “No blood, no foul” na kasabihan. Araw-araw may bago akong sugat o bukol.”

It all came around for Arwind, thanks to a single shot. A shot he used as a Tamaraw, as a Beerman, a shot he’s taken every single game he’s played. “Yung power jumpshot ko? Turo yun sakin ng tatay ko. Sabi niya ‘Anak, pag-aralan mo yung ganitong tira na baka mapakinabangan mo baling araw pag may nakalaban kang mas malaki sayo para hindi ka basta-basta masusupalpal.” 

That shot, Arwind jumping almost unnecessarily high, straight up, the ball held as high as he could, the arc of the ball’s flight going even higher before splashing through the net, has been one of the most unstoppable scoring weapons the country has seen. Think about it, when was the last time you saw that shot get blocked? It’s been useful the last few years, with Arwind, as his dad predicted, playing against taller guys. But it was useful even before Arwind had the hops of a kangaroo on roids. That shot helped him on the court, against the rough bash brother types who used to push him around. That shot, in a sense, a present from his late father, gave Arwind everything he has now.

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It’s also family that Mac Belo credits for a life much different from the one he was leading in Barangay Bagumba, Midsayap, Cotabato. His brother, a military man, not only got Mac started on playing the game, he’s also responsible for the quiet, no-nonsense demeanor that the younger Belo brings to the table every single day.

Like Arwind, and James and both Pauls involved in this campaign, Mac started hooping on a court that he had no chance of playing on if he tried to walk in during prime, post-siesta hours. And so, like the soldier he emulated, like the soldier he wanted to be, Mac got up before everyone else. He played under the noontime sun when everyone else took shade. It’s raining and the court’s empty? Mac time. It’s late and you can’t dribble anymore to avoid angering sleeping neighbors? No problem. Mac will shoot without making the ball bounce, chasing it down like his life depended on it.

It didn’t. But then again, maybe it did.

It’s battling the elements that hardened and toughened an otherwise soft-spoken, humble young man. As often as Arwind for knocked down, Mac was playing in situations not conducive not only for basketball, but for health in general. But soldiers don’t complain, they don’t flinch at a little rain or flood or sun or heat. And he may not wear the fatigues, but trust me. Mac Belo is a soldier.

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There are countless little anecdotes about Mac’s discipline, surely bloated and exaggerated by time and word of mouth, but they’re useful, and entertaining nonetheless. My favorite has to be the time then-FEU coach Nash Racela made a side comment after one morning practice. The team was sluggish, as any team can and will be at least once or twice in the middle of a long, rugged campaign. As a joke, Coach Nash said the new team curfew should be 7 PM.

Later that evening, Mac’s roommate entered their quarters to find Belo in bed, tucked in, telling him to hurry and get set to sleep. It was 6:55 in the afternoon. Mac knew it wasn’t completely serious, the order from Nash. He also knew it wasn’t completely baseless either. He hit the sack minutes later, as instructed. The next morning, he demolished everyone on the court.

That day on that half court, with our cameras rolling and Mac slamming down dunk after dunk, he reflected on those FEU years, and the big shoes he always felt he had to fill. “Grabe kasi history ng FEU. Kailangan mo talaga ibigay lahat, para manalo. Kasi yun yung ginawa nina Kuya Denok, nina Terrence at RR, nina Kuya Arwind nung sila yung nandun. Di kami papayag na hindi naming sila magawang proud samin.”

Arwind Santos was gushing as soon as he stepped on the little half court you see him shooting that “power jumpshot” at in the video. “Nakakakilig. Sobrang miss ko na yung ganito. Yung iinom ka ng ice tubig, tapos pisikalan talaga yung laro? Ang tagal ko ng hindi nagagawa yun. Miss na miss ko na.”

He signed a hundred autographs that day, easy. On paper, on balding basketballs, on the backs of kids’ jerseys. He took photos with men his age, eerily familiar to the men who once trained him in the brutal style of the game that honed his skills and toughness. He took photos with young boys and girls, many of whom were the same size he was when he too was hanging around half courts when he had no business doing so. He took photos with babies, their mothers asking him to stroke the infants’ legs so that they may somehow, some way, grow tall like him.

Like Arwind. That’s what Mac Belo tried to be. That’s what he’s trying to be still. It was ironic, seeing him clad in that FEU jacket, it’s back and sleeves still stained with the celebration of the championship he won them on his last year there. Wearing that green and gold, Belo asked about Arwind, asked when we were going to film his kuya, what we were going to make him do.

Mga classic Arwind moves, pare.”

Like the Spiderman dunk, which Arwind insisted on doing on the half court for the same reason he insists on doing them in-game: “Para mapasaya yung mga fans.” We pled with him not to, our fears over the strength of an outdoor hoop aged by decades worrying us. “Kaya yan pare. Daming tao o, bigyan naman natin sila ng palabas kahit konti.” And so he dunked, and pulled himself up, and kicked the backboard the way only he can.

Para sa kanila. The same way he played his final year for FEU even though the PBA was calling and begging. He promised his teammates one more title, one more deep run, one more season on the big stage to help their draft stocks improve. Mac Belo didn’t do the Spiderman dunk, but he was selfless just like his idol. The roommate who walked in on him ready to sleep before 7PM? That teammate was losing playing time, losing confidence, and losing his way, before Racela made him roommates with Mac. From that point on, Belo’s discipline became contagious. It was push-ups for breakfast, sit-ups before bed, sleep before 7PM because coach said so.

That roommate was RR Pogoy. Arwind’s teammates his final year? Mark Isip, Jonas Villanueva, Jeff Chan.

This is a story about time, how complex it is, how impossible it is to jump forward or turn back. Except, in tiny little moments, when the timelines glitch and Matthew McConaughey can push books from behind a shelf to communicate with his daughter. That interstellar moment for us came after we told Mac Belo we’d ask Arwind Santos to do some classic moves. Belo grabbed the ball, his back to the basket, turned over his right shoulder, jumped almost unnecessarily high, straight up, the ball held as high as he could, the arc of the ball’s flight going even higher before splashing through the net.

Papasa na bang Arwind?” he laughed. It sent chills. It looked entirely different, the way Arwind’s neon socks and Mac’s silence are total opposites. At the same time, it looked identical, their rough beginnings and Far Eastern upbringings leading them to these separate yet merged moments in life.

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Mac had to rush after the shoot, the Gilas game with his brothers and former roommate set to begin in half an hour. Arwind too, a few days after, had to rush out right after, an impromptu trip to meet old friends from Pampanga apparently decided upon as soon as the memories came flooding back, about two power jumpshots in.

This was an exercise of time, but the findings aren’t about how the past and the present and the future are independent from each other, but how they’re all happening, all right now, and how some guys – the truly special ones, the ones who defy odds with brute strength and selflessly carry others on their backs the way only Tamaraws do – can be at all of those times, right now.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. They belong to those who’ve put in the time, who’ve become all-time. All the time.

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Arwind and Mac repped their courts. Here’s how you can #REPYOURCOURT and get a chance to win your own Nike React Hyperdunk 2017 Low ‘Manila’

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