“Bangkô” is a Filipino word that means “bench” or “seat”. It is a sturdy, reliable creature of purpose. It is where the weary takes his rest. It is where the thinking man anchors his mortal shell so that his thoughts can freely swim around untethered. For lovers, it is a space for intimacy, perhaps the first time they are this close to one another, skin to skin. If I would be an implement in a public space, I can’t think of a nobler, more useful role to take on.
The bangkô is used and useful, very different from the bangkô in Philippine basketball parlance—benchwarmer.
Why was humility, or sense of duty, or fealty never the outstanding quality, the defining quality, of the bangkô? When was it reduced to being nugatory, and why this unfortunate descent to ignominy? We are accustomed to being role players in our numerous and various social functions in the community, in the state, in our religion, in our politics; we are ok with the duty of doing less, or sometimes doing nothing at all, as part of the collective, and we are never humiliated when we stand back so others can do the heavy lifting, but why is this not the case when it comes to basketball?
Instead, we’ve internalized the belittling of the benchwarmers, and it is widespread at the grassroots level, where notions influence the young minds of athletes who are in that critical stage of forming their opinions about the (basketball) world anchored on beliefs that they will carry for the rest of their lives.
We tell them to feel ashamed, to be embarrassed if they are benched. It’s a scene that’s all too familiar, happening all the time: a young boy or girl boasts about making the team for a local neighborhood tournament, and what he/she hears in return are a chuckle and a snide, dismissive comment: Sus, eh bangkô ka naman!
People make fun of benchwarmers; the malice is real even if they make the excuse that it is just friendly ribbing, and the person at the receiving end will feign brushing it off casually so as not to appear pikon (irascible) or iyakin (bellyacher), but aware, nonetheless, of the venom from such an evil snakebite, and it is now fast poisoning his mind and heart.
Hurt, he/she will redirect the insult, the humiliation, the belittling, to other benchwarmers. It becomes a disease that we pass on to one another until everyone is infected. It goes on and on, spreading like an epidemic, turning us into jealous, envious, covetous, and conceited individuals who are disgruntled and spiteful in defeat, and bitter in victory we don’t feel we are a part of. That is how it became the cancer that we know it is today.
Because the benchwarmer is mocked, insulted, made fun of, and trivialized, no one wants to accept this as his or her place in the pecking order. Everyone wants to be first, which is not a good quality to have playing in a team sports. Are we surprised why almost all young basketball players have the same me-first mentality when playing basketball? Aren’t we wondering why young basketball players are too focused on learning how to shoot the basketball, sometimes even outside the range of their short, scrawny young arms, just to have an offensive game they think is superior to their peers, but very, very few are intent on learning how to pass and understand the geometry of passing lanes and the nuances of ball movement? They’re focused on asking for the ball, shooting it, and winning it. They confuse being competitive with playing with one’s self-interest in mind. Why? Because they’ve been told that to be a bangkô is to end up in a really embarrassing place where no one wants to be in. So the 12 players in the roster end up pushing and shoving each other hoping to force the weakest into that cursed hole.
Perhaps without the stigma, it would be easier for the bangkô to truly fulfill its duty befitting its namesake: to be used and be useful as every day (or every game) circumstances would allow it. Without the stigma, players will realize what a great learning opportunity it is to be benched, to watch more talented teammates play, and learn from them. Without the stigma, the benchwarmer’s basketball experience can be used to identify and nurture good qualities that will prove useful in life, and that includes becoming a real team player who is intelligent, grounded, aware, and attuned.
Above all and most importantly, we should stop belittling the bangkô, so that we don’t feel so little ourselves when it is us wearing the shoes worn nowhere else but the sideline, of someone who went to all the trouble of showing up in uniform only to lace up for warm-ups.