Mormons and Basketball in the Philippines

By February 25, 2014

LDS Meeting House, Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.

Just a quick note today to point readers to my post that went up yesterday at Peculiar People. It looks at the basketball-crazed nation of the Philippines and wonders about the place of basketball-crazed Mormons within that wider phenomenon. If you served a mission in the Philippines or are a basketball fan or otherwise want to weigh in, please do, either in the comments here or over there. Here’s a preview:

Among the aspects of American culture exported to other regions of the world are ?cultural halls? complete with regulation basketball hoops, three point, and free throw lines (a staple of nearly all LDS church buildings in North America) to newly-constructed chapels all over the world, which has occasionally triggered a bemused and frustrated response from Latter-day Saints in regions where the sport isn?t particularly popular. I remember during a trip to El Salvador several years ago passing by a small LDS chapel with a full-size basketball court outside, the backboards and rims suffering under the blissful neglect of church members, who were busy playing fútbol with makeshift goals. A friend in South Africa similarly informed me recently that he and his friends opt for a friendly game of rugby on the church basketball courts accompanying their chapels[: The Philippines]. …

I?m curious about Filipino Mormon attitudes towards basketball, and if there is, in fact, anything uniquely Mormon about the way they approach the game. Do local wards and branches in the Philippines compete against one another in semi-formal leagues and tournaments, like they do here in the United States? And do fans and players of the game there value ?the importance of individual sacrifice to the exaltation of the common good; the rigorous discipline of learning to run plays rather than cultivating individual skills, the soul-building virtues of numbing physical labor, and the benefits of hanging around heavily supervised church buildings rather than disreputable alleys,? as Matt Bowman has argued American Mormon fans of the game do? A friend who spent time in the Philippines as a Protestant missionary noted that while the courts attached to LDS chapels were among the nicest in the country, ?they were fenced off, so the neighborhood kids played most of the time on the crappy public courts at the park.? Are LDS courts thus seen solely as the province of the converted, then?



Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism Cultural History International Mormonism Material Culture Popular Culture Race Sports


  1. My parents served three missions in the Philippines, including one that included Negros Occidental and thus would have included Kabankalan–but I don’t know if that building was completed by 1994, when they returned home from that area. They never said a word about basketball.

    At the Manila MTC, my dad used to challenge the sister missionaries to foot races–he was in his early 70s then. Not many of the sisters were able to beat him–but those who did achieved fame throughout the missions in the Philippines–“Did you hear? She beat Pres. B.”

    Comment by Mark B. — February 25, 2014 @ 10:14 am

  2. We visited my son and his family in Makati City, a suburb of Manila, where he manages an outsourced tech center for his US based employer last summer. The ward building in Makati supports a local Philippine ward, an expat ward that my son’s family attends, and the office of the Manila mission. At the time they lived in an apartment building right next door to the chapel, so we saw a lot of the building while I was there. The chapel was fenced off, so the outdoor court, very similar to the one you show here, was not really open to the public. We did see a few kids shooting hoops during the week. I can only assume that they were members of the local branch, but I don’t know that for certain.

    The fenced off chapels are a reflection of some of the realities in the Philippines. Makati City is the financial center of the Philippines, and many of the foreign embassies were located within a couple of blocks, along with a lot of multinational banks and company offices. It is an area of many luxurious high rise apartment buildings, and really nice modern shopping malls with a lot of high end stores, like you would expect to see in any prosperous suburb in the US, stores that I can’t afford to shop in here. Armed guards at the banks, the 7-11 stores, the entrances to all the malls. There seemed to be little middle class Filipinos that we saw. People either very well off, living a quasi-Western life style, or living in really crushing poverty. Petty crime is a huge problem as is corruption. Without the fences and constant vigilance, the church properties would be highly vulnerable to burglary and theft. We often wondered how to reconcile the two worlds we saw there, and tried to be sensitive to the full time maid and full time driver that my son’s company pays for. It’s a big help to them, and provides a minimal living wage to these folks, but I really felt like the Ugly American a great deal of the time.

    Comment by kevinf — February 25, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

  3. This makes me want to go check out Dutch chapels to see if they have a basketball court–and if so, whether they’re being used as soccer fields, instead.

    Comment by Saskia — February 25, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

  4. In Australia the chapels come with basketball courts. Many locals see it as cultural imperialism, but they are used by some young people and particularly by Polynesians.

    Comment by Geoff - A — February 25, 2014 @ 9:30 pm

  5. Great post, Christopher. I served my mission mainly in Metro Manila from 2005-2007 and I don’t remember any of my wards having leagues or tournaments where they competed against other units. I do remember that some of the men in one of my wards in Quezon City formed a team and competed in a local tournament and used the name of our ward as their team name.

    Two of my wards were particularly protective of their courts. When neighborhood kids jumped the fence to play, ward members (usually priesthood leaders) would make sure to tell them that they needed to leave and could only play when the gate was open. Generally, though, if the gate was open and it wasn?t Sunday, ward members usually didn?t mind if neighborhood kids used the court.

    Comment by Brady W. — February 25, 2014 @ 11:18 pm

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your comments and shared experiences/observations.

    Comment by Christopher — February 26, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

  7. Hello! I realize this is kind of off-topic however I had to ask.

    Does building a well-established website like yours require a lot of work?
    I am completely new to operating a blog but I do write in my diary every day.
    I’d like to start a blog so I can easily share my own experience and views online.
    Please let me know if you have any recommendations or tips
    for new aspiring bloggers. Thankyou!

    Comment by Basketball — March 7, 2014 @ 8:35 am


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