The Legacy of the Black Superman: Wilderness Years of Billy Ray Bates

Decades removed from his legendary days as the Philippine Basketball Association's ultimate import to grace the hardwood of the Araneta Coliseum in his green Crispa Redmanizer jersey, Billy Ray Bates is back in the country as member of the PBA Hall of Fame.


Decades removed from his legendary days as the Philippine Basketball Association's ultimate import to grace the hardwood of the Araneta Coliseum in his green Crispa Redmanizer jersey, Billy Ray Bates is back in the country as member of the PBA Hall of Fame. As we look back in the wild years of the so-called "Black Superman," the anti-hero hoops character is beloved yet forgotten. If Michael Jordan never existed then Bates would be the man forever etched in the psyche of every Filipino hoops lover.



Now, the skills coach of the Philippine Patriots of the ASEAN Basketball League. There were talks that he will have his Black Superman II line of shoes as a homage to the Jordanesque sneakers he had during the 1980's. His immense popularity even rivaled Ginebra's to the point that local shoe manufacturer Grosby even produced a classic Nike Air Force lookalike versions years ago.

I wasn't fortunate to see his superhuman playmaking skills, above-the-altitude barnyard rim-rattling slams, and superior showboating mojo that perhaps outshine the Dr. J, his Airness, and Chocolate Thunder in one bottle of ice-cold San Miguel Beer. Fragments and forgotten faded footages of Bates have started to reappear on Youtube and television. That was the glory years of Philippine basketball when we were still whipping China's ass in the hardcourt. Hearing vintage commentator 'Smokin' Joe Cantada is spine-tingling as if I'm up close to the action in the gargantuan Big Dome crowd. LeBron or Kobe's popularity may be global but no one has ever filled the void of the Black Superman during his heydays of the turbulent 70's and 80's.


The former Portland Trailblazers guard was born in the deep South where age-old prejudice against blacks were the rule of the land. The Jim Crow laws has forced Bates to dig in deeper to basketball and alcohol as his own path to salvation. In an Horatio Alger twist of fate, he headed to the Philippines wherein he became a hero that everyone want to become. Unfortunately, he failed to exorcise the demons that had affected his life. His fall from grace was like the world crumbled before the very eyes of the basketball god.


Simply known as the "Dunk" during his Blazer days, Bates had manic scoring binges and amazing aerial exploits capped by bouts of drug addiction and alcoholism. He had a good scoring run with the team including his 1980 NBA Playoff outbursts against the Seattle Supersonics-led by future Celtic hall of famer Dennis Johnson. Even though he vowed to become sober, he is as wet as the Laguna de Bay on a given day during his wilderness years in the PBA that team managers were forced to curtail his wild drunken sprees and womanizing rendezvous.


He even rivaled Wilt Chamberlain for his prolific sexual appetite in Manila's seedy nightclubs and pubs. This is the unfortunate hero who never knew that his struggle in a Reconstruction-era South were similar to the Filipino masses who showered him with adulation he never had back home. There was poverty and corruption that he shrouded with a life in vices and self-narcissism. The embellishment of the Bates myth and lore make him synonymous the the lifestyles of today's hottest NBA players who think that the world is on their hands like a basketball that they love to dribble and score.

Despite his accomplishments, the Black Superman remains an enigma yet an interesting chapter to a cautionary tale in our proud history of hoops.

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: The Legacy of the Black Superman: Wilderness Years of Billy Ray Bates
The Legacy of the Black Superman: Wilderness Years of Billy Ray Bates
Decades removed from his legendary days as the Philippine Basketball Association's ultimate import to grace the hardwood of the Araneta Coliseum in his green Crispa Redmanizer jersey, Billy Ray Bates is back in the country as member of the PBA Hall of Fame.
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