Townsend, first Fil-Am in NBA, gets platform to broadcast Pinoy ‘heart’
Raymond Townsend didn’t have the kind of social media platform players today have. That resulted in muted attempts to broadcast his heritage.
And it certainly didn’t help that he didn’t look the part of being the first Filipino-American to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
“I used to have this huge afro,” he said at a virtual appearance during the Filipino American Arts Exposition’ Pistahan Parade and Festival on Saturday. “Most of the players in our team were Black. Everybody assumed I was Black.”
His nose, he joked, would have offered a clue. But even that was taken away from him.
“I broke it in Spain and they gave me this nose now. So I lost the only Filipino identity that I had,” he said with a chuckle.
The only physical Filipino identity, perhaps. But Townsend had always made his heritage known whenever he had the chance.
There was an instance when a Sports Illustrated profile of the Golden State Warriors mistook Townsend’s ethnicity.
“It said the ‘Golden State Warriors, one of the new teams with 11 Black players, one white player and an all-Black staff,’ and I remember Tom Abernathy who has blonde hair [and] blue eyes was sitting at the end of the bench. So I was actually counted as one of those 11 [Black players] that was sitting on the bench,” he said.
“I even told them that, no, I’m Filipino,” he said, smiling—still, after all these years—in disbelief.
The misidentification was an easy mistake: Townsend, who was drafted by the Golden State Warriors 22nd in the first round of the 1978 Rookie Draft, walked a solitary path as a trailblazer during his time in the NBA.
“It was a tough struggle to accomplish the things that we did in basketball because there were no other real Filipino role models to look up to,” he said.
“There were not that many Asian-Americans back in ’78, so there were some hurdles,” he added.
And he most certainly didn’t have the kind of media platforms guys like Utah star Jordan Clarkson or even Houston Rockets rookie Jalen Green had. Both NBA standouts have Filipino mothers and their careers are being tracked in the country largely because of that.
Social media has also given Clarkson a loudspeaker to proclaim his heritage. The reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year has been vocal about Filipino and Asian causes on several platforms.
Townsend is making up for lost ground though, getting word out there about Filipinos.
“I don’t think that people understood the Filipino heart. The heart that never gives up, that always perseveres. The Filipino heart is the one that believes that all things are possible. And we overcome everything we had to do for the good of our family,” said Townsend. INQ
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