Sue Wicks Blog

At 30,000 feet flying over Mongolia on my way back to New York, my thoughts are still in Manila and the fabulous time I had there. I’m wishing I were still in a hot and humid gym with hundreds of enthusiastic Philippines basketball players working on the “Dwayne Wade patented jab step” with Erik Spoleska, and David Fitzdale of the Miami Heat coaching staff. Instead, I’m on a crowded plane with a businessman working on his jab step into the back of my chair wondering how many movies I’ll watch during the 18-hour flight.

In partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, current and former NBA and WNBA players and coaches travel overseas each summer as ambassadors of sport. This summer I was chosen by the NBA as one of its Ambassadors. I can think of no greater compliment than to be entrusted by the league and the State department to represent our sport and more importantly our country.

The NBA is dedicated to demonstrating leadership in social responsibility, using the popularity and visibility of its teams, players and the league to effect positive change around the world. While I have always been a fan of the NBA especially my beloved Knicks, my true calling is the promotion of WNBA, and the participation of all young women in sports. The benefits are obvious as far as overall heath, but to see the confident and self-possessed attitude of young female athletes is a thing of beauty.

During the trip, we conducted clinics, visited schools and spoke to youth about the importance of an education, positive health practices and respect for diversity. The goal of the program is to bring people together through sports while encouraging the development of basketball on a grassroots level. The Philippine people have a passion for basketball and a knowledge of the league that would put many beat writers and a few general managers in the league to shame!

The first day started in Manila we fought through a monstrous traffic jam of “jeepneys” and bicycles to get on a flight to Zamboanga City. We were briefed early that morning about terrorist activity in the area but no one in our envoy even blinked, we were here to share our love of basketball and Zamboanga children would not be denied opportunity because of any political situation (The closest we came to a terrorist activity was Coach Spo singing his favorite “Wham” songs at karaoke). The basketball clinic with school-based and out-of-school youth basketball players was a great success! Erik Spoelstra, the flippinino-American Head Coach of the Miami Heat was an amazing source of pride for all the children. Actually, every person we encounter in the streets seemed to know Coach Spoelstra and rushed up to shake his hand and offer advice on free agency.

David Fitzdale, one of the brightest young coaches in the NBA used his quick mind to get three hours of drills, skills, and competitions together in a five-minute coaches huddle (I guarantee at least half of the campers will be doing reverse pivots in their dreams with coach Fitz commanding them to “spin, spin, spin”). If Erik was the lead singer of our group than Coach Fitzdale was the rhythm section who never missed a beat. Fitz was the ultimate playmaker who made us all look good without taking a bit of credit.

We spent the rest of the week in Manila doing camps for all levels of players from eight-year-old girls to the member’s Philippine national team. We watched a college game at Araneta Coliseum, the same arena that hosted “The Thrilla in Manila”. From our embassy van we saw the roadsides crowded with corrugated-steel-roofed huts and straw markets where bare-chested men and shoeless children earned a living. In a stark contrast to the gated communities were the small group of “haves” lived. We met with the wealthiest to the poorest of the people during our trip. We were offered lavish dinners, the use of private jets and simple shell necklaces. All were presented with the same open hearted generosity that seemed to be the unifying quality of all Philippine people! I know I speak for our entire envoy when I say that we were overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality of these amazingly resourceful people. I feel truly blessed to have had this wonderful opportunity of sharing with the Philippine people.

I would personally like to thank The U.S. State Department, David Stern, The NBA and its partners.

With very special thanks to:

Ambassador Kristie Kenney
Ms. Leslie Basset
Ms. Martha Buckley
Ms. Najlaa Abdus-Samad
Ms. Rebecca Thompson
Mr. Jomar Ascańo
Ms. Jojie Sopia
Brooks Meeks, Chad Kammerer, Carlo Singson
The next president of the Philipines and current coach of the Miami Heat Erik Spoelstra
And David Fizdale
And Dave Yuen for offering me the use of Ruth Riley’s condo in Miami