Manila Mail correspondent Racquel Sartaguda with Raymond Townsend. Photo by Yen Tambot-Queritmit One-on-One with Raymond Townsend,
the First Filipino NBA Player
By RACQUEL SARTAGUDA
Filipinos LOVE the game of basketball. So, it was such an honor to meet the First Filipino drafted to the National Basketball Association (NBA), Mr. Raymond Townsend, during the recent Golden State Warriors Filipino Heritage Night last March 15th at The Oracle Arena. Originally a Bay Area native, Mr. Townsend was a 22-year old hopeful from UCLA when he was chosen as the 22nd NBA draft pick for the 1978-1979 NBA Season. And guess who picked him? No less than the Bay Area’s own and well-beloved Warriors. Given the many Bay Area Filipino American press members at the pre-game press conference for Mr. Townsend, I was hoping for a chance to talk to him more and ask my more pressing questions. As we were whisked away to the Effen Suite after the opening ceremony and Mr. Townsend was introduced to the Filipino American community partners in attendance, I waited for an opportunity… Rather, I stole the opportunity for a laid-back chat with the former Warrior. Racquel Sartaguda (RS): Hi, Mr. Townsend. If I can ask, to what do you credit your being drafted into the NBA then? Raymond Townsend (RT): My mom raised me in the Filipino tradition. She was a disciplinarian. My dad was a perfectionist. So, I kinda grew up in a family where my mom made sure we do everything right… and honored.. and being respectful. And my dad got me (to think): “So, expect nothing but perfection.” So, it was a combination. RS: So, was there a specific regimen that you had? RT: A lot of balut. (He chuckles) No, I’m kidding. RS: a lot of adobo? (I chided.) RT: Yes, a lot of adobo, a lot of pancit… you know. But… no, it wasn’t even about that. It was just… we did not grow up with a lot of money… So, people don’t even understand the things I (had to) do just to go to the best camps. We didn’t have the money to go to the best camps. So, I worked in the kitchen crew so I can have the opportunity to compete with the best players. There are stories that people didn’t know about. And my mom taught us, “You know what? It doesn’t matter how you go, son. You go.” RS: Was there ever a feeling that there might be a glass ceiling, being that you are Filipino? RT: No, because… Coach (John) Wooden used to say that there are 2 things in life – your reputation and your character. And you should never, never get upset at what people think about reputation because it’s only what people think about who you are. Your character IS who you are, and so, your character outshines your reputation. RS: Was that the biggest lesson you got from Coach Wooden? RT: No, the greatest lesson I got from Coach Wooden is that “all things are possible” and that “great things take time” … and that his walk away from the basketball court was more powerful than his walk on the court. RS: And he taught you how to put on your socks, right? He’s very specific about it. RT: And tie our shoes! RS: Exactly, right? There’s “a way”. RT: Exactly! Those are all true stories. True stories. Yes, 15 “All-Americans” looking at him when he was telling us how to put our socks… 15 All-American players looking at each other like… RS: That’s the first lesson you got even. RT: …And nobody said a word. We just watched. RS: Well he had his reputation, right? RT: That’s right. And you know what? And it worked…and he got all of his players that played for him (acknowledging they) are so grateful. The journey that we had with him… (he pauses) there are no words. RS: As a 22-year old San Jose native and UCLA kid, how did you feel when your name was called being the 22nd draft pick? RT: You know what? (Coach) Jerry West was with the LA Lakers at that time. Jerry West called me and said that they were going to take me and I was going to stay in LA. So, I was really excited. Al (Warriors Coach Al Attles) called 2 minutes after and said, “Raymond, we’re taking you. We’re bringing you back up home, so you are going to go with us.” I was just grateful to go in the first round – first round reserve. To be in the top 20+ pick in the whole nation… it’s always a great thing. And not many people get to be first round pick, so I was grateful that somebody saw me (as) deservedly… respected my abilities to take me that early. RS: How about being around Rick Barry? How did that feel? RT: You know what? Unfortunately… (He backtracks) Rick’s a very good friend of mine. I picked (his) brain all prior to playing and then they send him to Houston…when I came in. So, it was a huge loss for me because I have a great respect for him. But I had a great friend – “God bless his soul”; his name is Phil Smith (Golden State Warrior 1974-1980). Phil was one of my best friends. I couldn’t have had a better mentor. You know, I started here (with the Warriors). On my 2nd year, (I) averaged 12 points and 5 assists. I have great memories here. RS: Well, I have another question: at that time that you were picked, did you understand the magnitude… the privilege and also the responsibility of (being drafted)? RT: None at all. RS: Especially, as being Filipino? RT: None at all. And as I told people, I tried to tell people I was Filipino… I had an Afro… and I had the moustache. I could get on my knees and say, “Please I am Pinoy. I am ‘kababayan’”and no one knows what it is. RS: But now that you have walked the line and lived the life? RT: Everybody knows, everybody in the world knows who the First Filipino in the NBA is. And I am so grateful that the NBA honors our heritage… our culture. And you know? You can’t get a better culture in the NBA than the Filipino (culture). RS: Is there a particular team you want to be a coach of, because you mentioned you wanted to be a coach? RT: This (the Warriors) is the greatest organization that I know… When I was doing the “Filipino Hoops and Heritage Nights” in the NBA and traveling around, (Warriors Ground) is THE place to be for Filipino Heritage Night. This has not just the most Filipinos attending, but the spirit and the energy and just the camaraderie… the union… I look forward to this. RS: Well, we want to thank you for being that standard bearer for us. RT: Well, you know what? I will tell you what you could do. You can have all these Filipinos… anybody you can (get) all over the world – because there’s about 12 million social media people (in the world who are Filipinos). Tell you what you can do: I want to be The Filipino Ambassador to the NBA. Everybody has ambassadors for every country, except the Philippines.” RS: (The NBA has) Yao Ming… RT: Yes, I want to be that guy (for Filipinos). RS: I want you to be that guy. RT: Push that, push that in the social media. And I’m sure Adam Silver (current NBA Commissioner), if he gets 12 million people saying, “Yes we’d love to have a representative of the Filipino culture in the NBA”, I’m sure he’d listen. RS: I would love that, because a lot of the fans of the NBA are Filipinos, here and outside of the country. RT: Yes, yes I would love to do that. How about you? Would you love to have him as the Filipino Ambassador to the NBA? I hope you all, including Commissioner Silver, would also agree.