July 22, 2024

Dream Chasers: Wearing his idol Larry Bird's jersey number, aspiring teacher Brandon Bates embraces career shift

Dream Chasers: Wearing his idol Larry Bird
Brandon Bates shows his mettle for eventual champion Meralco in the recently concluded PBA Season 48 Philippine Cup finals. | (Art by Mitzi Solano; Photos by RM Chua and Sherwin Vardeleon)

Had things gone differently for him, Brandon Bates would either be a barista or a teacher.

But instead, as he was pursuing both, his path diverged and he found himself donning the jersey No. 33 of his idol, NBA legend Larry Bird, in a career he never dreamt of doing.

"I'll be honest with you: I've never had that dream," Bates, chuckling, told One Sports, when asked about the time he dreamt of becoming a professional basketball player.

[ALSO READ: PBA: Brandon Bates reminds Meralco coach Luigi Trillo of former Alaska player]

"I've never had that dream. That's why I tell everyone this is just so surreal to me. It just doesn't feel real. I get to tell my friends, I get to tell people that I meet out on the street that I'm a professional athlete. It's unreal," added Bates, at times shaking his head.

Brandon Bates goes for a dunk in Game 6 of Meralco's PBA Season 48 Philippine Cup finals battle with San Miguel last June 16. | (Art by Mitzi Solano, Photo by RM Chua)

 Choosing to become a professional basketball player in the PBA, however, was a right decision, according to the 27-year-old Fil-Aussie: "Absolutely. 100 percent."

How could he go wrong when he has just become a champion last Sunday, June 16, as Meralco finally became one for the first-time ever after toppling powerhouse San Miguel, 80-78, in Game 6 of the Philippine Cup finals, ending the Bolts' 14 long years of waiting.

Bates was instrumental in that epic victory, displaying his defensive prowess as he bravely responded to the herculean task of holding down seven-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo in the best-of-seven duel.

[ALSO READ: 'Malaki ang potential': Meralco rookie Brandon Bates on San Miguel main man June Mar Fajardo's radar heading to PBA Finals clash]


Bates averaged 3.83 points, 6.17 rebounds, 1.83 blocks, 0.67 assists and 0.5 steals against one turnover in 22.45 minutes in the series. Prior to that, he impressed with a six-block, 13-rebound showing against Ginebra in Game 7 of the semis to help usher the Bolts' maiden passage to the All-Filipino conference Last Dance.

Now, fans have a new name to cheer for, and for that, they have to thank Bates' mom who helped steer him towards choosing basketball after trying his hand in other sports as a youngster in Australia.

"I played a lot of sports, but I never really stuck with them. And then my mom was like, 'OK, you have to play some sports now.' So going to basketball and loved it," said Bates, who considers himself a "late bloomer" as he started playing the sport when he was already around 16 to 17 years old.

He decided to focus solely on basketball after high school, especially when an opportunity for him to play came. Bates suited up for La Salle in college in the UAAP. 

"I was a little bit lost, didn't know what to do. An opportunity came along to play it full-time, so I did that," said Bates.

Bates played for two seasons with the Green Archers from 2018 to 2019 before deciding to return to Australia during the height of the pandemic. There, he suited up for the Sutherland Sharks in the Waratah League and in the NBL1 as he eventually decided to forgo his final playing year with DLSU.

[ALSO READ: Dream Chasers: Ginebra rising rookie Ralph Cu keeps believing in himself]

In 2022, Bates was part of the Platinum Karaoke squad that won its breakthrough title in the PBA 3x3. The following year, just as he was working as a barista and studying to become a teacher in Australia, he was drafted eighth overall by Meralco.

Now that he is treading his path in the professional basketball scene, Bates could only hope to emulate the style of play of his idols in the NBA, Bird and Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic.

"I'm a fan of Larry Bird. I wish I could play like him," said Bates, laughing. "That's why I have number 33 [on my jersey]. I love Larry Bird, Luka Doncic as well. I wish I could play like them."

"But, you know, unfortunately, I've got my skillset. So, yeah," quipped Bates, laughing again.

Meralco's Brandon Bates holds his own against San Miguel behemoth June Mar Fajardo in the PBA Finals. | (Art by Mitzi Solano; Photo by Sherwin Vardeleon)

Bates also gave a glimpse of some of his habits and rituals as a player. Prior to a match, he likes to eat a healthy meal, meditate and  listen to Taylor Swift's songs.

"I like to eat a healthy meal before here. Lots of veggies, lots of complex carbs. A little bit of meditation sometimes," said Bates, who lists fish and chips and pasta as his favorite food, describing himself as a "basic man."

"I think I told everyone as well, I like to listen to Taylor Swift beforehand," he added.

[ALSO READ: Dream Chasers: San Miguel rookie Kyt Jimenez builds kids' lives as he pursues his PBA goals]

When he is not on the court, he spends his free time  where else  but in coffee shops.

"Mostly at home. But, actually, going to cafes. I go to cafes a lot during my free time. I'm really trying to find the best ones in Manila. So, if anyone has any suggestions, please, please, let me know," Bates said, turning to the camera, laughing. 

Asked if he has high standards when it comes to coffee, Bates responded: "Just a bit."

He also shared the song on repeat on his playlist, one that is blasting on his speakers on his way to a match.

"Birds of a Feather. That song gets me in my feels. I love it. I just feel so happy when I listen to it. It's just unbelievable. Love that song!" said Bates.

"I got it blasting in the car on the way here. It's a 30-minute drive, so I've got it on repeat for thirty minutes," he added, laughing.

While he has fully embraced his life as a pro baller with the Bolts, Bates would not hesitate to go back to being a barista and pursue being an educator had the opportunity to become a PBA player has not come his way.

"Yes, absolutely. I'd be a barista," said Bates, a big smile growing on his face. 

"And I'll be studying to be a teacher. So that's what I would be doing."

He discovered his passion for teaching as he was coaching basketball back in Australia, where he drew fulfillment from the learnings his students got from him.

"It only happened two or three years ago. I had to take a good hard look at myself and i realized that No. 1, I was coaching at the time, and I really enjoyed when kids started to understand the things I was telling them. So I got a lot of fulfillment from that," said Bates.

"And I thought, you know what, I could probably become a teacher and I'd really enjoy it. And I love English, I love history," he added.

But, living by his motto, Bates is taking every opportunity that comes his way. For now, it is playing for the newly crowned champion Meralco.

"You got to take every opportunity you can. You'll never know when things are going to run out. So, if in ten years, you say, you look back and you regret things, you know you can't live with that regret," he said.

The goal for Bates is consistency as he tries to make the most of the surprise path that lay in front of him.

"As a basic, you know, what every player wants is, I want to make the playoffs consistently. I want to win championships consistently. I'm not going to be satisfied with just one or two. I want to make it worth my while over here," said Bates, smiling.

As for the individual awards, those are not just in his mind.

"Individually, no. I always, always have been a team player. I don't care about individual stats, individual awards, things like that. As long as we get a win, that's what matters to me," he said.

[ALSO READ: 'I feel very comfortable here': Meralco active consultant Nenad Vucinic shares Bolts, Philippine journey]

How about making it to the All-Defensive Team? Bates insisted that it would still not matter as much.

"That would be cool, 100 percent," admitted Bates, before quickly adding, "But I have the recognition of my teammates, I have the recognition of my coaching staff. I don't need the extraneous stuff."

"Again, if you guys are going to vote for me, please," Bates said, in jest. "But you know, it doesn't matter to me too much."

Bearing that mentality, Bates quietly did his part in leading Meralco to the pinnacle of PBA glory.

Meralco rookie Brandon Bates denies Rodney Brondial of San Miguel. | (Art by Mitzi Solano)


Brandon Bates' favorite movie of all time is Return of the Jedi of the Star Wars franchise: "Return of the Jedi. I love that movie. I love Star Wars. I'm a huge Star Wars fan."
His Star Wars influence are his dad and grandfather: "When I was younger, my dad got me into it. My grandpa was into it. And, you know, just all that stuff. Loved it."
The first Star Wars film that got him hooked to the saga was Phantom Menace: "The first one I would have watched, it would have been Phantom Menace. I think Phantom Menace got me into it. That's probably why Qui-Gon Jinn is my favorite jedi."
His celebrity crush is an actress from the Star Wars: Ahsoka television series: "If you guys have watched Star Wars: Ahsoka, [it's] Natasha Liu Bordizzo. Love her."

(With reports from Jan Ballesteros)

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