by Jonas Terrado
Alex Compton couldn’t imagine an alternative reality had he decided not to take on a life-changing moment that began exactly 20 years today when the American guard suited up for the Manila Metrostars for the start of the inaugural Metropolitan Basketball Association season.
Compton made his MBA debut as a local player – he was born to American scholars at the Makati Medical Center – when the Metrostars beat the Cebu Gems in Lingayen, Pangasinan, in a March 7, 1998 game that eventually opened plenty of basketball opportunities for the now-Alaska Aces mentor.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Compton, now 43 years old, told this writer. “Everybody in my family has post-graduate degrees, ako lang yung black sheep. But I don’t know, I would have gotten an education, followed them, I’m not sure.”
Little has been remembered about the historic first game, which Manila winning after the festive opening ceremonies. Compton recalled how terrible he was in that first game which started when his missed shot allowed Metrostars teammate and current San Miguel Beermen assistant Peter Martin to score the league’s first ever points.
Compton is quite sure that he made the right decision. The MBA, the regional league that battled the more-established PBA for national attention before financial trouble led to its demise in 2002, turned out to be the first of many basketball gigs.
He spent several seasons playing in the now-defunct Philippine Basketball League, was given a chance to play for Welcoat in the 2007 PBA Fiesta Conference before assistant coaching stint led him to his current role as Alaska’s chief tactician.
Compton also used a bit of his parents’ educational background into good use, quickly learning the Filipino language as if it was a simple basketball drill. He also married Filipina model Michelle Astudillo in 2010 and became a father of three children.
He also serves as one of the executives of the National Basketball Training Center, a pet project of PBA and UAAP champion coach Eric Altamirano who joined the Aces coaching staff before the start of the season.
Altamirano was mainly response for making the then 23-year-old Compton, whose dashing looks at the time made him a dead ringer of actor Leonardo DiCarpio, cross the Pacific after his college career at Cornell University in New York ended in 1997.
“Siya ang may kasalanan kung ba’t ako nandito,” Compton said. “Yung agent ko naghahanap siya kung saang mga bansa ako pwedeng maglaro, tas nalaman niya na dito ako pinanganak.
“So, dahil may contact siya kay coach Eric – si coach Eric tumutulong sa pag-setup ng Metrostars nun – ang ginawa niya, nag-usap sila. And then, I had to send this authorization letter na pwede silang kumuha ng birth certificate ko sa Makati Med, so they knew na dito talaga ako pinanganak.
“Then ang nangyari, the league (MBA) discussed it if they’ll let someone like this play, pumayag sila,” he added.
Compton and his agent would later travel to Los Angeles to finalize the deal with meet Altamirano, who was with the rest of the Purefoods team which he steered to the championship of the 1997 PBA All-Filipino crown. By January, Compton was in Manila to begin a new life at his future home.
“It was a massive blessing in my life. It was so much fun,” Compton. “I actually…this is not against the PBA, I am so much glad I’m here, so blessed to be the coach of Alaska and get to know the people that I know that run the league, the other coaches, it’s wonderful. But, if I had to choose my first game here in the Philippines, where I would play, I would choose to play the MBA a hundred percent at a time.
“Dito ako pinanganak but I left here as a baby. I really didn’t know anything about the country but the MBA forced me to go around and hear people speak in Ilonggo, in Bisaya, and see different parts of the country. I was like I was getting paid to play basketball and go on a tour.
“I fell in love with the Philippines, and the MBA was the vehicle that allowed me to travel and see what a special country the Philippines is. I felt so blessed to be allowed to play here,” he added.