Puerto Rico will always be known as one of the world’s great baseball cultures, but any fan of international sports knows that over the last half century or so, La Isla del Encanto has been asserting itself more and more as a global basketball powerhouse. Since the 1980s, the Puerto Rican national basketball team (yeah, national…we know it’s confusing) has consistently dominated regional competitions like the Pan American games and the FIBA Americas Championship, with a consistent top 10 presence in the Olympics. But where does Puerto Rico get its uncommon affinity for a sport more associated with the concrete jungles of New York than rolling tropical landscapes?
Well, from New York of course. It’s no secret that the Puerto Rican diaspora was concentrated in the New York metro area for the better part of the 20th century, so it makes perfect sense that Nuyoricans would eventually bring their gritty New York street-ball style back to Borinquén. For most followers of Puerto Rican basketball, the watershed moment in this cultural feedback loop was the 1979 Pan American games, when a Puerto Rican national team composed of eight New York-born or -bred basketball prodigies took on the United States in a highly anticipated final.
For those dying to know more, the historical game and the events leading up to it will be the subject of an upcoming documentary directed by Puerto Rican helmers Ricardo Olivero Lora and Julio César Torres, and appropriately titled Nuyorican Básquet. Funded in part by the Puerto Rico Film Commission, the feature doc is wrapping up production in New York this month and hopes to be game-ready by early 2016. According to Olivero Lora, the doc will go much further than hard sports history and delve into more complex issues of national identity in a heavily diasporic island like Puerto Rico.
We can also look forward to interviews with living legends of Puerto Rican basketball like Charlie Bermúdez, Raymond Dalmau and Georgie Torres, along with a virtuoso tropical soundtrack composed by saxophonist José Furito Rios of Cultura Profética. Stay tuned for more developments on this promising project.