Fil-Malaysian baller promotes freestyle basketball as outlet for self-expression

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 23) – A number of Filipinos eat, sleep, and breathe basketball.

From the traditional 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 play, the country's most loved sport has evolved such as combining hoop skills and dance as an avenue for self-expression.

Freestyle basketball became a tool for Filipino-Malaysian hoop artist Scalia Nethanial not just to express himself but showcase his Filipino roots.

Nethanial shared in an interview with CNN Philippines that his family initially opposed his pursuit of freestyle basketball, but some dance and hoop skills in his bag pushed him to aspire for bigger goals.

It also helped that he was a fan of known street basketball television show AND1 Mixtape Tour where he also learned some freestyle basketball tricks.

"Things weren't always easy at home. I was able to express myself through the art form," said Nethanial, who also works as a social media executive.

Nethanial became a five-time freestyle basketball champion in Malaysia and the country's top freestyle baller.

More than his achievements in the court, Nethanial said he wanted to impart the significance of freestyle basketball in improving self disposition especially in these difficult times.

"It's the idea of just letting out what you feel. The freestyle culture is all about expressing yourself through your movements and tricks," he said.

Nethanial also uses freestyle basketball to show his pride in representing the Philippines in the court.

"While I was born here in Malaysia, I'm still a Filipino," said Nethanial, whose mother is from Basista, Pangasinan.

As a hoops-loving country, the 25-year-old freestyle baller said the Philippines is a good starting point for freestyle basketball to further flourish internationally.

Nethanial said freestyle basketball has a chance of developing in the country.

"I can definitely say that Filipinos are really talented and creative. They make the most out of their situation," said Nethanial. "With freestyle (basketball), you don't need a court, and that's where I feel they could be creative with the basketball."

As a way of honoring his Filipino heritage, Nethanial organized three virtual freestyle basketball contests in Basista to entice the youth in his hometown to engage in the sport despite the pandemic's challenges.

"I knew there were many talented individuals there. I figured out a way to organize these contents all from the safety of their own space," he shared. "I feel it's very important to give back and help, not only when it's convenient."

As he continues his freestyle basketball journey, Nethanial aims not mainly for the sport's popularity but a platform to express one's self and be proud of his roots and lineage.

"I'd like to contribute to providing more platforms for more people to do what they love. It would be great if more Filipinos could pick it up because Filipinos are all over the world," said Nethanial. "They're very passionate in whatever they do, and I feel that could inspire more people."