By John Cairns (Photos by Chun Yin Wah)
YUNG SHUE WAN, Lamma Island, Hong Kong – In most families, all-out court battles have negative repercussions, causing bitter conflicts. For Lamma's Fernie family, it's more like healthy pleasure and helping to entertain their fellow islanders.
“This was fun,” said one combatant. Nearby, the other nodded.
Forty-two-year-old Ivan Fernie, at six-feet, five-inches, towers above opponents as the tallest player in the Lamma Island Pinoy Basketball League (LIPBL), active on Sundays at the Yung Shue Wan basketball court. He plays center for the green-uniformed Awesome Tigers.
Meanwhile, Ivan's 15-year-old son Richard, five-feet, 11-inches and still growing, wears red. He's a deft forward for the rival Huggen D'ass team.
On October 16, the father and son, plus their respective teams, played against each other for the first time. As family conflicts go, this one looked more friendly than fierce. Ivan's wife (Richard's mother) Ivy (who said she rooted for Richard's team) sat at courtside. Richard's younger brothers (Ivan and Ivy's other sons) Rubin, age 11, and Ronan, age 10, watched too. So did George, the family dog.
At the final buzzer, the result looked like a split decision. Talented and tough-to-stop, Richard had poured in a lion's share of his team's points. Ivan scored just a few points while rebounding and blocking shots (including one by Richard).
But Ivan's team won the game 94-91. A gracious winner, he conceded: “Richard runs circles around me. There's no competition that way when it comes to basketball play.”
As for Richard, “I wanted to see what would happen,” he said. “I didn't want to say I'd beat him. But I think I would if it was one-on-one.”
“Hell, yes,” Ivan agreed.
“A lot depends on the game, the players and their stamina,” Richard said. “Unfortunately for us today, we had only seven people playing. I had to play the whole game and didn't have enough stamina for the last quarter.”
The Tigers improved their record to two wins, one loss, moved alone into second place and pounced closer to the league-leaders. In other action, the Lamma Archers (blue) hit a bull's-eye, winning for the first time, 95-88, toppling the previously undefeated Gray Hawks.
With no team unbeaten and none winless, the standings have tightened. The next games, set for October 23, send Huggen D'ass against the Archers and then the Lamma Lickers (yellow) versus the Tigers. Another victory would move the Tigers into a first-place tie with the Gray Hawks.
Ivan and Richard always play under “strict rules from the boss” (Ivy) about their on-court conduct. The main rules are: “Behave at all times. No verbal (or other) abuse is allowed.”
Richard, active on three teams in different leagues, is the more dedicated hoopster. He also plays for his school and with a recreational side on Hong Kong Island. “I play almost every day, sometimes at lunchtime, sometimes after school,” he said.
As for Ivan, “I'm just playing so I can run around for a few hours each week”. On weekdays, he's an operations director for a restaurant group based in Hong Kong, London and Beijing.
Richard decided first to sign up for the LIPBL. In the league's first season, he had watched. “I wanted to join and have fun,” he said. “Then my Dad said he wanted to join too.”
The LIPBL's first season featured only Filipino players. Now each team has three or four “import” players of other nationalities.
“Luckily, we have a good bunch of Filipinos here,” Ivan said. “They opened the doors to everyone else, and I think it's a better competition.”
Richard enjoys the Lamma league. “It's been fun getting to know a lot more people on the island,” he said. “Now when I walk down the street, my friends say, ‘What! You know those guys too?’ ”
How much does mealtime talk at the Fernie home focus on basketball? “Quite a lot,” Ivan said. “It's mostly about injuries.”
Apparently, both players are prone to scrapes and bruises. “It's mostly me,” Richard said.
But Ivan quickly claims to take his share of battering too, partly from playing at a more advanced age. “I'm just surviving,” he said.
Does the Fernie family have a basketball tradition? “Absolutely not,” Ivan said. “I grew up in Britain, where everything was about football, football and a little more football. The first time I played basketball was at the collegiate level after I went to America when I was 21 years old. People told me, ‘You're tall. Go on the team.’ Of course, I didn't know the rules. I didn't know anything and didn't last long, but I enjoyed the games. So I like to mess around with basketball and have fun. And I know that Richard does too.”
Ivy, who comes from the Philippines, prefers different sports. “She's more of a volleyball lady,” Ivan said. She also goes to the gym, runs and swims.
More Ivan-Richard court battles lie ahead. They'll square off again later in the LIPBL schedule and maybe in the playoffs.
Richard's younger brothers aren't basketball fanatics yet. “They have the athleticism, but aren't quite as keen,” Ivan said. “They're still young and have time to get interested.”
Eventually Ivan may hang up his basketball shoes, but Richard won't stop playing anytime soon. He'd “love to play longer”, maybe on a university team.
Does he have what it takes for that? “Definitely,” Ivan said. “He's got a heart of stone. He's very competitive, getting that from his mother, and he loves fitness. He enjoys running or anything athletic. If he can keep fit while studying, great. If he can turn it into something more, then that's good for him. If not, he can fall back on his studies.”
If the father and son happen to clash in the LIPBL title game, “Honestly, I'd look forward to it,” Ivan said.
A gleam in Richard's eyes shows that he would too.
Awkward as the “court battles” sometimes may be for other family members to watch, it's probably possible to cheer for two players and two teams at once. Yet one mystery remains entirely unsolved. Which team does George, the family dog, support? On that issue, the clever canine discretely spoke not a single woof.
Gray Hawks (gray) – 3 wins, 1 loss
Awesome Tigers (green) – 2 wins, 1 loss
Huggen D’ass (red) – 1 win, 2 losses
Lamma Lickers (yellow) – 1 win, 2 losses
Lamma Archers (blue) – 1 win, 2 losses