A familiar figure boarded the air-conditioned bus headed to Pacita Complex in San Pedro, Laguna. None of the other passengers seemed to recognize the African-American man who was wearing a cap and a plain white shirt. Even the driver and the conductor seemed to have no idea who he was — he was just another passenger on the long commute.
Only a few months ago, Billy Ray Bates was given the rock star treatment during his induction to the PBA Hall of Fame. The moment served as his re-entry into Philippine basketball — his last shot at a comfortable life.
Months later, it was all gone.
Shortly after his arrival in the country, the AirAsia Philippine Patriots hired him to be part of their coaching staff — as much for his brand name recognition among old-school fans as his actual contributions to player development. He also had a deal going with Grosby to revive a line of sneakers that had been hugely popular during his heyday.
“When the PBA decided to induct Bates to the Hall of Fame, the agreement was to send him back to the US after a week, but the Philippine Patriots asked for his services. Ang sabi ko na nga lang, bahala na sila kay Billy dahil sila naman ang magbibigay na ng trabaho sa kanya,” PBA media bureau chief Willie Marcial told InterAKTV.
But Bates just couldn’t make the most out of the opportunity given to him. He had been in and out of rehab in the United States, and back in Manila, he quickly fell back into his old habits of drinking and partying all night. He continuously missed practice sessions for the Patriots, who had no choice but to give him the pink slip.
Today, Bates survives on the leftover money from his deal with the Patriots and his advance from Grosby.
“Siguro kaya medyo malakas pa ang loob niya mag-stay even when he was fired by the Patriots because he was paid two weeks more of his salary plus he got 50 percent of his endorsement deal with Grosby. It was a three-year deal,” said agent Sheryl Reyes, who helped Bates get both deals.
While Reyes admitted that Bates had indeed been hitting the party scene and was back drinking, the true cause of his financial struggles lay elsewhere.
“The real reason why he was having a difficult time, in terms of financial matters, was because of his sick daughter, who has cancer,” said Reyes. “It was his step-daughter and he treated her as his own. His salary with the Patriots is $1,500 a month, and a lot of times nagpapadala siya $1,000 or $1,200, so konti na lang natitira talaga sa kanya.”
After he got fired, a desperate Bates went back to the PBA, asking for help to draft an apology letter to Patriots co-owner Mikee Romero. The former import also asked the league to endorse him to Bobby Parks and Norman Black, two of Bates’ contemporaries from the ’80s who are now coaching in the country.
Given his track record, however, it seems unlikely that Bates would still be able to find gainful employment with another professional team — a sad fate for the Black Superman, now trapped in his own fortress of solitude.