Home Nike kobe The people fighting to live on Asia’s most famous basketball court

The people fighting to live on Asia’s most famous basketball court

For Carlo Belvis, a basketball court is literally the center of his world. The 26-year-old calls the Fort Bonifacio Tenement in Manila his home, which is a public housing block surrounding perhaps Asia’s most famous basketball court.
At all hours of the day, residents gather on the balconies of the seven-story complex to watch the action below.

“Basketball gives happiness. You forget all your problems when you play basketball. You can show all your emotions, that’s why I love the game,” says Carlo.

Basketball is played any time of the day on the Tenement court. Source: SBS News / Aaron Fernandes

The housing block, known to locals simply as “The Tenement”, looks like a scene from a movie. Gas cookers roast skewers of meat on the balconies. There is no elevator, so people use motorbikes to drive up and down ramps to reach upper floors.

The building’s soundtrack is a mix of basketballs and karaoke from high-volume home stereos. Life in the area can be tough, with the constant noise and activity being a welcome distraction.
“There are a lot of temptations. There are people here who use drugs and do not do good things,” says Carlo. “Living here is like a big family. You just have to respect each other.
Like soccer in Brazil, basketball has a quasi-religious following in the Philippines. in January 2020, local artists transformed the courtyard into a memorial that has gone viral around the world.
The viral tribute added to Tenement’s credibility as a global basketball icon.
The handprints of American basketball player Lebron James are angled into the walls of the court, when he visited Tenement as part of a Nike tour in 2015.

Every other day, international travelers walk through Tenement on pilgrimage to see the Sacred Court.

Living here is like a big family. You just have to respect yourself.

Carlo Belvis

“I’ve known Tenement for years and thought, if I ever visit the Philippines, I have to go,” said Jeremy Lubsey, a 34-year-old traveler from Maryland in the United States.

“It’s special. It’s about the history of this court and this complex. It’s all about the people, you can see their passion on display when the game is played.

Close-up of a man wearing a pink shirt.

Jeremy Lubsey visited the court while on vacation in the United States. Source: SBS News / Aaron Fernandes

Today, Bryant’s iconic painting is gone. During COVID-19, residents lost their jobs and struggled to find work. The famous courthouse was sold to commercial companies as advertising space. But to preserve the memory and honor their idol, local artists from the Tenement Visual Artists group painted a replica on a large canvas, which is hidden in Tenement.

“It’s a replica. All the people if they want to see, they can see it here. It’s valuable for the building,” says Cris Paccial of Tenement Visual Artists.

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A canvas replica of Kobe Bryant’s famous mural. Source: SBS News / Aaron Fernandes

But Tenement’s viral fame hasn’t solved a housing crisis that threatens the courthouse and about 3,000 residents who live in the building. In 2010, local authorities declared the housing project unsafe and vulnerable to natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes.

Tenants received eviction notices and a small number accepted a government offer to relocate. As of 2015, a total of 57 out of 712 families have been relocated, with financial assistance provided by Taguig local government. But the majority of the inhabitants refused to leave.

It’s all about people, you can see their passion on display when the game is played.

Jeremy Lubsey

Jennifer Corpin is president of the Tenement Home Owners Association, a community group that represents Tenement residents.
“There’s a lot of history in this building,” she says.

“From before until now, we are continuously making noise locally and internationally. It is the only way for us to be preserved.

Woman standing in front of vacant storefronts.

Jennifer Corpin leads an association that represents the residents of the building. Source: SBS News / Aaron Fernandes

Today, the eviction notices have stopped but the building is still not secure. Huge cracks are visible in the walls and the upper levels have no water. Residents carry buckets upstairs for drinking and bathing.

SBS News understands that the National Housing Authority of the Philippines has said it is still planning to relocate residents, but for years nothing has been done.

The residents, their crumbling building and their beloved basketball court have been largely forgotten.

Residents outside their apartment buildings cooking.

Life in Tenement spills out from the apartments onto the balconies. Source: SBS News / Aaron Fernandes

“Residents still want to stay, but of course we don’t know the integrity of the building,” says Corpin.

“Of course we understand that we cannot stay here, but we need to know what their plans are. We are not illegal settlers, they can’t just throw us where they want.

Ms Corpin says residents know that if the building could collapse, they couldn’t stay there. But the fundamental problem is a housing shortage in Metro Manila.


“The majority of Tenement residents work in the area, in Makati, in the neighboring city of Taguig, and most of the students study here in Taguig,” she says.

“So the problem with the National Housing Authority is that they don’t have property in the city that we can relocate to or relocate to.”

Aerial view of Tenement basketball court and apartment building.

The Tenement building was condemned as unsafe in 2010. Source: SBS News / Aaron Fernandes

SBS News sent questions to the National Housing Authority of the Philippines about the future of Tenement and its residents, but did not receive a response.

A public statement from the NHA released in March 2018 said the organization had taken steps to keep occupants safe by providing them with relocation options in NHA relocation projects.

“Despite encountering resistance in Fort Bonifacio Tenement, the NHA established a Relocation Action Center there in May 2014 to accommodate requests for relocation and relocation,” the statement said.

Man wearing a basketball jersey and has a basketball in his hand.

All generations play basketball at the Tenement. Source: SBS News / Aaron Fernandes

Ms Corpin says residents are willing to move if a relocation option can be found nearby. But they want to know where they will be moved to and if heritage and history can be preserved.

“When you say Tenement, people will always say, ‘Oh Tenement, the famous courtyard is here.’ We’ve worked hard to be known. If not in our building, at least in our famous courtyard. Maybe they want to consider these things, that we may be preserved.