Filipino fans made a strong impression on Ricardo Ratliffe during the time that he played for the Star Hotshots in the PBA, so much that he still considers them "the best" fans he's ever seen.
Ratliffe was the import for the Purefoods franchise in the 2016 and 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup, and the love he received from the Filipino fans stayed with him even after he and the team went their separate ways.
"I love the Philippines," Ratliffe said in a recent interview with FIBA Asia. "I really enjoyed it, and the fans out there are the best I've ever seen, especially outside the US."
"It's the best I've ever seen," he stressed.
The Filipino fans made their appreciation for Ratliffe known last year, when they cheered for him and South Korea during the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers. Ratliffe had been naturalized in January 2018, and their game against Lebanon in February 2019 had major implications for Gilas Pilipinas.
The Philippines needed Lebanon to lose in order to secure their spot in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, and Ratliffe made sure to help. He put up 25 points and 11 rebounds to lead South Korea to a come-from-behind 84-72 win, boosting Gilas' chances.
On social media, Filipino fans expressed their gratitude for South Korea and for Ratliffe in particular, despite the long-running rivalry between the two countries.
"I feel like I have probably had more fans in the Philippines than I have here," Ratliffe noted. "I played there only probably a total of seven months, and I played in Korea for like… this is my ninth year."
"They love me, and I love them too," he added. "If I wasn't here, I'd be playing in the Philippines right now."
Ratliffe, who is the first player to be naturalized in South Korea and is now known as Ra Gun-ah, also has a special appreciation for the Philippine brand of basketball.
"In Korea, it's really, really, really structured," he said. "You have to play a certain way."
"In the Philippines, it's free," he added. "They just give you the ball and let you do what you do."
Star reached the quarterfinals in 2016 with Ratliffe, and the semifinals in 2017. In both instances, they were eliminated by San Miguel Beer.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).