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You Choke One Referee ...

12/12/2007

Rosell Ellis was once a feisty forward with that NBA glint in his eye. He played in the 1993 McDonald's All-America game. After McNeese State, he was a top scorer in the International Basketball Association. 

There were NBA scouts in the stands they say the night that Ellis lost his mind and put an IBA referee in a choke hold. It was just after "the Latrell Sprewell incident." Ellis was essentially kicked out of American basketball for life. 

Nearly a decade later, how's that working out for him?

Not so bad.

As Rafe Bartholomew describes eloquently in Seattle Weekly, Ellis is still getting in arguments, but now as a highly paid star in the Philippine Basketball Association. He has played all over the world, and has made some kind of peace with his bizarre brand of basketball career.

As a little sidelight of a much longer and very enjoyable read, Barholomew describes the scene at a typical PBA game:

Companies that can't afford their own team pay to have mascots wander the aisles, where they pose for photographs, dance as much as their cumbersome costumes permit, and further blur the line between professional basketball and a Lewis Carroll acid trip. The PBA's in-house mascot, an orange Wookiee wearing a basketball uniform, owns the most traditional costume. He is joined by a rotating cast that includes the Welcoat paint company's human-sized paint can, which requires seeing-eye people to lead it through the crowd, and a man dressed as a superhero with a microphone for a head representing the X-treme Magic Sing home karaoke set, among other characters.

Midway through Ellis' season with Alaska, life-sized bottles of Casino-brand rubbing alcohol and Omega liniment joined the fray. The brown liniment bottle, wearing khaki shorts and a big cartoon smile, became especially popular for dancing in a way that made the most of his rectangular body's capacity for lightning-quick pelvic thrusts.

It's easy to see how a player like Ellis, who approaches basketball with a sense of dogged professionalism, might hate participating in this two-rim circus, but he maintains a sunny disposition toward the league's carnival milieu, even getting a kick out of the PBA's devoted transvestite fan base. Dressed in denim skirts and halter tops, they attend every game and always sit directly behind each basket, waving homemade banners embroidered with the players' names and numbers. In an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, their gender-bending burlesque is the ultimate insult to opposing fans, yet nearly everyone in the arena, players included, gets caught rubbernecking.

"Sometimes I catch myself watching, like, what's up with these guys?" Ellis says. "But to each his own. They could do whatever they want, as long as they don't come put their hands on me."

The transvestites managed to score a leading role in one of Ellis' most enduring memories. Ellis was playing for the PBA's Coca-Cola franchise a few years ago, and the team was warming up before a game. Ellis kept hearing someone call his name-"Ell-ees! Ell-ees!"-during layup lines. "Just by the way he was saying my name, I knew something was funny," Ellis says. "I knew better than to look, but I'm laying the ball up and he's right under the basket. So as I come down, I just happen to look. Gay dude, just had breast implants, whipped them out and showed me." Ellis runs out of breath from laughing when he gets to this part of the story, taking a minute to gather himself. "I knew right then, I done seen it all."