When he was just 13 years old, Kiefer Ravena experienced the responsibility and honor of representing his home country of the Philippines. That feeling of putting on the national team jersey, and showing up for 100 million-plus Filipinos, is something that continues to fuel his passion for the game.
At the same time, Kiefer hardly needs motivation to get in the gym. He’s had a basketball in his hands since he was four years old, and he grew up in a competitive family of athletes. His mother played pro volleyball for the national team, and his father won multiple championships while playing for the Philippine Basketball Association. His younger sister also plays volleyball, and his younger brother is a teammate on the national squad, too.
At 6’1, Kiefer modeled his guard play after his father. He learned to be crafty and to finish strong around the rim. Most importantly, he learned to play every minute with respect for the game. He first started to rack up accolades in high school, a streak that continued through college. He is a two-time University Athletic Association of Philippines (UAAP) Seniors Champion and a 2014 Philippine University Games MVP and Champion. He’s also the only basketball player to have five gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games. At age 27, he was named captain of the Philippines national team, Gilas Pilipinas.
Kiefer is one of the Philippines’ most exciting leaders. Following his time at university, he was a developmental player for the NBA G-League’s Texas Legends before the NLEX Road Warriors selected him second overall in the Philippines Basketball Association (PBA) draft. He’s recently averaged 19.4 points, 5.5. Rebounds and 4.6 assists per game.
Looking beyond the challenging year that was 2020, Kiefer plans to help bring Philippine basketball to new heights. He, his brother and his teammates have the country in a good position to qualify for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup, and the Philippines have been selected to co-host the FIBA Basketball World Cup in 2023.
We spoke with Kiefer to discuss how basketball unites the world, growing up in a competitive family and his favorite sneakers. Welcome to the family, Kiefer.
What does it feel like to be a part of the Jordan Brand family?
I feel like I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I still can’t believe it. I remember speaking to the Brand about it last year. The news has been embraced by a lot of people around me. It’s amazing to be part of this incredible team of athletes.
You’re the first athlete from the Philippines to join the Brand. Knowing how big basketball is in the Philippines, what do you think this moment means to Filipinos?
Most people know that Filipinos are addicted to basketball. In normal times, every court on every street is full of people playing, including kids right after school. You’ll see people playing in their uniforms with leather shoes on. You’ll see construction workers playing, as if they’re not already tired from work. They’ll spend their break time playing basketball for a bottle of soda. When you’re here, you really see the passion. You see the fire. No one wants to lose. Every time someone puts on the national team uniform, they feel united with one another. When games are live on TV, everyone stops what they’re doing to support. Everybody has their own opinion on how I should play; that’s how supportive Filipinos are when it comes to basketball.
When Jordan Brand opened the Manila store, the energy was really crazy. We had the chance to go inside a few days earlier. Filipinos have always loved Air Jordans. Any time I go to the store, people are lining up for something.
Speaking of wearing Js, do you have a favorite Jordan?
My favorite Air Jordan would be the Air Jordan XIs. For me, it’s forever. It will never get old. I remember when I was in high school, I really saved up for the Air Jordan XI “Space Jam.” I waited for the release, and then I just bought it. Every time I see the XIs, I remember buying them with my own money.
What was it like to get a pair of the super-limited Air Jordan IV “Manila?”
After wearing them during the opening of the Manila store, it was hard to wear them again. I keep them in an acrylic case in a safe. I could pull them out and wear them every now and then, but I don’t. Those are really sacred for me. Having one of the 150 pairs, and being one of the first to wear them, is really special for me.
What do you look for in shoes that you wear or collect? Do you have a certain style when it comes to sneakers?
Right now, I’m collecting the Air Jordan I Lows. I’ve been trying to look for Lows, even though everybody has Highs. I like being different. Right now, I probably have four or five pairs of the Lows. Other than that, I’m all about the OG Air Jordan colorways.
So what about the shoes you wear on the court? What do you like about the Air Jordan XXXV?
That’s the shoe I’ve been playing in, and I love it. It’s really nice and comfortable with a snug fit. I’ve also been wearing the new Why Not? Zer0.4. I like that it’s Low-cut, and the traction is nice. And I love how it fits my feet. I’ve been switching between those pairs, and so far, I’m loving it. I feel really blessed to be a part of this Brand. It’s actually overwhelming every time I put on these shoes.
Your family is all-in on sports. How have you maintained your passion and love for the game, considering that you started playing when you were four years old?
I grew up in a family of athletes, and I’ve always loved competition. Any time there’s an upcoming game, I’ve really prepared for it. I never want to lose. I have that mindset of staying on top every single night. I like to prepare myself and surround myself with the best so that I’m in a position to succeed.
My passion goes beyond knowing that people are watching me. I spend multiple hours in the gym, on the court and doing shooting exercises. That’s what I like to do — to push myself. Every time I see another player do well, I want to do better.
How have your parents and your siblings helped you throughout your basketball journey?
They’re my biggest fans and also my biggest critics. They say the things I want to hear, and at the same time, they correct me if I’m doing something wrong. My dad was a basketball player who had a fruitful career in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) for 14 years. Even now, he’s part of the coaching staff of a PBA team. So he’s really, really knowledgeable.
My mom is more of the low-key cheerer. Any time I’ve ever had a bad day or felt doubtful, I’d hear it from my dad, and then, she’d be the one to pick me up and tell me to bounce back. My sister, my brother, and I are really competitive with one another. We push each other to the best of our abilities. Competition is such a norm for us. Every time we have the chance to compete, we give it our best, because we were raised that way.
We know you played in the G League. What was that experience like, and how did that help you become the leader you are now?
It helped me a lot. It was an eye opener for me, just being around so much talent and so many amazing coaches. When I was there, I was with the Texas legends. I learned a lot from the NBA vets. I apply those lessons to my game every single day and night. Being there was something I had dreamt of. I love the process of working hard and being an underdog, so it was a great experience for me.
There are players in the NBA from all over the world, and the game continues to get more global. Why do you think that’s important?
It feels great to see so many players make an impact in the NBA. The globalization of the game is actually an important part of its evolution — how it can be adapted by any culture. It brings all of us together. It unites us and gives us a shared purpose.
I feel that players like myself have a responsibility to take the game global, to share the knowledge we have with the next generation, especially in the Philippines.
Did you have any favorite Jordan Brand athletes growing up?
Besides MJ, I’d say Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. I’ve rocked both of their kicks. Melo is one of the reasons that I’m number 15 right now, to be honest.
You wore your first national jersey when you were 13, and you were named the captain of the national team in 2020. What does that mean to you, and what does the national team mean to the Philippines?
It’s an honor to play for my country. It never feels like an obligation, it’s truly a privilege. Every time I get the chance to play for the Philippines, I suit up. I never waste the opportunity. It feels really great to lead a bunch of young, talented guys. I want to put them in positions that they’ll thrive in. I learned the ropes from the players who came before me, too.
“Every time I get the chance to play for the Philippines, I suit up.”
You’re also an ambassador for the Women’s National Basketball League. How have the women in your life, your mother and sister, impacted you, and why is it important for you to represent the WNBL?
Well, my sister and my mom have had a big impact on who I am today. When my mom was playing volleyball during her collegiate days, there was no professional league after that. After college, it was a wrap. Now, there’s a professional volleyball league and a professional basketball league. I know that my mom would have loved an opportunity to play during this era, so I want to remind players not to take this moment for granted.
With the WNBL, I’ve always been an advocate. I’ve always been a fan of basketball, whether it’s men’s or women’s. Every time I watch the women’s games, I learn and enjoy them in the same way as I do the men’s. I’ll always be a supporter of the game no matter who’s playing.
We know you play a lot of golf. How do you think you’d fare against MJ in a game?
I’d love to play and pick his brain. I can picture him hitting a 300-yard drive with a cigar in hand. Every now and then, I watch the highlights of his golf swing, how he plays golf. I know it’d be competitive, but I’d try my best. I’ve been working on my golf game, especially during the pandemic.
Jordan Brand has committed to a mission of “action over words.” You’ve been known to host charity golf tournaments and help others in need after natural disasters. Why is giving back so important to you?
Giving back is just natural for me, because I’ve been given so many blessings. I want to share that with others. I try to use my platform to inspire and be a good role model to the youth. I was raised that way, too. Every time we had something extra, we would give it away, including my shoes. I still reach out to players and give them basketball shoes.
Those moments are the real wins. Those victories are the ones that really matter for us, for me and my family. We love getting to share the blessings we’ve been given through basketball. It’s only right for me to help others get the same opportunities.
You talked about it before, but what else do you want the world to know about basketball in the Philippines and Filipino basketball culture?
I’d like the world to know that Filipino basketball is all about heart. We’ve always been underdogs. I want to bring back the time when people looked to Philippine basketball on the international stage — the glory days of Philippine basketball. Hopefully, we will be given a chance to do so.
Again, it’s beyond basketball. It’s about giving your best to the sport, the best of your abilities. Whether you win or lose, the only thing you can really control is the effort you give, the preparation and the mental and physical toughness you have. After that, after the game, you can say to yourself, “I gave it my best. I left it all on the floor.”