Last weekend in the Philippines was one of a kind. The Stars descended in the Pearl of the Orient.
I was actually cold and unenthusiastic to the news of them coming here. My initial reaction was, so what if they come and play our locals.
But lo and behold. When I saw them actually play at the big dome (renamed Smart Araneta Coliseum) my fanaticism in basketball came back. How can one ever imagine NBA Stars like Kobe Bryant (certified basketball superstar and multi-MVP Awardee), Derrick Rose (the reigning MVP), Kevin Durant (the current scoring champion), Chris Paul (among the younger players, the best NBA point guard), Derrick Fisher (President of the NBA Players Union), Ja Vale McGee (the NBA slum dunk contest runner up), James Harden (the Beard), Tyreke Evans (former NBA Rookie of the Year), and Derrick Williams (top rookie this year) playing together as a team at their prime before a mammoth crowd? I bet you, this will never happen again. Never mind if the outcome of the two games were never in question. Never mind if the stars did not play to the level we have seen them play in the regular and playoff seasons of the NBA. For a basketball fan, it was heaven here on earth. Filipino basketball addicts who were in the big dome showed it all. Cheering for their hapless and starstruck compatriots who struggled to put up a decent fight and, at the same time, for the NBA superstars’ superlative display of basketball elegance, basketball crazy Filipinos demonstrated how best to appreciate the sport dominated by human beings double their size.
I was supposed to join my wife Karla and daughter Bernadette play badminton that evening, but when AKTV coverage of the game started at around 7 pm, I decided not to miss the once in a lifetime experience. I was not disappointed (the poor technical quality of the coverage notwithstanding). As Karla described me then, I was in a surreal high watching the games.
I was doubly amazed when it was revealed that Kobe asked for tapes to study how our players play. I was also amazed when the NBA stars attempted to warm up before the game even if it would mean spoiling the suspense that was supposed to be generated by the traditional glitzy introduction of the players and the team. It shows how serious the Stars are when playing the sport, regardless of who the opponents might be.
I pity the PBA selection. Even before the start, it was obvious that they were more concerned with making sure that they get the autographs of their enemies than put up a good fight. At the half time break, Arwin Santos, the best Filipino player that night, was seen approaching those who he slum dunk against to ask for their signature.
The national team played harder and more decently. The NBA Stars were forced to get a little more serious with playing with mere mortals. But the nationals too were obviously awed before, during, and after the game. They did a better job though hiding their adoration of the Stars while the ball was in play.
The ultimate highlight of the event (dubbed as Ultimate All-Star Weekend by the promoters), was when the Stars were themselves awed and starstruck by the presence of the Filipino Pacman (I am of course not referring to MVP who supposedly bankrolled the event – Thank you sir, sa uulitin po sana). I cannot forget the scene where Cris Paul told the announcer to wait when he was called to give a few remarks after the game because he was then still having his photo with the Pacman taken. Same thing with Kevin Durant and the rests who were all scrambling for autographs and photo ops with their Filipino idol. Lumuhod din ang mga tala!
It was one grand weekend and it is all over now. But as a basketball fan I have to keep a record of this experience. I only have a vague recollection of the time in the mid 70s when the Washington Bullets led by Wes Unseld (once an NBA rebounding champion) came and played with the locals, but unfortunately no accessible record of the event is available. Last weekend’s affair must be etched in every Filipino basketball fan’s memory. This is the way I want to remember the event.
And now the following day’s SONA……