Donnie Nietes, entrepreneur

I had a 22-minute-long conversation yesterday with the country’s longest-reigning boxing world champ. Since he scored a TKO against Ricardo Albia in Jan. 29, 2005, the Murcia, Negros-born boxer has not lost in 15 years. But today, boxing is farthest from the mind of Donnie Liboon Nietes.

“Wala na gyud ang boxing (boxing is dead) this year,” said the ALA Boxing Gym legend. “I am not confident in being able to get a fight.”

Nietes with Michael and Antonio Aldeguer

At 38 years old, he was aiming for that career-ending “Dream Fight,” possibly against Chocolatito, Estrada, Ioka or Rungvisai. But Covid-19 struck. To keep himself busy, Donnie exercises daily. At his home in Canduman, Mandaue, a punching bag and speed ball are often battered by his spitfire punches. But it’s biking that he relishes most.

“I have a fat bike (Specialized brand) and I bike at least 3 times a week,” said Donnie. He’s been pedaling the fat bike for three years and used to go offroad trekking with 15 of his friends. But since the lockdown, he often goes solo or, at most, with three others.

“I wear a bonnet because it’s hard to breathe wearing a face mask,” said Donnie, who prefers biking at night, using headlights and blinkers, from 5 to 9 p.m. He also has two fixie bikes.  

On boxing, Donnie admitted: “Wala na gyud ta mahimo if boxing ang saligan. Ma pobre gyud ta. (We cannot rely on boxing or else we will become poor).”

Last week, he bought a Kia Bongo truck. “Lipat bahay” services, he calls it, hauling large items from clients anywhere in Cebu. In his Facebook post yesterday, his truck was fully loaded and en route to Bogo City. The driver: Donnie Nietes. “Ako syempre ma-ngunay (I do it myself),” he said.

Supplier of vegetables is another goal of Donnie. He visited farmers in Mantalongon, Dalaguete and aims to deliver fresh supplies to his contacts in Mandaue. “Tabang sad ni sa farmers (this will also help the farmers). They have difficulty with transportation,” he said, targeting to supply “repolyo, pechay, kamatis, sibuyas bombay, pipino, sili, luy-a.”

Donnie also sells Kimchi. No, he doesn’t prepare it himself but has a Korean friend who acts as supplier. Chorizo, alcohol, face masks — these are more items the champ sells.

In Balamban, he has a sand and gravel trucking business (with a partner) and they deliver to Dumanjug, Barili and Toledo.

Botin LPG? Yes, Donnie is a dealer of these refillable LPG canisters (used for portable gas stoves). “Safe and legal ni ang Botin!” Donnie said proudly. He’s also happy that one of his resellers is a dear friend: boxing coach Edito Villamor. “Aside from Botin LPG reseller si Coach Dito, I also plan to supply him with vegetables so he can sell them near his home in Pagsabungan, Mandaue.”

To do business with Donnie  — and get the chance of speaking with a Cebu icon — you can message him in his Facebook page or text/call him at 09177168787 or 09338574078.

“Bisag unsa,” he said, “basta maka-negosyo ta.”

That resilience and resourcefulness, my dear friends, is what makes a champion.

Ironman 70.3

Today, August 9, would have been the ninth edition of the Regent Aguila Ironman 70.3 race here in Cebu. It was in August 2012 when triathletes first dove into the white sand shores of Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort and swam 1.9 kms., when they pedaled 90 kms. to do loops around the South Road Properties (SRP), and when they ran a half-marathon under the scorching noontime heat in Punta Engaño.

Before 7 a.m. today, the starting gun would have been fired in Mactan as thousands of hearts from all over the globe would have started the swim-bike-race craze that’s nicknamed IM70.3.

Wilfred Steven Uytengsu, Jr. is the man responsible for bringing the Ironman brand to the Philippines. He’s Cebuano. We know plenty of successful Cebu-based businessmen family-named Uytengsu. 

Fred was born here in Cebu City. And though he was raised in Manila and studied college in America, where better to bring triathlon than a place you call home: Cebu.

“It’s unfortunate that we won’t be able to stage the Regent Aguila Ironman 70.3 event for obvious reasons,” Fred wrote me yesterday. “This event is world recognized and popular with many professional and age group triathletes. It also brings a lot of tourism dollars to Cebu.”

Each August for the past eight years, an estimated 10,000 people — including 2,500 triathletes — converge in Cebu for this spectacle. Organized by Sunrise Events, Inc., the Cebu race is often recognized as one of the world’s best, twice hosting the Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championships. Participants get to compete alongside pros like Tim Reed, Mauricio Mendez, Belinda Granger and Caroline Steffen.

Back in 2014 when I joined as runner for a relay team, one of the bike relay participants was Pete Jacobs. He was the 2012 Ironman World Championships (Kona, Hawaii) winner. While Pete Jacobs was readying his bike before the Cebu race began, he kept looking at the bike beside him (a sleek Pinarello) and wondered who professional might be beside him. It was my bike relay teammate and best friend Dr. Ronald Eullaran! I can’t think of any other event where you get to stand and prepare beside the world champion.

With the Regent Aguila Ironman 70.3 race, this 2020, we were struck by Covid-19. And though Sunrise Events, through the indefatigable general manager Princess Galura, did all it could to prepare for the race, there was no stopping this ruthless virus.

“We are guided by ‘safety first’ even as Cebu is on GCQ,” said Fred, bowing to this unseen enemy that has disturbed all sporting events worldwide. 

“We would have had to be comfortable enough with our revised safety protocols to hold an event amidst the pandemic and this would have resulted in a drastically smaller race,” said Fred. 

“So while we are all disappointed, we realize we are dealing with a much bigger issue and we all have to do our part to observe safety and help mitigate the risks of Covid-19.”

As for the sport of triathlon, Mr. Uytengsu believes that, while racing is on a hiatus, the urge to train and compete will return.

“Once the situation improves,” he said, “I believe triathletes will resume their usual training regimen and the sport of triathlon (and Ironman) will continue to flourish in the Philippines and around the world.”

“Triathlon is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle,” he said. “So many people are new to the sport and are just getting situated. I expect the pent up demand to result in a lot of racing… hopefully in 2021.”

Fred Uytengsu added: “We hope to return to Cebu to continue this great tradition.”

Fred Uytengsu

The Cebuano who brought Ironman to the Philippines is, himself, an Ironman. And when we say “Ironman,” we mean the full and “pain-full” experience: 3.8 kms of swimming the open seas and 180 kms. of pedaling against headwinds, topped off with a full 42K marathon.

Fred Uytengsu has competed in over 50 events but none more fulfilling than the Ironman World Championships. Of the hundreds of triathlon races worldwide, the one in Kona, Hawaii is most prestigious; it’s the Wimbledon of triathlon. Fred finished twice, recording a personal best of 12.5 hours in 2011.

“But after 17 years of Ironman and triathlon,” Fred told me the other day, “I’ve taken a step back and focused on competitive swimming at the Masters level.”

On swimming, Fred gave this speech during the 2016 PSA Awards in Manila: “I took swimming in a relatively late age, starting off playing baseball, but I like the notion of swimming because, as a baseball player, sometimes you lose because your teammates struck out or someone dropped the ball. 

“What I liked about swimming is that you look at yourself in the mirror whether you won or lost, and it is whether your work ethic or your time in the pool or your racing plan was executed that defined winning or losing. If I didn’t train hard enough, I had no one to blame but myself. If I’m successful, it’s because I worked harder. 

“I enjoyed that notion competing for 13 years, swimming four hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year. Along the way, I learned a lot about the importance of a great work ethic, commitment, dedication, and sacrifice. All of these would turn out to be great life lessons as I began my working career.”

Fred became the captain of the University of Southern California swimming team. He also represented the Philippines in the 1981 SEA Games.

Several decades later, Fred is back to competing in the pool again.

“Last August 2019, I competed at the World Masters Swimming Championships in Gwangju, Korea and was able to finish in the top ten in the 50 meter and 100 meter butterfly,” he said. “So I’d like to improve on that when the Masters World Championships are held in Fukuoka, Japan (now moves to 2022). I’ll be in a new age group next year (60-64), so looking forward to that.”

These days, given the restrictions of Covid-19, Fred has worked-out at home by focusing on strength and core training with just body weight. He also did jump rope but said, “while it’s a great cardio workout, it was hard on my knees.” Lately, when the restrictions eased up, he’s been back on the bike or on the pool.

“I’m also working on improving my lung capacity using a new gadget called Air-o-Fit,” he said. “So far, so good but I need to keep at it for at least 6 months.”

A Lakers fan, Fred has been stuck in Los Angeles the past months, unable yet to fly back to Manila. His parting words to us: “We need to keep a positive attitude and realize things will get better. #cebustrong #philippinesstrong.”

Hon. Hontiveros

Dondon (center) with (from left) Manny Villaruel, Raffy Uytiepo, Girlie Garces, John Pages, Edri Aznar and Caecent Magsumbol during the 37th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards held last February 2020

Donaldo is his first name and Dondon is his nickname but we’d call him by the moniker “Cebuano Hotshot.” He studied in Don Bosco, USJ-R, and as college heartthrob, the University of Cebu. When the Cebu Gems was formed in 1998, he stood as the shining gem. 

From the MBA, he hopped to the PBA, playing 17 quality years with Alaska, Petron, Tanduay, Air21, and San Miguel. Among his achievements include being ranked fourth in the list of most 3-point shots made in PBA history, behind Jimmy Alapag, Allan Caidic and Ronnie Magsanoc. He also netted three PBA championships, one with the Aces and two with the Beermen. 

In a list of superstars that played in Cebu that include Abet, June Mar, Jojo, Ramon, JR, Aldrech, Greg and Arnie, the name “Dondon” is, on a first-name basis, recognized.

Last year, Dondon Hontiveros played a different game. He dribbled into politics, shooting for a slot as Cebu City councilor. Long accustomed to being a top-scorer, Dondon was the highest pointer among the 16 elected councilors, garnering over 161,00 votes. The tallest stood tallest.

“Basketball is a team game and each player has a role to play,” he told me a few days ago. “But it’s your attitude that helps when facing a challenge. In a game, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll win but when you put in the work, you give yourself a chance.”

The 43-year-old Hontiveros has a different role to play these days, given the Covid-19 pandemic. A few months back, he was inside the Cebu Coliseum — the same arena where he’s spent hundreds of hours assisting and playing basketball — but this time, he was assisting with the relief goods distribution, playing leader as the city helped prepare food kits.

“When I was in-charge of the repacking,” he said, “I was able to get a workout everyday because, with the help of my coaches, we helped carry the boxes of canned goods. I also tried to bring the team some energy.”

Hon. Hontiveros is busy these days, going out almost daily to help with the Normal Oasis for Adaptation and a Home (NOAH) Complex. 

“I am the logistics coordinator at NOAH under Atty. Joy Pesquera. Our quarantine facility at the SRP was able to discharge over 306 asymptomatic clients. Currently, we have over 270 at the facility,” he said.

When I asked for advice to his fellow Cebuanos, he had these “positive” words: “Use your energy to make a positive impact. It might be lending a hand, encouraging a person going through a difficult time or saying a prayer. You rise by lifting others. You find fulfillment when you were able to help. We can a make a difference bisag unsa pa na kagamay. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit, what matters is we make a conscious effort to help.”

Finally, I couldn’t end my interview without asking him one thing.

“I am excited with the return of the NBA,” he said. “I was cheering for Kawhi (Leonard) when he was still with the Spurs and Raptors. But LeBron has been amazing, as well as Giannis. My pick: any of the L.A. teams and the Bucks.”

Pinoy Basketball

Football may be the world’s most beloved sport, revered by an estimated 3.5 billion people, but here in the Philippines, we know that our No. 1 game is the one introduced to us by the Americans. 

Not long after the U.S. colonized the Philippines in 1901, basketball was introduced in Manila. It was a new game, developed a decade earlier (1891) by a P.E. teacher named James Naismith.

James Naismith

By 1910, the Philippine public schools included dribbling and rebounding as forms of exercise. By February 1913, when we hosted five nations in the Far Eastern Championship Games, we won gold in basketball, besting China and Japan. We were so dominant in Asian basketball that we won nine out of 10 of those biennial events from 1913 to 1934.

When the 1936 Olympics were played in Berlin and Adolf Hitler stood as Fuhrer, basketball was introduced as a medal sport for the first time. Led by team captain Ambrosio Padilla (who would later become a senator), we beat Italy, Mexico, Estonia and Uruguay and lost only to the U.S. Our team (photo below) was called “The Islanders” and we placed fifth — a standing that remains as the highest-ever for any Asian country in Olympic basketball history.

Given our dominance, when the first Asian Games was organized in 1951 in New Delhi, India, you don’t have to guess who stood tallest. Led by Caloy Loyzaga, Lauro Mumar and Moro Lorenzo, the Philippines won gold. 

We won the first four Asian Games basketball tournaments, including 1954 (Manila), 1958 (Tokyo) and 1962 (Jakarta). Sadly, in the 14 succeeding Asian Games, we have not snatched another gold, settling for one silver and two bronze medals.

Fast forward to 1975, the Philippine Basketball Association was established. The PBA is not only Asia’s first pro basketball league but is also the world’s second oldest, bested only by the NBA (founded in 1946). 

Since the PBA was organized 45 years ago, some of the most famous Filipinos are ballplayers. We have Ramon Fernandez, our fellow Cebuano and now PSC commissioner. Robert Jaworski, James Yap, Alvin Patrimonio, Johnny Abarrientos, Allan Caidic, Atoy Co, Jimmy Alapag, Jojo Lastimosa, Samboy Lim, Hector Calma, Chito Loyzaga — these names, especially to those who followed the game in the ‘80s and ‘90s, are superstars. Today, there’s (our own) June Mar Fajardo, Terrence Romeo, Jayson Castro, and Arwind Santos.

Dondon Hontiveros, who played for famous teams like the University of Cebu, the Cebu Gems, and PBA squads Alaska and San Miguel, is not only well-known but a dedicated public official. Hon. Hontiveros is a Cebu City councilor.

Why this basketball history and talk? Because, as the NBA season restarts this Friday, I’m reminded of my chat yesterday while biking with Dr. Ronnie Medalle and James Co.

Never, in our basketball history that spans 109 years, has a homegrown Filipino played in the NBA. But there’s one who will, I dare say, play in the NBA by 2026. His name: Kai Sotto.

Kai Sotto

Less than 3,000 people worldwide, it is estimated, stand over 7-feet-tall. That’s 0.000038% of the planet’s population of 7.8 billion. The likelihood of being taller than your door frame (which has a 6-foot-8 clearance) is so miniscule that even in the NBA, where giants breathe and cohabitate, there are only 15 active players standing over 7-feet-tall. Famous names include Marc Gasol and Rudy Gobert, both 7’1.” The tallest is Tacko Fall of Senegal; he’s listed at 7’6”.

Kai Zachary Sotto stands 2.18 meters tall. In inches, that’s 86”. In feet, he’s 7-foot-2. He’s the same height as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dikembe Mutombo. And Kai turned 18 years old just last May 11. He may still add an inch, standing equal to a player he idolizes most, the 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis.

Born in Las Piñas in 2002, Kai played — surprise — basketball for the Saint Francis of Assisi College in elementary. In high school, he moved to Ateneo, towering over teenagers and leading the Blue Eaglets to the 2018 UAAP junior title. He was named Finals MVP after averaging 17 points, 13 rebounds and 6.3 blocks per game in the Finals. The next year, he led Ateneo again to victory, averaging 25 points, 14 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per outing. He was the league MVP.

(Spin.ph/Jerome Ascano)

For college, every university on earth lured and tempted Kai Sotto. But he resisted playing collegiate varsity. Yes, he still traveled to the land where basketball was invented, but instead of an Ivy League scholarship, Kai joined The Skill Factory in Atlanta, Georgia. 

What’s TSF? It’s Mission Statement reads: “An organization providing the sports community with best in class professional services that engage each athlete uniquely and appropriately. TSF delivers transformative athletic experiences to athletes..”

After TSF, Kai posted this Facebook update last May 14: “There has been a lot of speculation about my next step towards my dream of playing in the NBA.. I understand that I have a lot of responsibility for all my fellow countrymen who are dreaming of seeing a Filipino in the NBA.

“In the last year I have been here in America, I have learned so much. I worked on improving my basketball skills, building up my body and gaining the confidence to play against the best basketball players around the world..

“Now, I have to take the next big step towards my NBA dream. We have many options available but after much thought, I believe this option is the best route for me to get closer and faster to that dream.. 

“I’m very proud and excited to start my professional career with the NBA G League Select Team.”

Based in Los Angeles, this is a new concept by the NBA. Instead of college basketball, the best young prospects, which include Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd, are mixed with veteran players. They train, practice and compete in exhibition games against other NBA G League squads.

Kai, whose mom Pamela is a 6-footer and dad Ervin is 6-foot-8, looms very tall in becoming the first full-blooded Pinoy to join the NBA. 

Kaya mo ‘yan, Kai.

ABS-CBN Sports

Apart from the 11,000 jobs lost and the disappearance of Ang Probinsyano, one of the biggest losers with the stoppage of the TV giant is sports.

Thanks to the ABS-CBN Sports+Action channel, we’ve enjoyed countless hours of sports entertainment. There’s the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL). There’s the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a league founded in 1924 that has flourished because of the live coverage of teams like San Beda, Letran, Mapua and Arellano.

The Beach Volleyball Republic (BVR) is another prominent show. Led by Cherry Rondina of Compostela, Cebu, the sport of beach volleyball is popular. Since the first TV broadcast in Boracay in 2016, BVR has volleyed from one beach site to another, including our own white sand paradise in Moalboal. It’s a huge loss not to be able to watch beach volleyball on TV.

Pinoy Pride. Led by the father-and-son tandem of Antonio and Michael Aldeguer, the ALA Boxing group rejuvenated our love for boxing — thanks in part to the innumerable hours of Pinoy Pride bouts showcased in ABS-CBN Sports.

Last May, while the planet was in lockdown, a series of every-Sunday features were showcased in S+A. On May 4, it was Albert Pagara. Two weeks later, it was former world champ Milan Melindo. Last May 24, it was Donnie Nietes, the longest-reigning Filipino boxing champion, in “Pinoy Pride Greatest Hits: Into The Snake’s Pit.” 

Goodbye, Pinoy boxing. There’s more. It’s the PVL or Premier Volleyball League. This sport — thanks to TV coverage — has gained the biggest following in the past six years. 

Remember Alyssa Valdez? She’s the country’s most famous female athlete. I’ve seen her at the Araneta Coliseum and you’ll be amazed at the thousands of fans who, like magnets, flock to her. Television has helped promote Alyssa and Jia Morado, among others. If none of their PVL games involving Pocari vs. Creamline vs. BaliPure were broadcasted, volleyball would not be as celebrated. Volleyball has been dealt a powerful spike. Out!

Then there’s Manny Pacquiao. Without question the greatest ever Filipino athlete, ABS-CBN Sports helped lift his stature by airing incalculable hours of his boxing exploits. Plus, Pacquiao is the founder of Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL). Pitting city versus city, you’ve got the San Juan Knights against Marikina Shoemasters. The MPBL, in just a few years, has risen to prominence — thanks to S+A’s coverage. I’m disappointed in Pacquiao. Given his influence as a (still active) boxer and senator, he did not do more to stop the stoppage of ABS.

Finally, the UAAP. Oh, how we’ll miss watching La Salle vs. Ateneo. Through the years, in football or basketball or volleyball, we’ve been privileged to watch live, pulsating action of the country’s top collegiate league. As Thirdy Ravena said goodbye to Ateneo, we say, goodbye UAAP.

Why did ABS-CBN and S+A get knocked out? If this were boxing, our government officials can do all the weaving and bobbing, but we know the truth: it’s a dirty punch called Politics.

Risk factors

I just read, “Will Your Soccer Club Ever Meet Again? A Guide to Outdoor Sports This Summer,” an article penned by Christie Aschwanden (of the website Elemental). It will help me explain the Covid-19 hazards of certain sports.

BASKETBALL. This sport is risky. You’re in close proximity to each other; you may wear masks but there’s sweat jumping off your body and you’re breathing hard beside one another. Plus, you’ve got one ball that’s being passed around.

You must have read about Japeth Aguilar, Thirdy Ravena and their group playing 5-on-5 last week. They got fined and reprimanded. Solution? Shoot hoops alone. Or invite a family member and play one-on-one. 

TENNIS. In a previous article, I labeled tennis as low risk because you’re standing 78 feet away from your opponent. But I’m mistaken.

“If you’re sweating and touching your mucous membranes and then touching the ball, you could potentially spread the infection on the tennis ball,” read the article; that quote was by Syra Madad, a special pathogens specialist at NYC Health + Hospitals. 

You can use your racket to pick up the ball and pass to your opponent. The problem is: how are you going to serve? Ha-ha. You need to touch the ball. The USTA offers a few tips: stay six feet apart, wash hands before and after playing, and don’t touch your face.

FOOTBALL. To play an 11-A-Side game might not be permitted until the vaccine is out. This is because football is a contact sport. Although less risky than basketball because the field is much bigger, you’re still pushing each other shoulder-to-shoulder in 90 minutes worth of close contact play. The advantage of football is you don’t touch the ball with your hands. Still, it’s best to pick a partner, find an open grass area and just kick the ball to each other. 

RUNNING. This is one of the safest because it’s an individual pursuit. If you run alone in a park, you’re in a very low risk situation. And even if you’re with two other runners, it’s safe as long as you keep distance. It’s even safer if you wear a mask. (I wrote an article about that last month; I couldn’t breathe and had to take off my mask.)

BIKING. “Cycling is one of the safest things you can do, because you’re outside and there’s lots of airflow, Snoeyenbos Newman (an infectious disease physician at the University of Washington) says,” the article reads. 

If you can bike alone and wear a mask, you’re at your safest. But even if you ride with a group, it’s the same advice: keep a distance of six feet. It’s also advisable not to be directly behind another cyclist because the respiratory discharges can fall on you from the rider’s slipstream. Lastly, no sharing of anything: food, water bottles, gels and bike pumps.

SWIMMING. “There’s very little risk of getting Covid-19 from water,” says Ms. Aschwanden. And since swimming is the most individual of sports, you’re safe, right? Yes, underwater. But while outside, beware. The shower areas or locker rooms are usually space spaces and you’re near people.

Djoker, Covid-19 is no joke

By now, you’ve read about the disastrous Adria Tour organized by world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Scheduled to be played in four European cities, the tennis exhibition matches brought together Sascha Zverez, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov and Djokovic, among others. 

Tennis (unlike basketball and football) is contact-less. Your opponent stands 78 feet away. In rankings of the “least contagious sports,” tennis ranks at the top. But what Djokovic did was mind-boggling. He allowed the players to shake hands, hug, and party to end the tournament. He allowed spectators, over 4,000 in Belgrade, to sit side-by-side. The result: after a couple of weeks, Djokovic, Dimitrov and several of his tennis-mates got Covid-19.

Nicknamed “Djoker,” Covid-19 is no joke, he realized. Djokovic has since apologized and been lambasted by sports fans around the world.

The US Open is scheduled next month, on August 24. Given the catastrophe that happened to Novak’s event, I’m sure the officials will be strict, more so because the site is in New York City, previously the epicenter of this pandemic.

No fans. Testing for all. No shaking of hands, only the crossing of swords (rackets) between opponents. 

Football and basketball

Harry Roque, the often embattled spokesman, said this (in Filipino) last Friday: “Practice and conditioning are now allowed in basketball and football, in accordance with the request of the PBA and other football associations.”

This brings bad news and good news.

Bad news because basketball and football are “anti-social distancing” activities. Both games are close-contact sports. Apart from wrestling, I can’t think of any other sport that requires more body-to-body action than soccer and basketball. Scary? Yes. If a player is Covid-19 positive and he plays 5-on-5 basketball, we know the end result. Everybody gets infected.

Good news because the authorities are confident. While Cebu City is stuck in ECQ mode, the outlook in Metro Manila is different. They’re opening up. This is good news because the world needs sports. Amidst all the negativity and hopelessness, the world of sports brings hope and (pun intended) positivity.

How will the PBA do this? The Board will meet soon to lay out their plans for practice sessions. They also hope to plot options for a date for the PBA’s full return; a single conference season is targeted to end 2020. 

Willie Marcial, the PBA commissioner, said that a “bubble” will be enforced to ensure safety for all. In an interview, he said that all players and staff will be tested three days prior to the first practice session. After that, they’ll be tested every 10 days.

Tim Cone, the coach of Barangay Ginebra, told the Inquirer: “(There are still) so much details (that) needs to be worked out.” And SMB coach Leo Austria added: “We’re still far from what we all long for, which is official games. But the mere fact that we’re making such progress gives hope to the people.”

Should the US Open close?

In a list of Risk Levels that’s been circulating in Viber, with “going to Bars” scoring a very risky 9 and “playing Basketball” a high 8, the risk level for Tennis is “1,” the safest of sports. This is understandable. If you talk of social distancing, your opponent is 78 feet away — the length of the tennis court. Your strongest Maria Sharapova-like scream won’t cough out any viruses from across that far net.

But tennis is in a quandary. Wimbledon has been canceled — the first time since World War II (1945).  

The US Open is scheduled soon, set from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13. Like the NBA, it will be a crowd-less match — no spectators. That’s a given in all sports this year. But even with that strict ruling, obstacles are aplenty.

One, the US Open is in New York — the site of what was previously a danger zone for Covid-19 cases (386,000+ afflicted with 30,500+ deaths). 

Two, the ironclad restrictions the organizers are imposing on the players. They include: 1) forcing the players to stay in a hotel outside Manhattan; 2) limiting the support team to just one person per player; 3) no singles qualifying; 4) only 24 doubles teams instead of the usual 64. It’s envisioned to be a “tennis bubble.”

Roger Federer is out of the Open. He’s had a second surgery on his right knee. Rafa Nadal is out sunbathing with his new wife Xisca Perello and his new yacht, an 80-foot luxurious boat costing $6.2 million. Said Rafa: “If you ask me today if I want to travel today to New York to play a tennis tournament, I will say no, I will not.”

Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1, has voiced the loudest opposition.

“Most of the players I have talked to were quite negative on whether they would go there,” said the Serb. “The rules that they told us that we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, they are extreme. We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week. Also, we could bring one person to the club, which is really impossible. I mean, you need your coach, then a fitness trainer, then a physiotherapist.”

Valid points, Novak. But while the Top 3 won’t join or remain undecided, others want to resume. (The US Open organizers have to make a decision whether to proceed or not by next week.)

Dan Evans, ranked 28th, disagrees with Djokovic on the one-assistant-only policy, saying, “Not everyone’s travelling with physios and fitness trainers like Novak said, so I think his argument there is not really valid for the rest of the draw, apart from the real top guys.”

My take? Djokovic won’t skip the US Open. He’s undefeated this 2020 and, during the lockdown, he stayed in Spain and trained daily because his friend owned a tennis court. He also has 17 Grand Slam titles compared to the 19 of Rafa and 20 of Roger. 

Don’t you think he wants to win the last two majors in New York and in Paris (the French Open is scheduled from Sept. 20 to Oct. 4)? He’s just voicing out his complaints to force the US Open officials to relax their draconian rules.

For tennis, it’s: Game. Set. Let’s watch.

Online Gaming

POGO stands for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator. This is the infamous acronym for those companies engaged in online gambling for clients abroad. But there’s another meaning of POGO. One that I’ve just coined: Players Operating Games Online.

Since March, the world of sports has stopped. The NBA was the first major league to halt their games. This was three months ago yesterday — March 11 — when, after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the games were suspended. Since then, all contests have been cancelled, none larger than the Tokyo Olympics.

But quietly — and that’s meant literally and figuratively, minus the boisterous and rambunctious fans — several sports have returned during this pandemic. They’re labeled online tournaments.

“Last May, some members of Dancesport-Team Cebu City made history after winning a silver and bronze medal in the first ever 1World Dance Online Competition organized in Italy,” wrote sports editor Manny Villaruel in The Freeman yesterday. “Real-life couple Shardie Abellana and Marjorie Pasaje, competing under lockdown in Alaska, Mambaling, snatched silver in the 35-under Latin-rumba dance, while Trixie Dicdican of Barangay Ermita got bronze in the under-13 lady-solo five event.”

Caecent Noot-Magsumbol, another fellow sportswriter from The Freeman, added in her article last May 19: “Just like in a regular dancesport competition, the participants had to undergo eliminations up to the semis and the finals with a set of adjudicators rating them carefully via Zoom.”

Zoom! You know this videotelephony company that’s being used by everyone. This software platform is also being used in the sports platform; by the judges who watch and score via Zoom.

“Despite the limited space and not dancing on a standard dancefloor,” Ms. Magsumbol said, “Abellana and Pasaje were still able to get the judges’ nod for a silver finish.” 

Manny Villaruel also wrote about the Smart/MVP Sports Foundation Online National Taekwondo Poomsae Championships. Over 1,000 jins participated and Cebu’s Aidaine Laxa won a silver medal.

Chess is another sport. Here at home, the Cebu School of Chess (CSC) and the Cebu Executives and Professionals Chess Association (CEPCA) have organized online tournaments.

Wesley So, ranked world No. 8, won the first-ever Clutch Chess online tilt in a big event joined by World No. 2 GM Fabiano Caruana. The 26-year-old So, born in Bacoor, Cavite but who now competes for the U.S., won $40,000. 

Zwift is a familiar name to cyclists. It’s an online program where cyclists can train and compete against each other in a virtual world. Since the lockdown, thousands of online events have sprouted — including several won by world champ Rohan Dennis.

Esports, naturally, is the biggest winner. With everyone imprisoned in their homes, the go-to device is the computer. The video game market, propelled by the COVID-19 lockdown, is forecast to hit $159 billion in 2020.

Should you wear a Face Mask while Exercising?

I wore a face mask while biking last Friday. At first, while warming-up and the pedaling was relaxed, it felt normal and good. No complaints. But after a few minutes and when the bike pointed upwards, my breathing turned heavy. It felt uncomfortable. As the trajectory of the climb turned skyward, I had difficulty breathing. My washable cloth mask felt like a suction. As I exhaled, it pushed outward; when I inhaled, it stuck to my mouth. 

Out-in, out-in. This is not good. I stopped. 

I don’t know about you but I can’t exercise with the face mask on. Walking, yes. Leisurely cycling on a flat asphalt, yes. But anything that involves the heart pumping over 121 beats per minute, no. 

Running with the mask on? I can’t imagine doing it. I’ve seen Chipi Borromeo running loops around Phase 8 in Maria Luisa Park and I’m amazed at how he’s able to keep his stride.

You’re panting and sweating and struggling to engulf oxygen; your lungs are expanding and compressing — on an unmasked 9-kph run. Now cover your nose and mouth and restrict the air flow into your lungs. I can’t do it.

Wearing a face mask while exercising may be a risky affair,” wrote Jahnavi Sarma in, “COVID-19: Wearing a face mask is important but avoid it while working out,” from thehealthsite.com. “This is because, when you exercise, your lungs need more air. As a result, your heart pumps more blood, which is why your heart beat increases. But when you are wearing a mask, there is restriction in the flow of air to the lungs. This can make you feel light headed, breathless and tired. Your lungs may collapse if you really overdo it. You may also be in danger if you have any underlying health conditions like heart disease and hypertension.”

Here’s the point: Be careful. While there’s no denying that wearing of masks keeps you and those around you safe (and, I know, it’s mandatory everytime we go out), be careful when you wear one while exercising.

Listen to your body. With extreme workouts like sprints, 14K runs or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), for example, in case you feel lightheaded, stop. Sit down. Check the intensity of your effort and make sure it’s within the light-to-moderate range. Avoid symptoms like dizziness. Take your mask off and breathe normally. 

There was a 26-year-old runner from Wuhan, China who was hospitalized after complaining of chest pain after a 6K run. Doctors concluded that his lungs collapsed — possibly because of his mask that limited his ventilation and impaired his oxygen levels while running. 

To me, if you can exercise alone or be at a far distance from other people, this is best. Maybe there’s no need to wear that mask. Run at night or very early in the morning and in an area where there’s nobody around. Exercise in isolated or private areas. Workout at home.

NBA rebounds

(Photo from ESPN.com)

The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is humongous. It spans 220 acres and it’s situated inside the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Our family had the chance to spend New Year’s 2015 inside Disneyworld and the footprint is colossal. The sports grounds include 12 volleyball courts, 10 tennis courts, and a 7,500-seater baseball stadium.

The ESPN Complex is also home to six college-size basketball courts — the venue where NBA players will play the remainder of the season.

July 31 is the target date. Players, coaches and staff will be invited to the facility by mid-July so they can practice. A limited number of family members are expected to join. They, too, are to be subjected to the same rigorous COVID-19 testing protocols.

Of the NBA’s 30 teams, not all are expected to return. Those in the bottom cellar won’t be asked to come back. The Warriors, for example, carry a 15-50 win-loss record. No need for them to return. Only those teams that have the chance to make it to the playoffs will be asked to come back. 

Twenty, maybe 22, teams will return. And while the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) and the Los Angeles Lakers (49-14; leading in the West) are guaranteed playoff spots, there are a number of teams that are still vying for the remaining slots. Sixteen teams will comprise the playoffs. 

All this is not final yet. The NBA’s Board of Governors, who talked last Friday, appear to be excited with the return. They will meet again on June 4 and a three-fourths majority of owners are needed to give the go-signal.

“We are lining up behind (Silver) on this,” an owner confided to ESPN. “The posturing will end. Nothing is going to be perfect for everyone.”

Silver, as you know, is Mr. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner. He is the man at the center, juggling the demands of players who want to return and the concerns of many who are scared.

There will be a “series of bad options,” Silver says, of the NBA restart. He added that no decision that league makes will be risk-free. 

What if Kawhi gets the virus from a Walt Disney Hotel staff member? Or Giannis gets infected by one of his assistants? Or Kyle Lowry’s family member gets sick? Simbako. But the risks are high. The hundreds of players, referees, arena staff, mediamen and family members will live inside a quarantined bubble. Like a cruise ship, when one gets infected, it easily spreads; the same thing can happen.

The NBA is preparing for this eventuality. Even if one or two or a few get infected, the plan is to isolate these cases and continue. Easier said than implemented.

Money is a huge factor in the equation. Although millions of dollars will be lost because of the absence of fans, the TV deals are still big bucks. The NBA’s national TV package hovers around $2.7 billion per year.

The man most excited for the NBA rebound? LBJ. After watching The Last Dance, the 35-year-old LeBron is in probably his last best chance to wear NBA ring No. 4.

 

E-bike: E for enjoyment

My brother Charlie and I have been biking since we were 8 years old. Every weekend, every summer, everyday when we don’t have school in La Salle Bacolod and when our BMX bikes are begging for a joyride, we ride. Wearing slippers or Adidas Pro Models, wearing sleeveless or being shirtless, we’d cycle over 110 rotations per minute. Our playground was Mountain View Subd. in the City of Smiles.

Fast forward to a few decades later and I’ve shifted to the mountainbike and road bike. But there’s been another ride that I’ve tried lately. 

An E-bike. The “e” stands for electric. There are various types but the one my buddies James Co and doctors Ronnie Medalle and Ron Eullaran and I use is termed “pedelec” (pedal electric cycle): it’s a regular bike with a small motor that gives you assistance as you pedal. In our Giant Fathom e-bikes, for example, there are 5 settings and you pedal hard but with the added boost. 

My verdict? I’ve never had more fun. I used to detest it. When friends would mention the word “e-bike,” I’d cringe and my ego would say, “That’s for the oldies. I’m a true-blooded cyclist and I only need my God-given legs.” 

What a mistake! Now that I have an e-bike, I’m smiling, pedaling, smiling, pedaling — even on a 15% climb. 

On an e-bike, you’re much faster. We bike in Maria Luisa and you know this village. It’s littered with mountains. On a regular bike, if I climb towards the Busay gate, I’d switch the gears to the softest one and grind slowly at, what, 7 kph? On an e-bike, I’d attack that ridge. I can go on a Niño Surban-like 18 kph on the steepest hill. It’s amazing. And you won’t understand these words unless you try it yourself. 

You cover a much farther distance. In Maria Luisa, if I bike for 60 minutes, that would normally take me to a just few sections in the subdivision. On an e-bike? I can go down to the Banilad guardhouse, trek all the way to the Busay gate — twice. No kidding. Banilad to Busay to Banilad to Busay in 50 minutes. I feel like I’m Chris Froome.

Your workout is (nearly) the same. Dr. Arnold Tan and I were “e-biking” for over two hours last Sunday (elevation gain: 878 meters) and, being Cebu’s top cardiovascular surgeon, he should know plenty about the workings of the heart. 

“You almost get the same workout on an e-bike,” he said. “You burn the same calories.”

I agree. Since you’re going much faster, your cadence increases and so does your heart rate. Your leg muscles will not be subjected to the hard, painful grind but your heart will pump just as fast. And because you’re less “laspag,” you can ride again the following day. And the day after that.

The Bicycling.com article, “13 Reasons to Get Stoked About E-Bikes,” confirms this: “Getting an e-bike can dramatically increase how often you ride, according to a recent survey of nearly 1,800 e-bike owners in North America. Beforehand, 55 percent of respondents said they rode daily or weekly. After buying an e-bike, that number soared to 91 percent.”

An E-bike is a game changer. Try it.

Biking boom

One “positive” from the COVID-19 pandemic is this: More people will bike. Instead of taking the bus or NYC subway or private car, more legs will pedal and sweat and cycle. This surge will happen here in Cebu, in Manila, in Los Angeles, in Osaka, in London. 

Why the cycling boom? Biking is free. Well, obviously, you have to buy a two-wheeled vehicle. But after that, you don’t have to pay for Shell gasoline or Grab Taxi or hire an Angkas rider. By pedaling your way to work or school, you save plenty.

Second, in this “new normal,” when everybody is scared of sitting two feet away from another human being who might have germs, biking is done solo. You’re safe. And in this era of long lines while waiting for jeepney rides, you’re much faster riding a bike. You simply strap on your helmet and pedal away. You cut through traffic. I’m sure you’ll arrive at your destination faster by pedaling.

On pedaling, here’s Reason No. 3: Biking is one of the best ways to burn calories. Your heart beats 3X faster. It’s a terrific cardiovascular workout. So while you’re saving on expenses, you become fitter. How good is that?

Yes, biking is that good. It’s also good for the environment. There are zero fumes emitted — unlike, for example, a similar two-wheeled vehicle called the motorcycle. Biking helps Mother Earth.

BIKE-FIRST. Since COVID-19 unsettled our lives two months ago, urban planners around the globe have started planning “bike-first” cities.

In Barcelona, new bikes lanes are being constructed and existing bike paths are being widened so that bikers will be able to keep ample distance from each other. We can term this “bike distancing.”

“What we’re seeing across Europe is a brilliant move in cities like Oslo, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Paris, Milan, Vienna – the list is extremely long now – that will remove the old, obsolete car infrastructure and actually make infrastructure for all of us,” said Morten Kabell, CEO of the European Cyclists’ Federation, in a Euronews article.

Rome, Paris, London and Brussels are building hundreds of kilometres of new bike lanes. And in France, the government is subsidising bike repairs and purchases of e-bikes. 

Isn’t that fantastic? The government providing incentives for people to avoid the “old normal” (cars, buses, etc.).

Here at home, the Philippine Olympic Committee, led by the POC Chairman Bambol Tolentino, is planning to distribute 100 bicycles for free to our national athletes.

“Bicycling is not only a healthy way to get from one point to another,” said Tolentino, also the president of the national sports association of cycling, “it also promotes social distancing, not to mention a means to avoid traffic.”

John Burke, the president of Trek Bicycles, summed it best.

“The bicycle is a simple solution to some of the most complicated problems in the world,” he said, citing traffic problems, obesity and climate change. 

I agree. And I add: “You can’t be sad while riding a bicycle.”

Covid-19 is a marathon

Running 42.195 kms. is strenuous. It’s long and painful. It requires patience and diligence. There are episodes when when you want to quit. Along the route, you walk, stop, grimace, checking your cramps and massaging your knees and questioning why, why, why. The marathon requires perseverance — that decision by the brain to fight and to continue. 

Today’s marathon is called Covid-19. We know this pandemic will not disappear in July. Possibly not by Christmas. This is an arduous and lengthy journey and we need to mentally embrace it as if we’re running an endurance race. Much like a marathon. Or, if this corovirus extends past 12 or 18 months, much like an ultramarathon that’s 50K or 100K.

I’ve ran seven marathons. What are a few lessons from running that I can relate with our situation today?

Stay positive. In a 42K run — the distance from the Cebu Provincial Capitol to Carcar — you will experience moments of negativity. (Maybe somewhere in Naga or San Fernando? When I-can’t-do-this thoughts will penetrate your mind?) No matter how hard you train, your legs will tire and your mind will beg you to stop. 

Don’t stop. Walk if you want to. But move forward. The marathon teaches us to keep moving forward, one stride at a time, in the most difficult moments. 

Tell your legs to shut up! It’s all in the mind. It’s not the marathon you must conquer. It’s yourself. Stay positive.

Another lesson: Be with friends. I know this is impossible for many because of the lockdown but if you can find creative ways to talk and bond and laugh and waste time with friends, you’ll survive this ordeal.

It’s like running. An avid runner during his less-busy days, the favorite quotation of Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella runs like this: “If you want to run fast, run alone. But if you want to run far, run with friends.”

This is true. For running and for life. Same with laughter. Here’s a quotation that I like: “Laughing is one of the best exercises. It’s like running inside your brain. You can do it anywhere and it’s even better with friends.”

Third lesson: Pace yourself. The marathon takes a long, long, long time. So will this coronavirus. “You can run a sprint or you can run a marathon but you can’t sprint a marathon.”

Prepare yourself for this prolonged stretch. Save money as you would save energy (in a marathon). Get plenty of daily exercise; at least 60 minutes. Go outdoors and sunbathe.

“Run your own race.” This is my favorite marathon quote and, in life, it’s the same: relax and run at your own pace.  

Final (and most important) lesson: Pray. The last recourse of marathoners who are writhing in pain is to turn to the Lord. Same with us today. In Hebrews 12: 1-2: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” 

Air Jordan

GOAT. This stands for “Greatest Of All Time.” After watching the first two episodes of The Last Dance, what appeared obvious before has become even more indisputable. 

Michael Jeffrey Jordan is No. 1. In basketball. In all of history. Maybe in all of sports.

This documentary, amidst the dread and darkness of Covid-19, is inspirational. As we’re feeling distressed, this has boosted us. It has made us smile and taught us to both forget and remember. Forget the sadness of the virus; remember the joyfulness of MJ. 

Watching Michael Jordan is nostalgic. For many of us who grew up watching His Airness, we’re brought back to the greatest era in basketball. To an ‘80s music lover like myself, it’s like listening to Duran Duran, Dire Straits and Depeche Mode. You feel good during and after. Watching the two 50-minute episodes made me feel good.

The Last Dance is perfectly-timed for this gloomy period. And let’s not forget that prior to the coronavirus shutting down the planet — the basketball world was shocked by the death of Kobe Bryant.

It’s been a sickening 2020, worst for basketball devotees. The Last Dance is a much-needed morale booster for the 7.8 billion people on earth, basketball fan or not.

The 10-part miniseries produced by ESPN and Netflix was supposed to be released in June, in time for the NBA Finals. But it was shown earlier because, as the official trailer said, “As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience.”

Apart from the “feeling good” experience, another reason why this documentary is important is this: It reminds the youth of Jordan’s greatness. 

MJ is now 57 years old. To the Gen Z, those born between 1995 and 2010 (and maybe even to some Millennials), I’m sure everyone has seen footages and snippets of His Airness. Everybody knows that he’s better than LeBron James, the second greatest player of all time. I mean, who doesn’t know Mike? Who doesn’t know No. 23? Who hasn’t seen YouTube videos of him sticking his tongue out, floating for 23 seconds and beaming that gigantic smile?

Everybody knows Mike. But not everybody watched those 1990s games “live” — all six championship years.

The Last Dance is our last chance to see the life story of this man who now owns the Charlotte Hornets and is worth $2.1 billion.

Thank you, MJ. And despite the leaked files that have surfaced (8 of the 10 episodes are now available by Torrent), I’m going to watch the Netflix series twice per week, as advertised, prolonging the indulgence as our lockdown is prolonged.

No fans

The NBA Playoffs would have started today. Instead, the entire planet is on an extended timeout. The world is frozen. Can the NBA (and other sports) resume? 

Given the state of COVID-19 in the U.S. (over 720,000 infected and 33,000 deaths), there is no way for the games to restart next week or next month. Not with 19,000 fans screaming inside the Staples Center.

The only way to resume the contest?

“Nobody comes to the stadium.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. infectious disease expert, had this response: “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them (the players) in big hotels, you know, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled, namely a surveillance, but have them tested, like every week. By a gazillion tests. And make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family. And just let them play the season out. I mean, that’s a really artificial way to do it, but when you think about it, it might be better than nothing.”

LeBron James, when was asked about this possibility, had this reply: “Ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd.” 

But LBJ’s reply was back in March. This was before the world realized the cruelty and venom of the coronavirus.

So the possibility of fans sitting side by side in a packed arena is hallucinatory. It’s not possible. Not even the “checkerboard” arrangement, where fans sit one or two seats apart, is acceptable.

President Trump concurs with the no-fans option, saying, “It’ll be made for television. The good old days, made for television.”

Here’s the viable scenario for the NBA: Choose a couple of key U.S. cities. (I’m sure New York, given its epicenter status, won’t be one of them.) Group together the teams and restart the league with a locked-down hotel and stadium without fans.

The “quarantined bubble,” it’s called. It’s muted, boring, desolate and lifeless — yet possible. But herein lies a problem: Can you fully isolate the hundreds of players and staff of the 30 NBA teams?

Dr. Caroline Buckee of the Harvard School of Public Health is frightened with this approach.

“It sounds like potentially a bad idea,” Dr. Buckee said. “I don’t think it’s realistic to completely isolate and quarantine the players. For a start, there are people who will need to clean their rooms, feed them, wash their clothes, janitorial staff and so forth. And those people will not be protected and they will be interacting with their communities. It is very difficult to truly self-isolate. Purposefully putting people at risk seems foolish.”

What if there’s one COVID-19 case that will infiltrate this bubble? Think of a scenario like a cruise ship.

This is a risky option. But the league doesn’t have a choice.