Monthly Archives: November 2012

Marko Sarmiento: CCC’s 2012 Champion

Marko and Bayani

We were schoolmates at Cebu International School. We share the same birthday. And, whenever I need golf analysis, I always e-mail the same person: Marko Garcia Sarmiento.

At the manicured lawns of the Cebu Country Club, few people can drive that ball farther. Averaging 290 yards off the tee, Marko, 34, started swinging clubs at the age of 10. By college, he decided to study the one course that specializes on the golf course: at North Carolina’s Methodist University, studying Business Management with a focus on Professional Golf Management.

“Marko has won every major CCC tournament except the most major one which was the club championship,” said Atty. Jovi Neri. “So it was always a goal that he wanted to win badly for a long time.”

Last week, the 2012 CCC Club Championship unfolded. Sixteen of CCC’s best participated. After the qualifying rounds, Mr. Sarmiento — with rounds of 74 and 71 — took the second-highest seed, just a stroke behind Mark Dy.

In the match-play format, Marko played Marco Mendoza in the first round. He won 6-up. In the quarterfinals, the opponent was the one man nobody wanted to face: Eric Deen. The “Dean of CCC Golf,” Eric was not only a 6-time CCC champion but he had won the last two years. In the only time that Marko and Eric played in a match-play format, Marko got clobbered, 5-down. “The match against Eric was the most nerve-wrecking,” admitted Marko. “He’s arguably the club’s best player and has been for many years.”

In the 18-hole contest, the battle started as expected, with Eric leading. Although Marko was playing well, he wasn’t putting well. But, as fate would have it, Eric bogeyed two of the last three holes while Marko parred. “I finally made my first meaningful putt and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Marko. “I had a 15-footer for par on the 19th hole and made it, while Eric missed his 10-footer.” Game, set, match. Marko wins.

Next up in the semi-finals: Gen Nagai. Both played well and, after hours on foot, with Marko scoring under par (gross) and Gen at even par — with most of the holes won by birdies — it was Sarmiento who edged Nagai, 2-up.

Now, after beating the 2011 Class B champ (Mendoza) in the first round, then the 6-time champ (Deen) in Round 2, and the CCC junior club winner (Nagai) in the semis, Marko had the face the 2009 champion, Bayani Garcia, in the 36-hole, early-morning-until-late-afternoon Saturday final.

It was a showdown between two of CCC’s longest hitters. The day before the finale, Marko asked for advice from his uncle, the CCC president and 8-time champ, Montito Garcia, who told him to stay close in scoring to Bayani in the morning (first 18 holes).

The good nephew followed his Tito Mon’s words, leading 3-up before lunch. But the morning was not without drama. “Before teeing up for my drive on the 8th hole, I realized that the shaft of my driver broke!” said Marko. “It was a freak accident since I hit a perfect drive the hole before and didn’t notice anything wrong with the club after I hit that shot. Nevertheless, I was rattled because my driver is my most important club. Thankfully, the rules of golf state that a replacement club can be used as long as the club was not broken with any intention. My wife hurried from the house to bring me my backup and order was restored.”

When played resumed on the 19th hole, Marko’s smile widened. He birdied to go 4-up. But then, Bayani improved while Marko’s game faltered. In the next three holes, Bayani won. From a 4-point advantage, it was down to one. By the end of the 27th hole, the match was all-squared. “Bayani had me rattled,” said Marko. “Losing a 4-up lead after 9 holes will do that to a golfer.”

On Hole No. 28, both made long putts for birdie. But on the 29th, there was a reversal of scores. Bayani birdied! For the first time, Bayani took the lead. Finally, with just three holes left to play, Bayani led 1-up.

That’s when — on the 34th hole — the steely nerves of the 34-year-old Marko emerged. He birdied Hole No. 34. The match was all-square. Then, when Bayani hooked his tee shot in the rough (which led to an unplayable lie and a one-stroke penalty) while Marko parred, it was Sarmiento with the lead.

“We both hit perfect tee shots,” said Marko, of the 36th and final hole. “Bayani was 1st to hit and calmly hit the green and left himself a lengthy but makeable putt for birdie. All I wanted to do was par the hole and force Bayani to make his birdie putt. I was able to find the green in 2 but still had about a 30-footer for birdie, which under pressure, could have easily led to a 3-putt bogey. I was first to putt and making it was the last thing in my mind since a par would have pressured Bayani in making a difficult putt for birdie.”

What happened on that 18th green will be talked-about for years…

“The golf gods were with me that day,” continued Marko, “and there was nothing they owed me but in what was easily the best golf feeling I have ever experienced; the putt went in and the match was over! Absolutely amazing. My family was there to witness it with me which just made for a perfect ending to a epic day of golf!”

When I asked Marko — the ever-smiling husband of Aimil Gonzalez and the proud father of two boys: Lucas, 7, and Andres, 2 — if the achievement of seeing his name etched in CCC’s hall of champions has sunk in, he said: “I can’t even describe it. I see that wall every time I’m in the club and I always wondered when I would win it. In the past I felt like it was owed to me but this time around my expectations were much lower. I would tell myself that my time would eventually come and honestly this is when I expected it the least.”

What’s ironic is this: Just a month ago, Marko was playing his worst golf in years. “My handicap jumped from 3-5 in the month of October and I was struggling to break 80,” he said. But then, don’t our greatest moments often come when we least expect them? Same with Marko. After that slump, his game rebounded, with him scoring the lowest gross title (69) in the Tomodachi Tournament. “My expectations were low and my confidence was high,” he said. “I think this is deadly combination to winning!”

Atty. Jovi Neri concurs. Marko traveled a lot this year, he said, which compromised his game. But then, help arrived. Marko’s swing coach, Andrew Ong (who also works with his PAL teammates Lj Go, Gen, Jovi and Bayani), arrived in Cebu together with Eric Gozo, who operates Flightscope, a super high-tech ball-flight tracking radar and launch monitor.

“Working with these two US-trained professionals, Marko was able to fix his swing and knew exactly how it affected his ball flight since there was accurate measured data determined by the Flightscope,” said Atty. Neri. Congratulations, Marko!

Father and son: Efren and The Champ

Free ACC movie passes to CCM registrants

Last Tuesday, Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama – a runner both on the road and for public office – welcomed us to his Conference Room at the City Hall. In attendance were running enthusiasts Councilor Edgar Labella and Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC) members Jesse Taborada, Dodong Sulatre, Meyrick Jacalan and Rudy Tindugan. Cebu City Sports Commission chairman Edward Hayco joined us.

The occasion: To officially launch one of this island’s grandest of sporting events, the Cebu Marathon. The date? January 13, 2013. The venue: Start/Finish at the Cebu I.T. Park in Lahug.

Distances? 5K, 21K and 42K. These three categories are perfect for any body and everybody. If you’ve longed to exercise and join a fun run, the 5,000-meter distance is ideal. You can jog, walk, stroll most of the way and sprint as you cross the finish line.

The 21K or half-marathon? For those who’ve been running 5Ks and 10Ks, it’s time to take your running to the next level. The 21K distance is far — but not as leg-cramping and exhaustive as the 42K. The beauty of this category? Just like the full marathon, it will take the runners along the most scenic of sights: from Cebu I.T. Park to the Provincial Capitol, down along Osmeña Boulevard, passing through Fuente Osmeña, to Colon Street, to the Sto. Niño Church, Magellan’s Cross, Plaza Independencia then down the SRP Tunnel. You may a U-turn somewhere at the SRP… and back to the Cebu I.T. Park. Everybody who’s done a 10K the past few months should register for the 21K.

The 42.195-km. run called the marathon? For those who joined the 21K last year and have done several this 2012, it’s time to go all the way in 2013. You can do it!

Along the way – and during this Sinulog season — you will be greeted by hordes of volunteers who will man the 13 water stations – all loaded with overflowing water and isotonic drinks plus the signature gimmick of CCM: bands, loud music, Sinulog dancers, cheerers — all motivating you to finish and claim that Finisher’s Medal.

ROUTE. The only change with the 42K route is the Gen. Maxilom (Mango) Ave. area. In the three previous CCMs, the Mango Ave. portion was one of the last (and most difficult) climbs. In the 2013 edition — as suggested by ultra-marathoner, Atty. Haide Acuña — we will do Mango Avenue first. This means that, upon exiting SRP, the 42K runners can now focus on running straight to the Cebu I.T. Park minus the Mango Ave. “Heartbreak Hill” obstacle.

PRIZE MONEY. Thanks to the support of the Cebu City government, who has funded the cash prizes of all the winners since this event started years ago, the same will hold true this 01-13-13.

The cash prizes – totaling P389,500 — are as follows (same amount for both men and women):

Marathon (42K): P60,000 (champion); P30,000 (runner-up); P20,000 (3rd); P10,000 (4th); P5,000 (5th); and P2,500 each for the 6th to 10th placers.

Half-marathon (21K): P20,000 (champion); P10,000 (runner-up); P5,000 (3rd); P2,500 (4th); P1,500 (5th); and P1,000 each for the 6th to 10th placers.

5K: P5,000 (champion); P2,500 (runner-up); P1,500 (3rd); P1,000 (4th); P750 (5th); and P500 each for the 6th to 10th placers.

GOODIES. As I mentioned in this column a few weeks back, the participants will receive a limited-edition New Balance singlet. The value of this NB singlet is worth upwards of P700; if you’re joining the 5K (registration fee is P600), you’re actually receiving more than your fee.

The 42K (fee: P1,400) and 21K (fee: P900) participants will all receive Finisher’s shirts (apart from the singlet) upon crossing the Finish Line. And, of course, exclusive to the 42K finishers, the prized CCM medal (new design).

FREE MOVIE PASSES. Finally, here’s good (early Christmas) news for all runners who have not registered yet. Starting today, Nov. 22, until Nov. 30 — only for nine days — all registrants to the 21K and 42K categories will receive free Ayala Center Cinema movie passes. You need to register at the onsite registration booth at the Active Zone of Ayala Center Cebu. Remember: this is only from Nov. 22 to 30. Run to Ayala and register now!

Azkals in Cebu: What a kick-start

Wasn’t Thursday night perfect? After the afternoon skies darkened and the clouds unleashed their wet venom, weren’t we all begging our Lord, Oh no, please don’t let it rain! It did not. Instead, the sky’s ceiling was pitch-dark, perfect for down below, the green pitch…

The green pitch was outstanding. Talk about surprises. Talk about transforming a dusty field into a golf course that’s called a soccer field. Wow. Everybody applauded the grass. Michael Weiss. The Singaporeans. And us, the spectators, numbering 7,000 eyeballs, all gazing and awestruck at the green field.

The venue, the Cebu City Sports Center? This is our own Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. It’s our Ground Zero. Our sports headquarters. You know what’s amazing? Coupled with the majestic green pitch was the majestic maroon-colored rubberized oval. Again, exemplary timing: the oval gets renovated just months before 11-15-2012.

The lights? Were those lights? Or was that the sun beaming its rays on CCSC? I counted dozens, hundreds, of floodlights that flooded the arena. This is what happens when the president of the Cebu Football Association (CFA) is one of this island’s mightiest of construction magnates: the stadium is bright as noon.

Thanks to Ricky Dakay, the engineer (or “Doctor,” since he’s earned a Doctorate in Engineering in the U.S.) who owns Dakay Construction and Development Corp.

What else? Fireworks, like sparkling Christmas lights, colored the starless, black sky. The Kaholeros — more than 300-strong and standing across the stadium-full of spectators — lost all their voices by Friday morning. They screamed and danced and were gifted by the Azkals team a personal visit at game’s end.

THE GAME? Was it perfect? The 1-0 final score, no doubt, was splendid.

But the first half? Ha-ha. Don’t call me “Amalayer” when I say this: The Azkals were lousy. Were these our national players? They get hold of the ball… then lose it in 10 seconds. The Lions held the ball 70 percent of the time. It was a mismatch. Singapore would make zigzag, pinpoint passes; we’d scramble and turnover the football. “The first half was one of the least spectacular performances we’ve seen under my guidance… We’re lucky we’re not punished,” said coach Weiss.

True. In those first 45 minutes, we could easily have gone down, 0-2. Or, 0-3. They had chances after chances, especially that free kick. Thankfully, we ended the half at 0-all.

The 2nd half? What a difference. With the Younghusbands, the Azkals were a different animal. In the first half they were puppies; in the second half, they became rabid, hungry, thirsty, salivating “azkals.” They were dogs. And how the dogs would run around and defeat — in the animal kingdom — the bigger and stronger lions.

We held ball possession. We defended. We attempted on multiple occasions. We were aggressive. We were in command.

The hero? Of course: Ed Sacapaño of Bacolod, the goalie who stopped the spinning ball from hitting our net. Thanks to the man from the City of Smiles, we smiled.

CEBU. Last Thursday night was a moment-changer. The new CCSC plus the upcoming USC Talamban field (picturesque, by the mountains) will convert Sugbu into a national powerhouse football venue.

Sure, Manila is our nation’s capital — but most athletes prefer Cebu because, very often, our spectators are noisier, more rabid. We bark. We are azkals-like fans. We’re the azkals watching the azkals. Dan Palami, the country’s Mr. Football himself, couldn’t be happier with Cebu.

Mayor Michael Lopez Rama, while the game was ongoing in the early minutes, was not watching. Instead, he and Ricky Dakay toured the CCSC grounds — pointing at areas to improve. In my conversation with the mayor last Friday night, he repeatedly called the event, “superb.”

This is teamwork. It’s the private and public sectors passing the ball to one another, like James and Phil, to achieve a common goal.

The goal? To goal. To Dan Palami, the new CFA, and the rest of the tireless volunteers and organizers: What a kick-start you’ve given Cebu football.

Face off! Biggest day ever in Cebu football

Historic. A first. Football fever. Loud. Unprecedented. Call it whatever term you want but this fact is obvious: Today — Nov. 15, 2012 — will change football in Cebu.

“Since I am biased for football,” said my boss on these pages, editor Mike Limpag, “I think this is the biggest event here; though the Cobra Ironman 70.3 could also make a claim for that. But since this is the first time that the Philippines will play an international friendly here on a Fifa match day (other countries will be playing friendlies, too, on Nov. 15); so this really sets the bar.”

Last June — just five months ago — over dinner at the famed Marco Polo Hotel, a group of passionate footballers talked about holding an international meet here.

Ricky Dakay and Dan Palami, together with the Cebu Football Association (CFA) officers, sat in a large table with Mike Limpag. Is Cebu ready? Will the Cebu City Sports Center venue be in decent shape? Can the grass grow on time? Can we organize this gargantuan task in just a few months’ time?

The answers? Yes, yes, yes, yes. So, yes, here we arrive today. As a sports lover, I’ve never seen such buzz. For tonight’s Philippine Azkals versus Singapore Lions football game isn’t just for football fans. It’s not just soccer dads like Ariel Uy and Harry Radaza or for coaches like Joshua Fegidero and Dennis Peñalosa or for CFA officials like Glenn Quisido or Mike Veloso.

Tonight is for all fans. Sports fans. Fans who like gazing at players with movie star good looks. Cebu fans. In fact, most of the spectators tonight will be witnessing — myself included — such a large-crowd football event for the first time. Imagine over 7,000 screaming fans?

“For me, the noise-level when Stephen Schrock scored the first goal in that 2-1 home loss against Kuwait at the Rizal Memorial Stadium was really something… 13,000 fans screaming at the same time,” said Mike Limpag. “There will be half of that at the CCSC pitch, but because of the design and the adjacent buildings, it will be noisy. A group of Kaholeros led by Egay Salvacion have been practicing for weeks now to help lead the chants, and I think they will be able to get the crowd going.”

PRESS CON. I attended yesterday’s “face off” between the two head coaches, led by our own, Michael Weiss. Also in attendance were captain Chieffy Caligdong and three Cebuanos, Paolo Pascual, Ray Jonnson and Patrick Reichelt.

The impact of this event is huge. “The positive impact has began,” said Mike Limpag. “Even days before the friendly, when somebody posted a picture of the CCSC field.. the photo went viral… some were asking if the CCSC field uses artificial grass.

“With a field like this, people are suggesting that more games should be played here. Also, the Philippines is one of two countries shortlisted to host the AFC Challenge Cup game and because of what Cebu has done, some are saying that Cebu should be considered as host.. The Challenge Cup needs two stadiums, one could be the CCSC and the other, the soon-to-be finished stadium in USC.”

NIMROD. One of the key personalities of this event is Nimrod Quiñones, who commented: “This is like a dream come true for me as I have long wished for an international football event in Cebu. As a member of the CFA board, it was quite hard to put all the preparations together with only two months given to us, but several people have come forward to help us get things done. This is not just an activity of the CFA, but the whole Cebuano community. I hope that the fans would do their share of making this successful by keeping the place clean and by behaving.”

Nimrod added that several items are not allowed inside the CCSC today: Water bottles, sharp objects, lighters, matches, umbrellas, and laser pointers.

RICKY DAKAY. The man who deserves the loudest applause is Engr. Pericles Dakay (you can also call him “Doctor” as he finished a Doctorate in Engineering in the US). Ricky is a Rotarian, a family man, a civic leader, a businessman (head of the Dakay Construction), but his most important role today is as president of the CFA. All thanks to Ricky. If not for him and the new CFA Board — and that dinner talk last June — we’d be at home early tonight watching ESPN.

The Azkals arrive!

Paolo Pascual is excited. The goalkeeper of the Azkals — and a true-blooded Cebuano — calls this week a “dream come true.”

When I spoke to Paolo yesterday morning, he was in Cebu. But he wasn’t at home with his parents, doctors Joel and Chona Pascual. “We’re in Parklane Hotel where the team is staying,” he said. “Although I’m home, I have to stay with the team.”

The “team,” of course, is the most popular team that has invaded the minds and hearts of all sports lovers: the Philippine Azkals.

This week in football has never happened to Cebu before. It started with the opening of the 15th Aboitiz Cup last Sunday. That same day, a group of about 30 athletes and coaches arrived via PAL around 1:30 P.M.

Paolo Pascual is the lone home-grown Cebuano. He mentions that two others — Patrick Alcala Reichelt (who’s mom is from Alcoy) and Ray Anthony Pepito Jonsson — are also “Cebuanos.” But, since he’s the full-blooded Bisaya, everybody is asking Paolo the same question, “Where do we go?” Show me Cebu! all his teammates insist.

Upon arrival last Sunday, the team was whisked to the Aboitiz Cup opening. “Although it was rainy and muddy,” said Paolo, “we had a wonderful time. So many people, especially children, came.”

That night, they were treated to dinner by the president of the Cebu Football Association, Ricky Dakay, at The Distillery in Crossroads. Stanley Villacin was with the group.

But if we think that this trip is for sightseeing or party-going, that’s not the case. “We train at the Ateneo-Sacred Heart field. Our focus before the game is lots of training,” said Paolo.

CCSC. “It’s the best football field we’ve had at the Cebu City Sports Center,” said Ricky Ballesteros, the facility’s chieftain. Months of preparation — plus the assistance of the “grass experts” from Alta Vista and Cebu Country Club — have elevated the stadium. “We’re also lucky that the rains have been pouring,” said Ricky. “This time, the grass has really taken root. Ni gamut gyud. Green na kaayo ang field.”

Ricky expects over 7,000 spectators to flood the CCSC on Thursday. His advice? Come early. “We’re open starting 3 P.M. Also, please don’t bring your own vehicles. Ask to be dropped-off or take a taxi. This will help decongest the traffic and parking.” Although Citom will allow one-car parking on both sides of Osmeña Blvd., it’s best to lessen the number of parked cars. Or, parking at E-mall or nearby establishments is another alternative.

GRAEME. On the beauty of grass field, I got this mesage from Cebu Sports Hall of Famer Graeme Mackinnon, who’s joining us here this week:

“My lasting recollection of Cebu City Sports Center was that it sat firmly in the too hard basket. No one wanted to do anything to upgrade it. It was a dangerous dust bowl and needed political will to renovate and maintain it. Or did it?

“Maybe it needed the phenom that is the AZKALS and the promise of international football to spark Cebu from its lethargy. Led by the vision of Ricky Dakay, the CFA has transformed the dust bowl into an oasis. But is this transformation just a mirage? The complex has now been upgraded and handed to the current administration on a silver platter.

“With what I saw on Monday night, I was blown away with pride at the transformation. I hope the transformation will not be blown away due to a lack of vision. The game with Singapore will be fiesta-like and something Cebuanos will be proud of. But please don’t make it a one-off and put the CCSC back in the too hard basket.”

AYALA CENTER. I also received an e-mail from Ayala Center Cebu’s marketing executive Wilma Entera on the meet-and-greet. Said Wilma:

“PUMA brings the Azkals to Ayala Center. For those who can buy at least P1,500 worth of PUMA items, they will be given a poster that the Azkals members can sign (with a photo-op) at 1PM at the Activity Center. The following will be there: Eduard Sacapaño, Roel Gener, Jason Sabio, Nestorio Margarse, Chieffy Caligdong, Ian Araneta, Joshua Beloya, Chris Greatwich and one of the Younghusbands.”

Will Jackson ‘Phil’ the void in Hollywood?

The Los Angeles Lakers have fired Mike Brown. After a disastrous start (0-8 in pre-season and 0-3 in the regular season; they’re now 2-4), the Golden Team’s glitter was tarnished. Dispensing of their head coach was the right act.

“Mike Brown was never the right coach to handle such a star-studded lineup,” said Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas, whom I often consult about NBA matters.

Star-studded? Absolutely. This team possesses an A-list of superstars: Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace (Ron Artest) and Steve Nash. If they were actors on the Academy Awards stage, they’d all be Oscar-winning personalities.

So, what’s wrong? “He (Brown) was supposed to be a good defensive coach, but the Lakers were failing miserably at that department,” said the young Gullas. “From the start I never liked the coaching style of Mike Brown which centered too much on one-on-one plays. On a side note, it just goes to show the greatness of LeBron James for making Mike Brown look good as carried that team to the Finals with himself and some spare parts as teammates.”

Now the question is: Who takes over? In the La La Land that is home to celebrities like Paris Hilton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyra Banks, Josh Groban and Kim Kardashian– there is no basketball coach that is more celebrated than Phil Jackson.

From 1989 to 1998, PJ guided MJ and the Chicago Bulls to six NBA rings. Next, he transferred to the LA Lakers and gifted them with five NBA trophies. His 11 NBA titles are the most of any coach — besting the previous record of Red Auerbach. It can be argued that Phil Jackson is one of the — if not THE — greatest basketball coach of all time. As an addendum: prior to coaching, the 6-foot-8 Jackson won two NBA rings (1970 and 1973) as a player for the New York Knicks. This translates to a whopping 13 NBA rings at home.

The next question is: Will Phil do a Hollywood rerun? He’s retired. He’s fishing in Montana. Twice, he’s led the Lakers. Will he return for Part III? And, he’s not that healthy, having had hip and knee replacement surgeries.

Is Phil Jackson unfit and too old – he’s now 67 – to direct his team; becoming, once again, their Steven Spielberg?

Luckily for Kobe & Co., the answer is, like the reelected president would say, “Yes He Can.” Jackson’s girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ EVP of Business Operations and the team owner’s daughter, said this in a recent radio interview:

“He’s got his energy back. As a matter of fact, I overheard him making plans to play tennis when he’s back in Montana with one of his friends. He hasn’t played tennis, I don’t think, in eight years. The knee replacement really is one of those operations that has such a high success rate. … It really is a miracle. It’s one of those things that because of Phil’s schedule he wasn’t able to take the time to get the surgery and do the rehab. Now he’s done it, and I do think he has his energy back. Now how he’s going to spend his time? I don’t know. I’m happy for him, that he’s out of pain, after watching him suffer for the last few years.”

Perfect. The Lakers — following a Hollywood script — lose their first 11 games and, after firing Mike Brown, guess who celebrity storms to rescue the sinking ship? Mr. Jackson.

But what if he declines? “The Top 5 choices would have to be Jerry Sloan, Mike D’ Antoni, Nate McMilan and the Van Gundy Brothers, Jeff and Stan,” said Gullas.

“The best choice is Jerry Sloan. His pick-and-roll offense would look great with Nash and Howard while his pick-and-pop offense would look great with Nash and Pau. I believe if it wasn’t for Jordan, Jerry Sloan would already have a championship or two. Sadly he played in an era together with the greatest basketball player of all time. If the Lakers pick Jerry Sloan, the West better watch out because the Lakers are still the best team, on paper, in the NBA.”

Conclusion: There are plenty of coaching options — but the No. 1 pick is Phil Jackson. And, given the list of superstars on his movie-set, expect the return of the Zen Master.

What’s wrong with the LA Lakers?

The Los Angeles Lakers is the most famous basketball team on earth. In terms of history, no other ballclub compares. Founded in 1947 as the Minneapolis Lakers, they transformed to become the “LA Lakers” starting in 1960.

Since then, the team has won 16 NBA championships and has hosted such legends as Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. From the coaching end, they’ve been led by icons Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.

The Lakers are defined by one color: gold. That’s the color on their jerseys. That’s the color painted on their floor. That’s the color they often wear at the end of the NBA season: a gold medal for winning the golden NBA ring.

This 2012 – 2013 season, the residents of Los Angeles — tens of thousands of whom are our Filipino relatives — could not have been more optimistic. Why? Because they have as golden a line-up as any other NBA team.

If Miami Heat has the “Big Three” in LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, the LA Lakers has the “Fantastic Four” in Kobe, Pau Gasol and their two newest recruits, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

Imagine a Bryant-Gasol-Nash-Howard team? They can play with four players and beat a squad with five men.

Add Metta World Peace (Ron Artest) or Antawn Jamison and you’ll have an unbeatable team. We’re looking at a 96-0 (regular season and playoff period) record!

Wait, wait. Not so fast. It turns out this all-star cast won’t score a perfect-win season.

Game 1 vs. the Dallas Mavericks? Lakers lost, 99-91. Game 2 vs. the Portland Trail Blazers? Lakers lost 116-106. Game 3 vs. their “neighbor,” the LA Clippers? I watched that on Channel 45 yesterday. Lakers lost again.

From Hollywood-like expectations, the Lakers have become Bollywood; they’ve turned-over the ball, missed easy shots, lost Steve Nash to injury in Game 3, and are now scrambling.

Yesterday, in LA v. LA, since the time that I switched on the TV set in the 2nd quarter, the Clippers led each and every minute. Gold-and-Purple was trampled by Blue-and-White.

“Being a diehard Kobe fan,” said SamSam Gullas, an astute basketball observer and the UV team manager, “I must admit that I’m shocked by the 0-3 start. I really thought they would challenge the 72-10 record set by the Chicago Bulls.”

Why this horrific start? I asked Mr. Gullas. “Maybe with Phil Jackson at the helm,” he said. “But with Mike Brown, they’re not going anywhere.”

From the highest of expectations, now the Lakers are being castigated. And this is a valid concern: Not since 34 years ago has the Lakers started 0-3.

“We’re hitting the panic button now,” said Bryant, who scored 40 yesterday. “That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s our job. We’re not supposed to just kind of coast and just assume things are going to fix themselves. We’ve got to push at it.”

In every step of yesterday’s game, the Lakers were beaten. In fast-break points, the Clippers beat them, 21-8; in second-chance points, the same scenario: 20-7.

The Clippers player I enjoyed watching? Chris Paul. He scored 18 and dished-out 15 assists. He was all-smiles because Steve Nash was absent with a bruised left shin.

“To be remembered from now until April: The Clippers haven’t won the season series with the Lakers since 1992-93,” wrote Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times in ‘Lakers lost to Clippers, 105-95, fall to 0-3.’ He added, “In fact, they took the series one other time in the 42-year history of their franchise, when they were the Buffalo Braves in 1974-75.

“It’s only a rivalry if both teams win. It’s been pretty lopsided,” Paul said. “For us, we just wanted to come in, try to get a win in a tough environment and we did.”

Is this start a cause for concern? Absolutely. Is it time to panic and say that the Lakers can’t win this whole thing? No. Like Miami two years ago, it takes time for super heroes to work together. Let’s just hope, in tomorrow’s game vs. the Detroit Pistons, this “Fantastic Four” won’t go 0-4.

The Heart of a Champion

Sally Mae “Em-Em” Siso cried last Tuesday. We were in Puerto Princesa for the National Championships of the Palawan Pawnshop Junior Tennis, a Group 2 Philta-sanctioned event.

Em-Em, possibly the most decorated junior netter Cebu has ever produced, was in tears. Our group of nearly 30 players and parents trekked the Subterranean Underground River. But, when we arrived at the PNS tennis court where Em-Em was to play the Girls 18 final, she was told the shocking news: You lost. By default.

What?! The underground river visit was an official tournament trip. Weeks earlier, when my wife Jasmin, our daughter Jana (who joined the Girls 14/16) and I decided to go to Palawan and we invited Em-Em to join us, it was because of one major reason: We wanted to see one of the “7 New Wonders of Nature.”

We did. All-smiling. But when we arrived on-court, the joy turned to tears.

Maia Balce, the player Em-Em was to face in the final, would not agree to play.

For some reason — despite my being told the day earlier by the tournament referee, Bobby Mangunay, that Em-Em’s match was “between 3 to 4 P.M.” — the official print-out read “3 P.M.”

We arrived on-court at 4 P.M. We pleaded. To no avail. The Balce family wouldn’t budge. Technically, yes, they’re correct. But the truth is, it was absolutely not made clear to us that the final was “3 P.M.” (Bobby Mangunay, in fairness to him when he wrote ‘3 P.M.,’ never imagined that one side would insist on a default — especially a final.)

The travel time from the underground river to tennis court was nearly two hours. Had we known, no way would we have agreed, in the first place, on the 3 P.M. schedule. Plus, almost 30 of us (players and parents) joined the excursion — including the tournament organizer himself, Pet Santos, and his family.

In our entire trip, we never got a single call or text message about the impending 3 P.M. schedule. Plus — and this is important — in the previous five days, almost all matches got delayed anyway. I’m sure Maia, in her previous games, never got one match played on time — because there were only three courts to accommodate a record 220 entries. Flexibility of schedule transpired throughout the whole tournament — and so the same thing for the final, right?

But, no. The Balces — led by her mom, Pia, and Maia’s coach, Czarina Arevalo — would not relent.

I tried calling Maia’s dad, Boboy, in Manila. After 31 missed calls and several text messages, no response. He wouldn’t answer. It was obvious he didn’t want to talk to me. (During that time, I pleaded with Pia: kindly ask Boboy to take my calls — it’s the least he can do; to show some courtesy by speaking to me.)

Meanwhile, Em-Em was crying. Also in shock were all the spectators. This wasn’t the first round or second round — it was the final. Of the premier category: the Girls 18. Imagine not playing the final! (It’s not like the Balces were rushing to go to the airport — their flight was 23 hours later… at 3 P.M. the next day! More on that below..)

PLEASE, PLEASE… PLAY. Cherry Pie Picache, the celebrity mom who joined us the whole week (including the underground river trip), was in disbelief. Why can’t they just play? (The night before, when the Iloilo and Kalibo contingents arrived late from the same trek — their opponents adjusted and agreed to play. I know Bong Martin allowed Jake to play. The super-talented Eala children, Mico and Alexandra — they, too, played the doubles.)

Everybody pleaded with the Balces, including tournament referee Bobby Mangunay. He told the dad that, in so many past occasions, they’d request for favors (scheduling, etc). Now, for the first time, he was asking for a favor: play the final. Still, the Balces said no.

Bobby’s reply: “Delete my number!”

Why wouldn’t Maia play? Simple. Had the opponent been lower-ranked and easy-to-beat, I’m sure they would have agreed. But Em-Em Siso? Consider this: In the Girls 16 semis, Maia lost to Alexie Santos, 6-3, 7-6. Alexie? She was handily beaten by Em-Em, 6-2, 6-0. Get the point?

“We want the points.” That’s what coach Czarina explained to me. You know what the difference is in Philta points? The champion receives 120 while the runner-up gets 100. A mere 20 points!

Em-Em Siso doesn’t need points. The reason why we brought Em-Em along was because this was her “swan-song” event. After a decade of holding trophies and representing the Philippines, this was her final tournament. Yes, her very last. By January 1, Em-Em will no longer be eligible to join the juniors. She doesn’t care about the points. She just wanted to play.

FINALLY, WE TALK. Boboy finally calls! It was around 7:30 P.M. And it had to take another side incident — when, during the mini two-point side event, Maia was booed by the Visayan contingent and un-called for comments (not by me) were said and her mom stormed the court to confront me (that’s another story!).

Boboy and I got into a lengthy conversation, me explaining every reason why the final should be played (we didn’t know exact time of match; we were in a trip with 30 others; in all matches the previous days, none followed the schedule).

I told Boboy that Maia not playing the final would actually not do her good. Wasn’t this trip to give his daughter more experience? Then why not play! And what kind of a victory will it be? A hollow, meaningless one?

Finally, before our talk ended, I made a request, “Boy, you know what, let’s just play the final first thing tomorrow..  this will put to rest this issue. It’s just a game. It’s just one match.”

Boboy promised to talk to his wife and daughter and said he’ll get back to me. I didn’t hear from him again that night.

At 6:35 A.M. the next day, he calls. We talk. He said that he tried asking Maia to play but that they’ve scheduled a visit to a beach resort.

Can’t they just play the match at 8 A.M. so this issue will be settled? I asked.

AIRPLANE GAME. Another funny addition to this telenova-like story? The Balces were not in a hurry to catch a flight. Their flight back to Manila was 3 P.M. — the next day! In fact, the original schedule of the final was Wednesday morning — until it was moved to Tuesday afternoon. And so there was plenty of time to play the final.

Our flight back to Cebu? It was 11:30 A.M. yesterday, Wednesday. I told Boboy that Em-Em and Maia could still play at 8 A.M. Let’s settle this issue, I requested.

Guess what he later told Bobby Mangunay, the tournament referee: Can Maia and Em-Em play at 12 noon, Wednesday?

Unbelievable. I told Boboy in our next conversation, “What do you want us to do, play in the airplane?”

That’s not all. They came up with another preposterous idea: Maia will go to the court around 11 A.M. (remember, our flight was at 11:30), play a few points with Em-Em and ask to be defaulted.

To “diffuse” the issue, now they wanted Em-Em to win! Crazy. Can you believe that?

Obviously, they don’t know who Sally Mae Siso is. Em-Em is a two-time awardee of Cebu’s “Athlete of the Year.” These awards are given by the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC) in cooperation with San Miguel Brewery. This is the most prestigious sports award in the entire island of Cebu. Who receives this once-a-year recognition? The likes of Donnie Nietes (the world champ) and Gerry Peñalosa (another boxing champ). In Cebu, Em-Em Siso is that highly-regarded.

Also, her family story — she and her two siblings, Bernardine (Niño) and Sally Dine, were taught by their dad, Dino, who shockingly passed-away when Em-Em was only 12 years old — is heart-wrenching.

Back to Palawan… Em-em didn’t need the trophy. She has over 100 trophies and medals at home! That’s no joke. Now they want Maia to default? To appease her? Unbelievable suggestion. All Em-Em and the spectators wanted was for the Girls 18 final to be played.

AGASSI. This controversy reminds me of a story that I read many years back. In the 1994 Lipton Championships, Pete Sampras was scheduled to meet Andre Agassi in the final. Unfortunately, Sampras ate something bad the night before and woke up feeling sick. He needed an IV injection for 90 minutes prior to the final. At their appointed time to play, Sampras was unwell and not ready.

Agassi won! By walkover. The trophy was his! The prize money — $242,000; a large, large amount back in 1994 — was his. Yehey!

But, wait. No. Agassi analyzed the situation. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t the right thing to do. He didn’t want a hollow victory. He didn’t want to win without sweating. He wanted to win on the proper venue: on court.

You know what Agassi did? He waited. He waited until Sampras recovered an extra hour before they played. And you know what?

Agassi lost. But he gained the respect of the entire sporting world and, most of all, of his arch-rival, Sampras, who said, “He showed me a lot of class, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Why did Agassi agree to wait? It was the right thing to do. It’s called Sportsmanship.

“If I can’t beat the best player in the world,” said Agassi. “I don’t deserve the trophy.”

DEAR FELLOW PARENTS,

In such a highly-competitive sports world for our children, we’re often faced with two scenarios.

One screams “VICTORY-AT-ALL-COSTS.”

True, we win. True, we claim the trophy. True, we gain points. But at what cost? At the cost of damaging friendships and relationships? When we’re but a small community of families who’ll often meet? At the cost of damaging our reputation… with dozens of others talking behind our backs, asking why we didn’t play? This victory is hollow. It’s empty. It’s meaningless.

On the other hand is the scenario called “DOING THE RIGHT THING.”

Given the circumstances last Tuesday — us explaining that we weren’t properly informed of the schedule; us going with 30 others on an official trip; and knowing well that the schedules were all flexible in the past days — was it the right thing not to play the final?

To those who know me in the tennis community, they know that — for 20+ years since I’ve been involved with tennis in Cebu… as Philta RVP for many years and as one of the organizers (with Randy Villanueva) of last year’s two Davis Cup ties in Lapu-Lapu City — that I’ve always been friendly, fair, good and just. You can ask anyone. I dislike putting people down. That’s not my style and never will be. But what happened in Palawan, to my mind, should be explained and known by all. I hope that, as parents, we understand this: In our pursuit of win-win-win, we do not become too selfish and callous; we do not become heartless.

FINALLY… this story will not end without another parang-telenova twist. Would you believe that, of the 130+ children who joined, only two families stayed in the same Tropical Sun Inn Hotel.

Guess who? The Pages and Balce families. And so, for the past six days, we’d see each other at the lobby, smile, chit-chat; often having our breakfasts just a few feet apart.

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning, as we were about to rush to the airport, Em-Em Siso and my daughter Jana — despite our shouts to rush to the van — just had to do a final act that would make them feel better. They knocked on Czarina’s room.

Em-Em, in all kindness, said “Coach, aalis na kami.” She shook Czarina’s hand. And, as she and Jana were leaving, Em-em added, saying, “Pakisabi na rin kay Maia na ba-bay at saka sa Mama nya rin.” Despite her crying the entire night before, Em-Em had the heart to bid them goodbye. Now that’s what I call the heart of a champion.

Palawan!

At Ka Lui with Roland So and family and Mayor Edward Hagedorn

Em-Em and Jana (left-most) with the So sisters: Mariel, Camille and Mia

Binoy Hitosis, Francis Lambayan, Alexie Santos, Em-Em Siso, tournament organizer Pet Santos, Cai Hitosis, Jana Pages and Noynoy Seno

Smile!

The Arguelles, Siso and Pages families on the way to the UR!

With super-nice and friendly tennis parent, Cherry Pie Picache

That’s Cherry Pie (center) with the Trillanes and Santos families

Cai, Alexie, Jana, Kara Salimbangon and Em-Em

Go, Chief Lambayan!

Bobby Castro, the owner of Palawan Pawnshop, poses with Em-Em and Jana (who slipped, twisted her ankle and had to default at 1-0 her Girls 14 final match with Alexie Santos)

About to enter the bat cave!

The Girls 18 doubles champions!

With Em-Em Siso, our week-long “adopted daughter” and the “People’s Champ!”