Monthly Archives: April 2015

Play ball! It’s the NBA Playoffs

Dennis Que loves basketball. Almost daily, he switches on the TV set to swallow that regular dosage of NBA action. He’s also watched, on vacation episodes, live games in the U.S. Like I’ve done in the past, I asked for Dennis’ expert NBA commentary…

“Looking back at the regular season,” Dennis said, “the team that stood out most was the Atlanta Hawks.” We all expected Cleveland and Chicago to top the East, he said, but everyone’s applauding Atlanta who, in January, amassed a 17-0 record — the first perfect month in NBA history.

“In the West, it’s the Golden State Warriors,” said Dennis. “Under first year coach Steve Kerr and with almost the same line-up from last year, they led the NBA with a 67-15 record. This is the most wins by a rookie coach, a record.”

The other notable moments, said Dennis: LeBron James coming back home to Cleveland, Steve Nash retiring, Paul George returning to court after a horrific leg injury, Russell Westbrook’s string of triple doubles, Zach Lavine revitalizing the dunk contest, and Kobe Bryant’s lifelong dream to pass Michael Jordan for 3rd on the scoring list.

“The game that I will never forget was when Klay Thompson scored a record 37 points in one quarter,” he said. “He shot 13-13 from the field including 9-9 from beyond the arc.”

On the post-season, Dennis commends the New Orleans Pelicans, who had to win on the last day of regular season (against the Spurs!) to eliminate OKC. In the east, the Milwaukee Bucks surprised him the most, considering they were the worst team last season and they have a new coach. “Jason Kidd did a great job with almost the same team from last season and after losing key players due to injuries,” said Dennis. The biggest surprise: Miami and Indiana (Eastern finalists the past three seasons) not making the playoffs.

FIRST ROUND. In the East, the best match-up is between the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards. “I predict this series to go to game 7 with Toronto winning,” said Dennis, who doesn’t expect upsets in the others, with Atlanta, Chicago and Cleveland advancing to Round 2.

In the West, he cites two interesting encounters: the 2nd seed Rockets versus the 7th seed Mavericks (“the Rockets are favored but the Mavericks might pull an upset”) and San Antonio versus Los Angeles.

“Last year, the Clippers was poised to meet the Spurs in the Western Finals but lost to the Thunder in Game 7,” he said. “This, for me, is the most exciting series and I hate to see either team exit the first round.” But he expects the Spurs to triumph, same with the Warriors and Grizzlies.

PREDICTIONS. In the East, Dennis thinks the Cavs have it easy because of less competition (Boston and New Jersey made the playoffs with losing records). The Western Conference is different because of many contenders. “Each team has to go thru 3 grueling series before they can reach the Finals,” he said.

He likes the Hawks vs. the Cavaliers for the Eastern Finals. “The Hawks has experience,” said Dennis. “With the Cavs, two of their top players (Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) have not played a single playoff game.” But he expects Cleveland to win because of their size, speed and “they have LeBron.”

In the West, Dennis foresees the Warriors vs. the Spurs. “The Warriors are favored and they have enough experience, youth, and they’re the best offensive and defensive team,” he said, “But the Spurs have the experience and the motivation to win back-to-back. Plus, they’re peaking at the right time.”

FINALS? Cavaliers-Spurs. No major shock in Dennis’ prediction but this one is surprising: “Just like the 2007 NBA Finals, this will be a short one,” he said. “The Spurs’ experience could prove too much for the more talented Cavaliers. It’s too hard to beat the Spurs in a seven-game series. Time is running out on this old Spurs team but they will be motivated to win their first back-to-back in the Popovich-Duncan era.”

Is Dennis right? He also picks Steph Curry to win the MVP. Let’s see. The NBA postseason begins today.

Fab@40 by the PBA

pba-40-greatest-ceremony(From interaksyon.com)

The Philippine Basketball Association is Asia’s oldest pro basketball league. It started 40 years ago this week — to be exact, the first PBA game was played at the Araneta Coliseum on April 9, 1975. Worldwide, the PBA is reportedly “the second oldest continuously existing basketball league,” next to the 69-year-old NBA. (Our family is proud to call one of our own as a PBA alumni: my uncle Rey Pages donned the green Crispa Redmanizers jersey in the ‘70s.)

To commemorate the PBA’s entering its fifth decade, it announced a set of awards: “The 40 Greatest PBA Players of All Time.”

In a glitzy affair last Wednesday — at the Newport Performing Arts Theatre in Resorts World Manila where, two years ago, we watched the musical, “The King and I” — the Top 40 were introduced to the public.

But first, a rewind: Back in 2000 during the Silver Anniversary of the league, the “25 Best Ever PBA Players” list was introduced. Who were the names included then? Led by Cebu’s pride Ramon Fernandez, the list included Robert Jaworski, Alvin Patrimonio, Bogs Adornado, Abet Guidaben, Benjie Paras, Atoy Co, Freddie Hubalde, Philip Cezar, Ricky Brown, Johnny Abarrientos, Ato Agustin, Francis Arnaiz, Hector Calma, Jerry Codiñera, Kenneth Duremdes, Bernie Fabiosa, Danny Florencio, Jojo Lastimosa, Lim Eng Beng, Samboy Lim, Ronnie Magsanoc, Vergel Meneses and Manny Paner. My favorite shooter Allan Caidic made the cut.

Fast forward this week, the PBA Board, in their “Ruby Anniversary,” called the party, “Fab@40.” Who additional 15 honorees were included? Jimmy Alapag leads the list. He’s joined by James Yap, Danny Ildefonso, Willie Miller, Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, Kelly Williams, Jayjay Helterbrand, Jimmy Alapag, Mark Caguioa, Arwind Santos, Jayson Castro, Marc Pingris, Kerby Raymundo, Chito Loyzaga and Marlou Aquino.

Our friend Pato Gregorio, who used to head the Waterfront Lahug hotel and who’s now the PBA board chairman, led the deliberations, saying:“Forty will never be enough. We’ve had so many great PBA players since 1975. But to celebrate our 40th season, we had to do the difficult task of naming the 40 greatest PBA players – the pillars of the league. Mga idolo ng bawat Pilipino.”

The party last Wednesday was special not only because it brought the awardees together in formal wear — everyone wore suits except the Barong Tagalog-wearing Codiñera — but also because it was a show: ballplayers walked the ramp wearing various summer and informal wear and the league launched new products including the PBA credit card, the Life magazine and a video game.

As celebrated as the 40th Anniversary was, there was a problem: People are complaining. My colleague Rommel Manlosa, in his piece, “El Presidente’s No-Show,” talked about Mon Fernandez skipping the Awards Night as a sign of protest. Mon said, “I will not say who are not deserving, but I’d rather question why Abe King, Nelson Asaytono, Olsen Racela, Danny Seigle, Bong Hawkins, among others were not included.”

Valid point. This, of course, is the danger with presenting any “Best Ever” awards. With hundreds of players to choose from, there will always be some deserving names who’ll be left out.

What was the criteria used to select the Top 40? The panel listed four items, summarized as follows: the player must have played at least four full seasons, must have been a major awardee (MVP or others), must have made a major impact and contribution towards basketball.

The criteria seems fair. But some are questioning the selection process. It appears that the panel (back in Dec. when the names were released) did not consult a wide range of experts and did not meet at length and on several occasions.

For now, the Top 40 list is out and nobody can reverse the names. (Jayson Castro, the youngest recipient, offered the best response: he buried eight treys and scored 27 the night after the awarding.)

My take? The PBA should have been more patient and waited for the Golden Anniversary. To this, I urge you to read “Lessons for the PBA’s 50th” by Bill Velasco.

Serena Williams

I consider myself lucky. Three times I watched Serena Williams in person, three times she won gold. I’ll never forget the first time. We visited New York and Serena, then 17, won her first Grand Slam singles title. She triumphed in style, beating former major winners Kim Clijsters, Conchita Martinez, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and in the final — which I watched with my dad Bunny and the late Kits Borromeo and his son (and one of my best friends) Fabby — we saw Serena beat Martina Hingis to become only the second African-American female netter to win a major since Althea Gibson in 1958.

That US Open was Serena’s first major. She and her older sister Venus would also win the doubles crown in Flushing Meadows. That was 16 years ago.

Today, she has amassed a cabinet-full of hardware. In singles, she owns six Australian Open trophies, two at the French Open, six at the US Open and five Wimbledon crowns. That’s a total of 19. (By comparison, the men’s leader, Roger Federer, has 17.) In doubles, she has 13; in mixed doubles, she owns two. Her total runs to 34 Grand Slam titles. Yet, as plenty as those accolades are, Serena only ranks seventh in the all-time list of major winners. The top spot belongs to Margaret Court who, back in the 1960s, collected 64 major crowns!

Why this talk on Serena? Because, at the age of 33, she is still as fresh as a high school teenager, excited about competing. Last Sunday, she won the Miami Open, clobbering her final opponent Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-2, 6-0.

Compared to the likes of Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, Serena is not your typical tennis player — physique-wise. Many of the top players are super slim. They possess long legs that are perfect for the sprints needed for tennis.

Serena is huge. Her legs are massive; so is her upper body and, if you look at her “behind,” they, too, are huge. Serena’s vital statistics are 36D-28-40. For me, the most interesting number is the middle: 28. As hulky as she is, her waistline is miniscule. (By comparison, the vital statistics of Maria Sharapova, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 130 lbs., are 34-24-36.)

Nobody is as brawny and heavy-duty as Serena. Does this slow her down? Hardly. Her strengths are two-fold: physical and mental. With those biceps as big as Rafael Nadal’s, she’s able to whip those shots with ferocity. But her strongest weapon is her brain. I saw this at the Beijing Olympics when she and Venus won the doubles gold.

Her mental fortitude was most evident last October during the WTA Championships in Singapore. In one of her round-robin matches, she was humiliated by Simona Halep, losing 6-0, 6-2. I watched that game and it was perplexing. Here was one of tennis’ all-time greats being schooled. That mishap would have devastated others. Minutes after the loss, Serena enters the press conference room. I was seated 15 feet away. Was she crying or in depression? She was disappointed, obviously, but she still retained that smile. I will get better, she told the assembled media. True to her word, in the days that ensued she never lost and soon pocketed her fifth year-ending trophy.

Given how she’s dominated the women, talks have spread of her doing today’s version of “The Battle of the Sexes.” Back in 1973, Billie Jean King battled Bobby Riggs for a $100,000 winner-take-all prize. The loud mouth Riggs, then 55 years old, claimed that he can handily defeat King, 26 years his junior. Billie Jean won, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Can Serena beat, say, a long-retired Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras? I don’t think so. But it would be fun and would generate tremendous publicity, especially for the women’s game.

Is Serena one of the greatest ever? No doubt. She would rank among the Top 5, alongside Margaret Court, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.

On prize money, she ranks No.1 as the female player who’s pocketed the most ever: around $66 million. That’s billions of pesos — and about the same amount Pacman will earn in 36 quick minutes.