Monthly Archives: May 2016

Sweep 16 for the Cavs and LeBron?

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(Photo by Tony Dejak/AP)

Like Boston and LA, or Crispa versus Toyota, or the Red Sox against the Yankees in baseball, or La Salle-Ateneo, or the Spanish neighbors Barcelona and Real Madrid — we all crave for rivalries.

Are we en route to seeing another mega-clash when Cleveland meets Golden State in The Finals starting June 2? Yes. While the Game 1 shocker of OKC was an aberration that will be corrected this week, all hopes and bets point to a repeat of last year’s final.

Here’s the interesting narrative: While Golden State shattered the record of Michael Jordan & Co. by winning 73 this regular season, it’s not them but Cleveland who’s been spotless in the playoffs.

Ten-oh. Will be it 11-0 this morning when the super-confident Cavs play in Canada? I wouldn’t bet my dog Bolt against it.  All season long, we doubted the Cavs. Kyrie Irving was absent for the first 23 games, recovering from a fractured kneecap. They fired David Blatt in January — and it’s never a good omen when you terminate a head coach midway through the intramurals.

It turns out — possibly like our political scene — that change is good. Since Tyronn Lue assumed the coaching honors, the team from Ohio has become, like the Olympic motto… faster, higher, stronger. They’re obliterating the East with a winning margin of 13.4 points per game. Their 10-zero record is the third-longest ever to begin the playoffs.

One major reason, scribes have written, was because in the beginning of his stint, Lue confronted LeBron James to “STFU.” If you don’t know what that means, experiment with an expletive-laden line that begins with “Shut the…” The coach meant to set the tone early with the 4-time MVP, as if to tell him, “Hey, ‘Bron, you may be the orchestra’s star violinist, but I’m the conductor.”

With Kevin Love healthy and Kyrie’s injuries healed, the Cavaliers have transformed themselves not only as challengers but as true title-holder contenders (the latest odds by pollster Nate Silver still puts GSW on top with a 44 percent chance of winning the trophy against 30% for the Cavs).

Now 10-0, can the Cavs go all the way and win 16-0? There’s a funny story of how LeBron’s “prediction” is coming true. Six weeks ago, he was asked by ESPN if the Cavs are ready to do battle for 20 to 25 games in the playoffs.

LeBron turned to his seatmate.

“Tristan (Thompson), how many games do we need to win in the playoffs to win a championship?” James asked.

“Sixteen,” Thompson said.

“Exactly,” James told the reporter. “Sixteen.”

Ha-ha. Almost impossible to “Sweep 16” but it’s not improbable. (Just a far-fetched thought: If they win their next six, they’ll steal this record-breaking season from GSW. The best-ever playoff run belongs to the 2001 Lakers who went 15-1.)

The main question amidst all these queries is this: Can Stephen Curry stay healthy?

Everybody but the Ohioans hope so. It would be a pity if he’s hobbled and not 111 percent. Thus far, Curry has missed six of 12 playoff games. And, if the ankle injury and the MCL sprain weren’t enough, he jumped into the stands in Game 2 against OKC that resulted in a “tennis ball” knot on his right arm. Ouch.

SC’s painful response? He inflicted pain on OKC; the league’s first unanimous MVP scoring 15 points in two minutes. Curry has to stay healthy. In the same way that LeBron went solo 12 months ago when he dribbled without Love and Irving, the same thing can’t happen to GSW. To fans of both squads, the perfect scenario would be having both teams injury-free in the finals.

(If you think I’m getting ahead of myself by discounting the Thunder, yes, that’s what I’m predicting. Based on the most forecaster Nate Silver, the Warriors have a 59 percent chance of advancing to the NBA Finals.)

Back to our assumption… A Warriors-Cavaliers finale will be one of the most exciting sporting events (not limited to the NBA) this decade. With no offense meant to OKC, I hope Durant and Westbrook don’t silence Golden State’s thunder.

Will President Duterte be active in sports?

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I hope so. I think so. While the realm of sports would not even land in the Top 40 urgent things to do for our nation’s new leader, sport is important. It motivates a nation. It inspires us. It moves us — just like the Olympic motto — to go higher, faster, stronger. Are we going to witness a sports boom with the new administration?

“Mayor Duterte has always been a supporter of sports,” said his spokesman Pete Laviña. “You can expect him to be behind our athletes and their needs.”

The planet’s biggest sporting event arrives just a few months after Pres. Duterte moves to Malacañang. It’s the Rio Olympics and we hope to send a sizable contingent to Brazil.

One man that is crucial for Phil. sports is one of Duterte’s closest allies. He’s William “Butch” Ramirez. Does the name sound familiar? If you’ve followed the back sports pages, you’ve read his name before. He’s the former chairman of the nation’s highest sporting body: the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC). From 2005 to 2009, under Pres. GMA, the tall and big man from Mindanao lorded over Phil. sports.

Ramirez hails from Davao and was instrumental in developing and uplifting sports in the city where Duterte stood as mayor for 22 years. In the recent elections, Ramirez was a key figure in the campaign of president-elect Digong.

Fellow writer and good friend Bill Velasco published a thorough article yesterday in the Phil. Star (“Strong sports under Duterte”). Bill expressed optimism with the new leadership.

“Duterte’s team alone is bursting with sportsmen.” wrote Bill. Apart from Butch Ramirez, he cited the former North Cotabato governor and boxing promoter Manny Piñol as one of those sports enthusiasts who backed Duterte.

“Other sportsmen with a range as diverse as a former chief executive, golf patrons, all the way down to past Ateneo Blue Eagles like Jobe Nkemakolam (a Duterte congressional candidate) each contributed mightily to the campaign in various capacities,” added Mr. Velasco. “And of course, Duterte’s running mate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano is well known as a basketball enthusiast, and has supported other sports such as arnis at various stages of his political career. As you can see, his government will be loaded with heavy hitters from all fields of sports.”

In the legislative side, there are plenty who play and promote sports.

“At least six of the 12 incoming senators have a strong sports bent,” wrote Bill Velasco. He named Dick Gordon, who was a cheerleader in college and who promoted the idea of sports tourism when he was tourism head.

“Finishing sixth in the voting just behind Gordon is arnis patron Miguel Zubiri,” said Velasco. “Zubiri spent nine years as a congressman and senator refining and pushing the Arnis Law which was enacted by Pres. Gloria Arroyo at the end of 2010. The law rightfully made arnis the official sport and martial art of the country, and required that it be taught in all schools nationwide. One provision even mandates the changing of the PSC logo to symbolize arnis.”

Joel Villanueva was cited as being a former basketball player for UST. And, in congress, one of the key Party List winners was 1PACMAN. It is headed by Mikee Romero, the 45-year-old owner of the GlobalPort Batang Pier PBA team. Romero himself is a champion polo player.

And, of course, the most well-known Pinoy of them all, Manny Pacquiao. Now that he’s in the 24-person team of senators, expect him to stand out by focusing on sports. 

Back to the man at the very top — Pres. Digong — in an interview last February (by Snow Badua of Spin.ph), he bared a radical and consequential idea: “I-se-separate ko ‘yan. Parang dati na Department of Education, Culture and Sports, pero I am inclined to create another authority. I want sports and sports only sa opisina na yun.”

Department of Sports? Yes. Hopefully.

“Sports is something that will build the muscle of the nation,” he added. “Sports (instills) discipline. It’s part of growing a paradigm for young women or real men.”

Can Novak topple Rafa on clay?

For tennis fans, you can’t be more excited: Novak Djokovic is the undisputed world no. 1 but, when the game shifts to the slow and dusty surface, the greatest slugger in history is Rafael Nadal.

Who will triumph in their tussle this May? Three giant tournaments loom. First, this week, the smashes will boomerang at the Spanish capital and the 29-year-old Spaniard will try to stockpile his fifth Madrid Open trophy while the Serb will attempt to collect his second (after winning in 2011).

After Madrid they hop on a plane for the 2.5-hour ride to Rome for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia (Italian Open). Then, after these twin ATP 1000 events, all netters converge in the only Grand Slam sortie disputed on clay: the French Open.

Madrid. Rome. Paris. Ahhh, three enchanting cities.

Last year, together with Jasmin and Jana, I was fortunate to have visited Rome and Paris. While the schedule did not permit us to watch Italy’s biggest tennis party at the famed Foro Italico, we were blessed to have attended a service at St. Peter’s Square with His Holiness Pope Francis.

All over Europe, you see clay courts. Unlike in America where hard courts are predominant, it’s the dirty, sluggish, slippery and red-colored flooring that’s common in that continent.

At the French Open last year, Jana, Jasmin and I chuckled like small kids entering Disneyland. Stade Roland Garros, built in 1928, is the name of the 8.5-hectare complex that houses 20 courts, including its center stage, Court Philippe Chatrier.

We visited in the early rounds and got to see all the big names. The venue is not as humongous as the U.S. Open site in New York and you can trek from side courts to the bigger stadiums in a minute or two. This year, the French Open begins its two-week-long journey on May 22.

Question: Rafa or Novak? Their rivalry is the most prolific of any two players; they’ve challenged each other 48 times with Novak leading 25-23. In terms of Grand Slam trophies won, the Spaniard beats the Serb, 14 to 11. But when we tally their respective reigns as world no. 1, it’s Novak who leads, 193 weeks (and counting) versus 141 weeks for Rafa.

At Roland Garros, here’s where it gets interesting. Nadal has won this title a preposterous nine times (beginning in 2005 when he first joined it) while Djokovic has zero.

The 28-year-old right-hander from Belgrade who stands 6-foot-2 reached the finals in 2012 and 2014 but lost both times to Nadal. Last year, after he easily dispatched of Nadal in straight sets in the quarters, he was heavily-favored to beat Stanislas Wawrinka but lost to the Swiss in the final. That painful letdown was Djokovic’s only loss in all the Grand Slam tournaments in 2015. Which means he could have won the calendar Grand Slam (all four majors in one year) had he won RG.

That was last year. This 2016, Rafa is off to a terrific start, winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Of their expected showdown, Rafa says, “I just follow my path and I think that Djokovic follows his. I do the best to be at my top level, and I think I’m getting closer to it. I’m trying to manage it. For the moment, I’m happy with my level.”

In Madrid this week, the two won’t get to meet until they subdue all tormentors and reach the finals.

“I think Rafa is everybody’s main rival on clay courts because of his history on this surface and the results that he’s had throughout his career,” admits Djokovic. “This year, he’s already showing a much higher quality of tennis… He’s definitely the player to beat.”

Down-playing expectations. That’s a common tactic of players so they don’t add extra pressure.

My prediction? First, I’d want nothing more than multiple Rafa-Novak finals these next few weeks. And as big of a Rafa fan as I am (like Atty. Frank Malilong), I’d have to put my bet on Djokovic. He’s beaten Rafa in their last six matches (and 11 of the last 12) and he’s never won there — which makes him extremely hungry for that first Parisian croissant.

The S in SM can stand for Sports

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(Photo by Tony Pionilla/Manila Bulletin)

Did you read the news in the national papers? The SM Group plans to build a major structure in Calamba, Laguna. No, it’s not the Sy family’s usual business. It’s not a mall, cinema or grocery.

It’s a sports academy. Yes, the first of its kind in the country and SM is investing P1 billion to build a sprawling campus on a four hectare property.

I’ve had a chance on a few occasions to meet Hans Sy. He’s the fourth of six children of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Sy, who head the country’s richest family with an estimated net worth of over $14 billion.

I’ve seen Hans Sy on multiple occasions during SM mall openings in Cebu and Iloilo. I saw him in a different setting last February. It was the final weekend of the UAAP competition for tennis. My daughter Jana, representing Ateneo, was part of the collegiate meet.

The venue was the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center and Mr. Sy was invited to witness the championship matches of his family-owned National University (NU).

Since the Sy family bought majority ownership of NU in 2008, they have invested heavily in sports development. This focus has resulted into NU (founded in 1900) being a sports powerhouse. 

In basketball, the NU Bulldogs won the UAAP crown in 2014, besting FEU in its first championship in 60 years. In volleyball, the men’s squad won back-to-back trophies in 2013 and 2014. In cheerdance, they’re the three-time champions.

Tennis? The same golden result. Three months ago when Hans Sy watched, he witnessed the NU tennisters win the women’s and men’s crowns — the third straight year that NU won the two UAAP tennis divisions. The NU men’s netters were so dominant that they won their 44th straight tie — the second longest in UAAP history behind Adamson University’s 72-game winning streak in volleyball.

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Hans Sy did not stay for a mere 30 minutes. He stayed for over three hours the entire Saturday morning, clapping when the Patrominio sisters collected their singles wins and cheering for Leander Lazaro’s MVP performance. Mr. Sy joined both teams inside the tennis rectangle during the awarding.

Smiling, proud, and holding aloft the trophies, Mr. Sy has grown to enjoy taste of sports victory.

You see, the Sy family are major players not only in business but in sports. For where can we find the only ice skating rinks in the country but in SM, including our very own SM Seaside City.

Sports stadium? The country’s best today — the 16,000-seater SM MOA Arena — has hosted top international exhibitions like the UFC (Edgar vs. Faber), FIBA Asia Championships, the Intl. Premier Tennis League (Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal), among many others.

And, of course, here in Cebu, there’s the road race everyone looks forward to: the SM2SM Run. Plus, the entire Vis-Min is looking forward to the construction of the SM Seaside Arena. Finally, we will have a world-class facility to precede the 1962-founded Cebu Coliseum.

Back to that P1 billion investment in sports that’s soon to rise, here’s what Hans Sy had to say a few days ago in a press conference (from an article in The Standard written by Darwin Amojelar): “The whole study is there already. We are starting to get architects to finalize. We have foreign consultants. We want to have it international standards. In fact if we can invite even an NBA team to come over to have a training program here so we can make sure all the facilities are there.”

At first, the facilities will be for volleyball and basketball.

“I think tennis is there, too,” he said. “It comes in stages. But it’s just not really going to be sports itself. That we felt that is something we should go into because of course, we want to have sports development but at the same time, (care) about these athletes. What happens to them after their prime years. We want to be able to give them certain education.”

In behalf of the sports community, kudos to Hans and the Sy family.