Category Archives: Basketball

3×3 Basketball

Kobe Paras, Jeron Teng, J. R. Quiñahan. Kiefer Ravena. They comprise our Philippine squad for the 3-on-3 World Championships in Nantes, France.

What’s 3×3? It’s fast. It’s quick shooting and rebounding. It’s a half-court game played in 10 minutes with the first team to score 21 points the winners.

In our first game against Romania, Team PHI won, 21-15. Our best player? The 6-foot-6 son of Benjie Paras who’s the namesake of Mr. Bryant. Kobe Paras is good. He’s tall. He can shoot from beyond the 2-point line. He can dribble behind-the-back and sprint towards the goal for a layup. 

Thanks to YouTube, you can watch all the basketball action. In Game 2, we faced the host nation France. While we competed strongly in the early minutes, our defense was weak and it allowed the tall Frenchmen to score uncontested shots. They were also terrific from beyond the arc. The final score? An easy 22-11 victory for the hosts.

Next, we play Slovenia. Seeded No. 2, they’re strong. And it’s a must-win scenario for us because only the top two teams in Group B (of five teams) advance. France and Slovenia are the favorites. (After Slovenia, we play El Salvador.)

This sport is gaining popularity, thanks to this announcement: 3-on-3 will be a new sport in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. This is an outstanding decision by the IOC. Not only is basketball one of the planet’s most followed of games, but 3-on-3 is exciting. I’m 101 percent sure that it will be one of the most popular events when the Olympics begin in July 24, 2020.

Are professionals allowed? Absolutely. Can you imagine if the U.S. will pick its best to join? I did a little online research and some have suggested this team: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant. (As to why there are four players, there’s a substitute: three on the court and one on the bench.) Can you imagine these four playing in Tokyo?

“Your ideal 3-on-3 player is really a guard-skilled big,” said Troy Justice, the NBA’s senior director of international basketball. “Kevin Durant would translate very well. A 3-point shot is worth two points, and inside the arc is worth one point. So the teams I’ve watched — I’ve done a lot of scouting globally with 3-on-3 and watched some of the best players and teams and the strategies they implement. It’s a lot of 3-point shooting and getting to the rim. The one other thing you need is a good rim protector, a strong big that can rebound and defend. Then you need three knock-down great shooters. But because there’s so much space on the floor, everyone needs to have the ability to put the ball on floor and create their own shot.”

Matt Santangelo, the executive director of Hoopfest, the world’s biggest 3-on-3 event, added: “The game of 3-on-3 basketball is all about spacing, passing angles, screening, motion without the ball and strategy, because you’re in such a confined space. Each player in 3-on-3 needs to have a hybrid skill set, because everyone has to do everything—score, rebound and pass.”

Another thrilling announcement is the news of the 2018 FIBA 3×3 World Cup hosting. It will be in Manila! No venue selected yet but it will be held in May 2018. Like the WC in France now, there will be 20 teams each for the men and women and there will be individual events that will include a men’s dunk contest, a women’s skills event and a mixed shoot-out.

This is a triple celebration: We get to watch the WC now (on YouTube); Manila hosts next year; and it’s an official Olympic event this 2020.

Green and blue clash in UAAP 79

No rivalry in Philippine sports rivals the confrontation between La Salle and Ateneo.

In academics, they wage mental warfare. In business, one school brags that Danding Cojuangco started kindergarted in 1940 and finished high school in a green-colored campus; the other school boasts of Manny Pangilinan graduating cum laude (Economics). In the halls of power, Michael Dino and Bong Go finished management courses from DLSU while Carlos Dominguez III and Silvestre Bello III received diplomas whose leather covers are colored blue. But above all, the tug-of-war is best exemplified in the arena called sports.

Yesterday at 3:30 p.m., the dream finale that both campuses envisioned became real. (I did not have time to write this piece chronicling Game 1 but will focus on their history.)

The first La Salle-Ateneo skirmish happened in 1939. In the final of the NCAA men’s championship, La Salle won, 27-23. Yes, no wrong typing there; the score in that contest 77 years ago was that low. Since then, the duel has flourished.

Since 1939, the two schools have taken turns winning. The next time they met in the NCAA finals was in 1958; on this occasion, the game was high scoring (105-103) with Ateneo claiming victory. In 1974 (the last time they’ll meet in the NCAA Finals), it was La Salle’s turn, 90-80.

When the battle shifted to the UAAP, they met four times in the championship. In 1988, ADMU bested DLSU in only one game because they held the twice-to-beat advantage. Three years later, La Salle recovered the trophy, winning the Game 3 decider, 93-88. The following year (2002), it was another third-game thriller but with Ateneo victorious, 77-70. And finally, in 2008, it was a clean two-game sweep as the Chris Tiu-led Blue Eagles (with Rabeh Al-Hissaini, Nonoy Baclao and Ryan Buenafe) won with Norman Black as head coach. It would be the start of an incredible five-year winning streak for the Blue Eagles.

The next year, in 2013, who would dethrone the champs to claim bragging rights? Who else but the Green Archers. In all, both squads have won eight UAAP men’s collegiate basketball crowns. How closer can this rivalry get?

With the 2016 season, La Salle dominated. Led by the MVP (and former Cebu cager) Ben Mbala, the green team were unbeatable. In the first round, they not only demolished all their opponents but embarrassed the blue squad, 97-81. That was in Oct. 2. Then, it looked like La Salle was en route to a clean sweep of the eliminations… before one team slapped their daydream and woke them up. It was, of course, Ateneo who scored the lone upset (83-71).

Who’s favored to win the trophy? Ateneo has the momentum. They won the last time they met and have won their last six elimination games and, including the escape over FEU last Wednesday, they’ve won six of their last seven. Plus, maybe the Archers are rusty after a 10-day gap before yesterday’s Game 1.

La Salle? Heavy favorites. Prior to the Final Four, they finished with a 13-1 slate. Ben Mbala is unstoppable, playing with these regular-season averages: 20.6 PPG, 16 RPG and 2.4 BPG — all first in the league. When you study the team statistics, La Salle leads in all but one of the nine departments, including points per game (88.1 average) and rebounds (52.3 per game).

My pick? It’s hard to bet against the university located along Taft Avenue. Plus, I’m biased. I studied eight years in La Salle Bacolod and suited the green jersey as we won the city-wide elementary title. Also, my uncle Rey Pages, my dad’s younger brother, played for the Green Archers in the 1970s before he turned pro with Crispa and Utex.

My head (analysis) and history (past schooling) go with La Salle. But times have changed… since our only child Jana Marie has enrolled in the campus along Katipunan Avenue, my green mind has turned blue-blooded.

A tall order, Gilas falls short

Gilas-vs-Japan-October-2-2015-2

(Fiba.com)

To win gold, we knew what we had to do: Play near-perfect basketball. And for the first four minutes last Saturday night, we performed like we did against Iran.

Jayson Castro scored two in the 50th second. Dondon Hontiveros unleashed an intercontinental ballistic missile against Beijing that detonated in Changsa. We were up 5-0 after 90 seconds. Then, after an avengeful three from Y. Ding, our Gabe Norwood uncorked a jumper to move us forward, 7-3. Back to back threes from both squads advanced the score. We led 10-6. Then, 12-10. And after Norwood converted on a surprising three-pointer, our beloved Pilipinas, after 3:58 elapsed in the game, commanded a 15-10 lead!

Was it going to be this easy? Were we flying to Rio de Janeiro, our first Olympic trek since the 1972 days of Bogs Adornado and Manny Paner? As “prize,” were we going to claim the Spratly Islands?

Too bad, our luck evaporated. The Chinese accelerated on 12 unanswered points. Within minutes, our advantage disappeared and, by the end of the first quarter, we trailed 23-19. We would never draw closer — trailing by as much as 16 before the final score, 78-67.

What happened? Simple. Had we played like we played in those first 3:58 minutes, we’d have claimed victory. That was the only path. Our 31st-ranked Philippines battling the world’s 14th-ranked nation, our average old age (31) versus China’s youthful average of 24, our height disadvantage, with the Chinese averaging 6-foot-8 — the only way to beat the world’s most populous nation (our 100 million-strong population versus their 1.3 billion) was to play like we did in those first 238 seconds.

We did not. We couldn’t sustain it. Here’s the most telling statistic: Castro scored five quick points after the game’s first two and a half minutes. You know how many more he scored in the rest of the game? Three. In all, Castro attempted 14 times and converted only thrice for a lowly 21.4% clip. There’s no way we’re going to win if Asia’s best point guard scores a measly eight points.

And we blame poor officiating for the loss? Come on, guys. We lost because we played perfectly for four minutes and subpar and unsatisfactorily for the next 36.

Here’s another disappointing statistic: our free throw percentage. In one stretch, Calvin Abueva missed four in a row and five out of six. In those moments when no seven-footer is fronting us, we miss. In all, we missed nine free throws while making 15. (Reminds me of the three straight free throw misses of Kiefer Ravena in last Sunday’s Ateneo loss to La Salle.)

Overall, our field goal percentages were lowly: We shot 6-of-24 from three point range (25 percent) and 23-of-65 total for a 35.4% field goal percentage.

Why such a terrible outing — possibly our worst showing apart from that loss to Palestine — on the tournament’s most important game?

I’ll answer this query based on my experience as a tennis player. There are moments when, faced with a weak opponent, I’m scoring winners and playing like Roger Federer. But when up against, for example, a Johnny Arcilla, I may look like a beginner, losing 6-0.

My point? It depends on the opponent. And the Chinese were unstoppable. First, their height. They possessed double twin towers: two 7-footers in Yi and Wang while Zhou stood at 7’1” and Li at 7’2”. When those long legs jump and those long arms outstretch, to a 6-footer like Terrence Romeo, they look like a forest packed with giant Sequoia trees.

Andray Blatche, standing 6’11”, soared tall against the likes of Japan and Lebanon. He received the ball at the top of the key; he’d back up, cross-dribble, turn and sprint towards the goal for an uncontested two. In previous games, he dominated with his height. Not against China, where he was intimidated to penetrate, getting blocked by gangly Chinese arms.

Our one-two punch consisting of Castro and Blatche inflicted only jabs instead of uppercuts. They scored a combined 25 points (compared to 44 against Iran). Not good enough. Good enough for silver — but not gold.

Gilas defeats Iran’s ‘Great Wall in China’

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(Photos from Rappler.com)

It wasn’t The Finals. It wasn’t a win in China that will transport us to Brazil. It wasn’t even the quarterfinals. It wasn’t an Olympic berth to propel Dondon to face LeBron.

It was historic. It was a game that was unexpected and shocking; a 14-point rout that should have favored the Middle Eastern squad.

Prior to yesterday, Iran had annihilated its enemies. In its first game against Japan, they embarrassed our neighbors up north, 86-48. That’s a 28 point spread. In Game 2, they decimated India by 22 points. In their third outing, they slaughtered the Malaysians by 80 points: 122-42. And last Sunday, the Iranians obliterated Hong Kong, 111-56.

In all, Iran defeated their opponents by an average of 46 points. Can you believe that disparity and dominance?

Gilas Pilipinas? We wobbled. The other afternoon, I watched the game when Gilas played Japan. We nearly faltered. The game was a seesaw. Andray Blatche limped. We escaped with a seven point victory.

Scary. Sloppy. Shaky. And, of course, who could forget our first game against Palestine? Fully charged with the Cebu training camp, we trembled, losing a shocker, 73-75.

This was the premise: Iran was undefeated in four games, averaging a 46-point margin per jaunt, while we, Pilipinas, though sporting a 3-1 count, quivered and appeared wobbly.

Take Mr. Blatche, the former Brooklyn Nets center. Against Japan, we saw how his right ankle twisted. He hopped on one leg, grimaced, and asked to be excused. Minutes later, he returned with the same result: he stumbled and carried all of his 260 lbs. weight on one leg.

Eighteen hours later, forgetting the injury that caused him to appear debilitated, he faced the Iranians, his 6-foot-11 frame shoving and elbowing the 7-foot-2 giant named Hamed Haddadi. Blatched scored 18, pulled down seven rebounds, blocked two shots and stole the ball four times! It was a clash between goliaths and the Am-Fil quashed the bearded Iranian.

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Speaking of Haddadi (or, as his official name says, Ehadadi), I call him Iran’s “Great Wall in China.” He’s an inch taller than Shaq, weighs 265 lbs. and was formerly with the Phoenix Suns.

Three Augusts ago inside the MOA Arena during the 2013 FIBA Championships, I saw him play. He’s not only tall and imposing, he’s herculean. His mere presence underneath the goal sends tremors to the invaders.

Yesterday after lunch, I caught the Gilas-Iran game at its best moment. There were five minutes left in the 3rd quarter and we trailed by two. Wow, I told myself, this is close. We have a chance.

Next thing I realized, we squared the game at 52-all. Cebu’s hotshot, Mr. “Cebu Gems” Hontiveros, buries a long-distance trey to move us ahead. Terrence Romeo, whom I call a spitfire, was too quick a Pinoy cat to be caught. In about a minute’s time, he scored two three pionters and a two-pointer. Dumbfounded and alarmed, the Iranians panicked. They attempted to retaliate with their own three-pointers. They missed. They turned the ball over multiple times. By the end of the third, the improbable was turning possible: we led, 65-60.

Good thing we did not experience a collapse like we did against Palestine, when we squandered a 12 point lead to lose by two.

Not this time. Not when history was dribbling inside the excitable heartbeats of Jason Castro, who topscored with 26. Not when Raniel de Ocampo pulled down 10 rebounds; when Romeo shot 3 out of 5 from three-point range.

Our lead extended in the fourth. The whisper “Hopefully, we can” transcended into “Maybe we can do it” before being trumpted as “Yes, we’ll definitely beat Iran.”

It was a definitive win. Fourteen points against the defending champs is large. If this were a punctuation mark, it was an exclamation point, as if to say… Take that, Iran!!!

But, wait, we may have won the battle but the war’s not over yet. Today, we’ll beat India but what beckons are the three most important games, in the quarters, semis and finals, possibly against Korea, China and, again, Iran.

Go, Gilas!

Stephen Curry and Zack LaVine

I missed yesterday’s NBA All-Star Game but I did get to see two of the most exciting moments of last weekend: The Three-Point Shootout and the Slam Dunk Contest. Both were shown last Sunday morning.

Prior to the twin thrills, the Shooting Stars Competition started the night at the Brooklyn Nets’ stadium (Barclays Center). A trio composed of a WNBA player, a veteran, and an active player completed the tandem. Chris Bosh joined Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash (nice name) to cash-in on their third year-in-a-row victory.

The Taco Bell Skills Challenge was up next. Sprinting, passing, flicking a lay-up and scoring a three-pointer were the skills needed. Patrick Beverley won. These were the warm-up events.

With an equally star-studded audience that included John McEnroe (who sat beside Spike Lee) and Rihanna (two seats from Floyd Mayweather, Jr.), the Saturday edition of the All-Star Weekend was starting to get very exciting.

I watched at home. Charlie, my brother whom I played basketball with in all our elementary and high school days, arrived just in time to watch the next two episodes.

We witnessed what was termed by the host as “possibly the best field of three-pointers” in the history of the 3-point contest. I won’t delve into the shot by shot account of what transpired but the scores posted in the elimination round were sky-high: Klay Thompson scored 24 with Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving posting identical 23s.

In the Final Round, “Spicy Curry” was too hot, scoring 27 points, the highest ever recorded in the Three-Point Contest. (The previous record of 25 belonged to Jason Kapono. Although it was only last year that a new rule was introduced — increasing the perfect score from 30 to 34 — where one rack was filled with all ‘money balls.’)

Curry’s amazing long-range bombs included shooting 13 straight shots (too bad he missed that very last one). Imagine making 13 in a row (out of 25). That record beat Larry Bird’s 11 (done in 1986) and was bested only by Craig Hodges, who made an improbable 19 consecutive shots in 1991.

The leading vote-getter in the NBA All-Star Game, beating LeBron James, it’s obvious that Stephen Curry is a global superstar athlete. Standing only 6-foot-3, he’s not only a sharp-shooter possessing that charismatic smile, he’s also universally well-liked, having won the 2011 NBA Sportsmanship Award.

MVP? If the Warriors continue to shine like the Golden State Bridge, he’s going to be locked-in for a close fight with LeBron. (The two share one more thing in common: they’re born in Akron, Ohio.)

Did you see the photo of Stephen as a little kid seated beside his father, Dell (the former NBA player), smiling and giving his dad a high-five? That’s an iconic picture.

Next attraction was the Slam Dunk Contest. While the previous years did not provide much fireworks, this year was different: Zack LaVine was the anointed one. Still a teenager who won’t turn 20 until March 10, the 6-foot-5 son of a professional football player (dad) and softball player (his mom), he was destined to dunk. At the age of five, he watched Space Jam and dreamt of himself flying like Michael Jordan.

Three nights ago, the reel story became real. Stepping out of the lighted dungeon as he was introduced, you won’t believe the shirt he unveiled to perform his first dunk: a “23” jersey with the name “Jordan.” Talk about guts and confidence! When you wear such an attire, either you’ll be derided as an embarrassing teenager or celebrated as a high-flying modern-day MJ.

Slam! His first dunk was incredible. He throws the ball up on air, picks it up with his left hand, inserts it between his legs, and slams it down. 50! He scored all 10s with the five judges. In dunk number two, he throws another lob then flies to twirl the ball behind his back before jamming that ball on his way down to earth. Another 50!

Zack’s idol is Kobe Bryant. That’s fitting because he’s the second-youngest slam dunk champion (after KB).

Watching the New York Knicks

NEW YORK — This is my third trip to the U.S. The first time, back in 1993 and together with the whole Pages family, we stayed in the West Coast. Then, we got to watch two MLB baseball games. The first was between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers (we saw Mike Piazza score a homerun). In the second game, the Oakland A’s played the Toronto Blue Jays (amazingly, I caught a ball in that game).

In my next trip here, my dad Bunny and I spent three weeks in NYC to watch the US Open. We witnessed Serena Williams win her first major and Andre Agassi win his second Open trophy.

For this trip, I made sure to watch two other sports. The first one, which I chronicled last week, was American football. In that Dec. 14 game, the New York Giants defeated the Washington Redskins at home (MetLife Stadium), 24-13. With my good buddy Ping-J Villegas, who’s resided in the Big Apple for over 17 years, we watched the outdoor game together with 70,000 others in cold 4C temperature. It was an unforgettably festive, beer-drinking, and loud atmosphere. It was very American.

Two nights after watching the NFL, I watched another kind of ballgame. Months before our trip, I purchased online tickets for the New York Knicks vs. Dallas Mavericks game.

Choosing between two teams here in NYC — the Knicks or the Brooklyn Nets — the choice was easy: the NY Knicks are one of the most iconic of NBA teams. And the venue (Madison Square Garden or MSG) is revered among the world’s indoor arenas.

And so last week — Tuesday night, Dec. 16 — my wife Jasmin, daughter Jana and I took the famous New York subway from Wall Street to Penn Station, a few blocks from MSG.

But before that, some pre-game activities: We toured Bryant Park in Manhattan, took photos of their ice-skating rink; we trekked 5th Avenue and gazed at the Empire State Building and other skyscrapers; and, visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we found out that there was a 12 noon mass. As we sat near the front pew awaiting the start of the holy celebration, a buzz started. Walking right by us was someone we listen to often: Andrea Bocelli. He not only visited but he heard mass with us.

For lunch, we dined at PotBelly Sandwich Shop. After touring the NY Public Library and several other famous spots, we took the open-deck Big Bus hop-on, hop-off bus and got off for our late afternoon destination: the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It’s an amazingly well-done museum but, at the same time, it’s heart-breaking viewing all of those torn steel beams and horrific photos. It’s a must-visit place, the 9/11 site.

The game was to start at 8 p.m. Outside the huge oval coliseum (I wonder why it’s called ‘Square’ when it’s circular-shaped), the Madison Square Garden tagline explains it all: “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”

Neon lights that changed colors decorated the outside walls. As we arrived, hundreds of people had congregated and were lining-up. Security, like in most important venues here, was strict: we had to unload all items, including belts, coins and bag contents. As soon as we showed our tickets, we took several flights of stairs and were handed nice gifts: blue shirts with the Knicks logo. Perfect for Christmas (except for the shirt size: XL).

We followed the parade of people going up until we reached our seats: Row 225. Our tickets were priced at $172 each. These were not front row seats (these would sell for over $400) but they were not all the way at the ceiling. They were mid-range seats down the middle (not the back of the goals).

I wore the free Knicks shirt. Seated beside me was a couple from Brisbane, Australia who were also tourists (lucky them, a few nights before when we had yet to arrive, they watched the Nets-Cavs game when Prince William and Kate sat beside Jay Z and Beyonce).

MSG is historic. Built in 1968, it has hosted concerts of all major artists from Elvis Presley to Depeche Mode to John Lennon’s final concert before his murder. Ali-Frazier (Part I) fought here. More on Tuesday…

PCCL in Cebu

For basketball fans, this is riveting: the National Collegiate Championship — right here in the Queen City of the South.

Eight teams will compete: From Manila, there’s DLSU, FEU, San Beda, Arellano and National University; from Cebu, there are three: UV, SWU and USC.

The Cebu leg will last for five days. Each afternoon starting today until Monday, there will be games at the Cebu Coliseum. The action moves to Manila on Nov. 21 until the championships are played on Nov. 27 at the Ynares Gym. ABS-CBN Sports+Action will air the games live.

Today’s first game between La Salle and SWU will be exciting because this was the same match-up that played in the finals last year. Plus, there’s Ben Mbala, previously under Coach Yayoy Alcoseba but now playing for the green squad.

“Organizing PCCL chairman Rey Gamboa said the Elite Eight will be a first in the league’s 12 years of existence,” wrote Joey Villar in the piece, “Best college teams collide in 2014 PCCL,” for The Phil. Star. “‘This is historic for collegiate basketball in Cebu because the best of Metro Manila will play the best in the South,’ said Gamboa.”

PCCL live. That’s today until Monday, Cebu Coliseum.

For MVP, can Durant dethrone King James?

lebron-james-explains-why-he-is-jealous-of-kevin-durant(Getty Images)

Basketball is not boxing. It’s not one-on-one. It’s five on five. But, for the race for the Most Valuable Player honors in the NBA, there’s a slugfest, mano-a-mano style, going on this 2014. It features two Nike endorsers. One stands 6-foot-9. The other is an inch shorter. One is lean, long-legged and loves shooting three-pointers; the other is Superman-like muscular, solid as a Veco post, and loves dunks that rock Miami.

It’s Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James. Who’ll win the MVP plum? A total of 121 votes will determine the MVP winner. This is decided by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who will cast votes when the NBA Regular Season ends mid-April. So there’s still one month to go… But there’s no doubt that the pick will carry either of two initials: KD or LBJ.

“I think Durant will be MVP this year,” said Greg Slaughter, in our exchange of text messages yesterday. “He has been playing better than he ever has in his career and had time to shine when Westbrook was out. Also, LeBron’s in the same situation when Steve Nash won MVPs and I think they want a new one.” Good points from the PBA’s No.1 vote getter. Added Greg on Cebu… “Can’t wait to go back!”

I also asked Harry Radaza, the basketball-playing councilor of Lapu-Lapu City, and he, too, picks the Oklahoma City forward, saying, “Tough choice. I would go for KD. More consistent and efficient.”

My pick? KD. Nobody this season has played better. Durant scored 42 points yesterday in OKC’s 106-98 victory over the hot Houston Rockets. If my computations are correct, he’s averaging a whopping 31.9 points per game. Add to that 7.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per outing. His field goal percentage is 50.9 percent and he makes 86.9 percent of his free throws. Those are astronomical, MVP-like numbers. Plus, his Oklahoma squad is the No. 2 ranked team in the league today, sporting a 47-17 win-loss record (compared to 44-17 for Miami).

It’s a done deal, right? We might as well award the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, named after the NBA’s first commissioner/president, to Durant The MVP, right? Almost. He’s close. But, like I said, there’s still one month to go before voting and there happens to be a 250-lb. giant, a four-time MVP recipient, who won’t back down and easily hand over the title like an easy assist. LeBron is LeBron is I-Won’t-Give-Up.

Last week, in leading Miami over Charlotte, LeBron scored a personal best 61 points behind these outlandish numbers: he made his first eight 3-point attempts; he scored 25 points in the third quarter; he shot 22-of-33 from the field. This fight isn’t over yet.

Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney said it perfectly: “Every passing week seems to bring new heat to the MVP race, which is shaping up to be a too-close-to-call verdict between LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The two are spiraling around and toward one another in a riveting display of one-upmanship, with a great performance from one motivating the other to similar heights.

“As a result, the balance of the award seems to shift on a weekly basis. If that waffling persists, James and Durant could be closing in on one of the tightest MVP races in recent memory, if not in NBA history.”

For now, though, the stats favor Durant. His 31.9 PPG average compared to James’ 27.0 is a huge gap – that’s almost five points more per game. And – and this is important – the public often wants to celebrate a new face. If KD wins, it will be his first taste of basketball’s highest accolade.

If, however, for some miraculous March and April, the Miami Heat No. 6 pulls off the award, it will be his 5th MVP, with only three others who’ve done the same or better: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the leader with six MVPs) and Bill Russell and Michael Jordan, with five apiece. (Interestingly, Kobe Bryant only has one MVP.)

Silver-silver for golden SWU?

Jeric Teng of DLSU drives against melvin holper of SWU.KC Cruz

(Photo by KC Cruz/GMA Network)

Coach Yayoy was realistic. When you’ve coached basketball for over three decades, you know the odds. He knew the odds did not favor his SWU versus De La Salle Univ.

True enough, in yesterday’s first quarter, SWU scored eight points against the 21 from DLSU. After a 13-all split in the 2nd quarter, it was another blowout in the 3rd: La Salle made 20 points; Southwestern only 11. By the start of the 4th quarter — the time when I arrived home to catch the final minutes — the Green Archers led by 22 points. It was game over by then. It was not until the 4th quarter when SWU played all-out, aggressive and attacking. But it was too late. They cut the lead to nine but it wasn’t enough. Final score: 64-54.

Still, it’s only Game 1. There’s still today’s second encounter — a meeting the Cebuanos hope won’t be the last. If, miraculously, SWU wins to tie the PCCL Finals series, Game 3 is tomorrow.

IF. That’s a big “if” we can steal one game. Actually, we did. In the preliminary rounds, we defeated the same Taft Ave.-based school. Only this time, the UAAP champions were focused and relentless. Even if we lose today, SWU will come home as proud warriors. They’ll stand tall with necks straight-up  — just like a mighty cobra. These Cobras did Cebu proud. Losing finalists in a heart-breaking Cesafi final against UV here at the Cebu Coliseum, this squad was not given a chance to advance in the PCCL.

“We already have a ticket tomorrow morning,” Coach Yayoy said a few days ago, right after they defeated FEU in the semifinals. “I told the boys, we haven’t even arrived yet but they’re already sending us home.”

That’s a witty statement from Provincial Board Member Raul Alcoseba. Sadly, they might be sent home tomorrow if they lose today. Silver in Cesafi; silver in the PCCL? We hope not for the gold-colored Cobras.

Greg Slaughter: Proud to be Cebuano

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Greg towers over Manny Pacquiao as (from left) Raffy Uytiepo, Jun Migallen, John Pages, Jingo Quijano and Raffy Osumo look on during the 2009 Cebu Sports Awards

I spoke to the No. 1 draft pick of the Philippine Basketball Association yesterday. Standing tall at 7-foot-tall, he spoke with soaring confidence.

Greg Slaughter was ecstatic. “I first dreamed of becoming a PBA player in Cebu,” said Greg. “It was in 2004 when I first watched the PBA. It was an All-Star game. From then on, I knew I wanted to be like those guys.”

Right now, Greg is one of those guys. Not just one of them — but THE number one — having been chosen first by Barangay Ginebra San Miguel. “Dream come true,” Greg added.

When we talked, he was inside a gym. Noise rebounded off the background.

“I feel really good,” Greg said. “Very happy with the new team.” I asked Greg if he had met his Ginebra teammates and it turned out that they already had a practice session. Yesterday morning at 9, one of this nation’s most popular teams gathered. For three hours, they practiced. But it wasn’t only a time to do drills; it was a moment to welcome the rookies, especially their prized star, Mr. Slaughter. (The PBA ought to be thankful that our island has produced Twin Towers in Greg and Junemar Fajardo.)

Of his hometown, Greg said, “I hope to be back in Cebu soon. But with the compressed PBA season, it might take sometime. We might play a game in Cebu. Or, if not, in-between the season.”

I asked what he misses most about Cebu and the place where he earned triple-honors (back in 2008, when he led UV to its 8th crown, Greg was the CESAFI season MVP, the All-Star MVP and the Finals MVP — an unprecedented, may-never-be-broken feat).

“Oh man, definitely my family,” said Greg, whose mom, Emma Fuentes, met his dad William here before they moved to Ohio where Greg was born. “I miss them. That’s where my family is, in Cebu.”

Jeremy Lin comes home to Taiwan

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(Photo: Yao Kai-shiou/Taipei Times)

Taichung, TAIWAN — Jasmin and I are in this beautiful, must-visit metropolis of Taichung, the third largest city in Taiwan, next to Taipei and the famous Kaohsiung (bus). Will write more about Taichung in my business column this Thursday. For now, all the commotion here is focused on one celebrity: Jeremy Shu-How Lin.

Last Sunday, it was as if Manny Pacquaio were fighting Mayweather inside MOA Arena. Yes, that’s the hype and pandemonium surrounding the NBA’s first-ever star of Taiwanese descent.

While Jeremy was born and raised in California, his parents grew up in Taiwan before they migrated to the U.S. in the ‘70s. So you can imagine the ruckus and noise in Taipei upon the arrival of their very own son.

After the Houston Rockets defeated the Indiana Pacers at the MOA Arena last Thursday, the two teams flew to Taipei for their second encounter.

Unlike Manila’s, it wasn’t the first time for Taiwan to host an NBA pre-season game. Back in 2009, the Pacers played the Denver Nuggets. But, back then, while basketball was huge in Taiwan, it wasn’t gargantuan huge — as it is today because of someone named Lin.

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GAME. Taichung to Taipei is about 189 kms. in distance (or 58 minutes by the 300kph High Speed Train). I wasn’t able to make the trek to watch the ballgame last Sunday at 1 p.m., but I did get to watch the game (via Chinese commentary) on TV.

At the warm-up, all the TV footages were zeroed-in on their man. Upon the Rockets’ first-five introduction, James Harden was called first… Dwight Howard was second to the last… and, finally: JEREMEEEEE….. LINNNNN! screamed the announcer.

Unusual but necessary in this type of exhibition match at his home country, Jeremy was asked to speak. In Mandarin, he addressed the crowd like a rockstar hero.

Game on! Would you believe, in the first offensive attempt of Houston, guess who receives the ball and jumps to take the shot? And not just an ordinary jumper — but, right at the top of the key, a three-pointer…

Ringless! Jeremy Lin scores a 3! The 13,000 in attendance stand and wave their flags and go hysterical. This can’t be real! It is. As the game progresses, the unbelievable pressure imposed upon Jeremy is matched by his extraordinatry talent.

In one possession, Jeremy goes one-on-one as he escapes from his guard, flies on air and, with a tall defender fronting him, hurls the ball high up on the Taipei air as it floats, hits the backboard and swims inside the ring. In defense, Granger is rushing for a breakaway as Jeremy glides from behind and slams a fascinating block shot.

Another 3-pointer? Sure. This time, several feet behind the arc — he fires the ball and, like a magnet, it’s sucked into the goal. In all, Jeremy finished with 17 points, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 rebounds and that monstrous block shot as Houston won 107-98. Superman drifted inside the Taipei Arena.

PAPERS. The next day (yesterday), as expected, the newspapers here published banner stories on their action hero.

The China Post, Taiwan’s leading English paper, had “‘Linsanity’ comes to Taipei” — not on the back sports pages but on the front page! In another paper, when you flip open the entire spread (think of the front and back pages of SunStar), it reveals a full-color, full-spread photo of their NBA treasure.

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To top it all, you know what movie is being shown in the theaters here? Sure, “Jobs” and “Gravity” are big hits, but one 88-minute biopic is also being broadcasted here.

The movie is about this obscure, frail, too-small-for-the-NBA Chinese player who graduates with a 3.1 grade point average in Harvard (Economics) and goes on sleeping in friends’ rooms because he can’t afford to pay for the hotel. Junked by the NBA, he doesn’t give up his dream of playing alongside Kobe Bryant — he enlists in the D-League. Finally, given one chance, he proves his worth with the New York Knicks, transfers to the H. Rockets and lands in Taipei last weekend to become this nation’s most famous personality.

The movie? Both playing in Taiwan theaters and playing in real life? Linsanity.

p02-130815-a2(Photo: Yao Kai-shiou/Taipei Times)

Perfect 10-10 as NBA rocks Manila

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Anybody who’s somebody will be inside the MOA Arena tonight. How often does it happen? When stars like Paul George and James Harden land in our Southeast Asian nation? When two of this season’s top contenders — Indiana and Houston — will dribble and dunk beside the humongous Mall of Asia?

Ten. Ten. Whatever the outcome, I’m sure, to all who watch, the experience will be an absolute 10. Ticket prices, as expected, are exhorbitant. The most expensive, I heard, go for P51,000. Those are front-row seats. The least expensive, all the way up to the roof, sell for a few thousand. Still overpriced. But with these overpaid superstars here — and you don’t have to travel to America to watch them — then… sulit.

Of all the players, the one I’d like to meet is a non-player: Larry Bird. Who doesn’t admire the 6-foot-9 Boston Celtic who was a 3-time MVP and won for his green team the titles in ‘81, ‘84 and ‘86? I was an LA Lakers and Magic Johnson backer but you’d have to applaud the sweet-shooting jumper of Larry Bird.

He’s here. They’re all here, as part of the first ever NBA Global Games — when a mixed group of teams travel to various cities around the globe. Starting with Istanbul, Turkey last Oct. 5, NBA teams travel for pre-season games to Bilbao, Manchester, Taipei, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing and our very own Manila. They cap the tour when Golden State meets the LA Lakers on Oct. 18 in Shanghai.

The above-mentioned cities are some of the richest on Earth. For Manila to be included in the short line-up means that we truly are basketball crazy. And we are.

“It has blown me away,” Jeremy Lin was quoted in a Phil. Daily Inquirer story yesterday. “The second I got off the airplane until now, everyone had been over the top. I’m definitely feeling the love from the Philippines.”

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As the most famous Asian after Yao Ming to play on the biggest stage, Jeremy Shu-How Lin will surely be the most photographed, especially when his team flies to Taipei for the game there on Sunday. He’s the NBA’s first American-born player of Taiwanese descent.

Another player who professed his fondness for Manila is Dwight Howard. “I’m so excited to be back here in Manila,” Howard was quoted by Joey Villar in The Phil. Star. “I always told people in the years I’ve been in the NBA, one of the best places I’ve been is the Philippines and I think they are the best fans in the world.”

One major reason why the NBA Global Games is in the Philippines is because of Henry Sy. Thanks to his billions of pesos in spending power, he built the MOA Arena. From what I heard, not only did they offer our country as the venue but the Sy family also plunked down tens of millions of pesos for the NBA to play here. Talk about “marketing expense.”

Like what Manny Pangilinan did when the FIBA Asia Championship was held here last August, the Smart/MVP group of companies overspent; this means that, surely, all their expenses cannot be recouped by the gate tickets and sponsors’ money. But never mind. What’s important is that mega-events such as these arrive in Manila.

Same today. SM is willing to spend money (OK, this is just small change for the multi-billionaire) to get it done. For such initiatives, we thank the Sy family and MVP.

Talking about the MOA Arena, I bring back the issue again of this similar complex being built at the South Road Properties (SRP). If I recall the conversation my dad and I had with Ms. Marissa Fernan, SM’s top official outside of Manila, a few months back, it’s confirmed: SM will build a billion-peso Arena at the SRP. While Manila’s is called MOA, ours is more relaxed-sounding, suited perfectly for Cebu: SM Seaside City.

Mayor Mike: Given that no astute businessman will spend for hundreds of millions (if not a billion pesos ++) for such a sports coliseum — even Atty. Gus Go has been hesitant to rehabilitate his Cebu Coliseum — then I guess we just have to apply some patience and do this: Wait for the SM Seaside Arena.

A conversation with June Mar Fajardo

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Fajardo, No. 13, with Gabe Norwood and Jimmy Alapag

I woke him up at 2:43 p.m. yesterday. Kumusta? I asked.

Like a giant awakened from his restful slumber, the voice of the only Cebuano among the one dozen Gilas Pilipinas players was sleepy.

I apologized. “Okay ra,” June Mar said.

How’s the celebration? June Mar explained that, in a few hours’ time, he and his fellow heroes will be feted with an awarding ceremony prior to Game 1 of the PBA Governors’ Cup.

They’ll stand on center stage in the same stage where they triumphed: the parquet floor of the Mall of Asia Arena. “Afterwards,” said June Mar, “we’ll have a party at the Resorts World.”

The boys deserve it. After non-stop, game-after-game, pressure-packed and almost-nightly encounters from August 1 to 11 during the FIBA Asia Championship, they deserve to be accorded the standing ovation. They deserve to relax, drink, grin and dance inside Resorts World.

Mr. Fajardo, at 23, is the youngest player in the roster that includes several three-decades-old players: Jimmy Alapag, 35; Gary David, 34; Marcus Douthit, 32; Ranidel De Ocampo and Marc Pingris are 31; and Jeff Chan and Larry Fonacier are 30.

June Mar Fajardo was happiest about one thing last wekeend: “That I was part of history.”

What did he learn from the international-level experience? “Gamiton ang (Use the) height,” he said. We talked about the last game versus Iran and him guarding the 7-foot-2 behemoth, Hamed Haddadi, who towered by four inches over the 6’10” Fajardo.

Dako and bug-at (Big and heavy),” June Mar said of Haddadi. He didn’t find him solid — as in, muscular-solid — but heavy.

“I’ll focus more on defense. This is the one area that I’ll improve on,” he added, looking forward to the PBA season and of his team, the Petron Blaze Boosters, whose first game is scheduled this Friday. Of Petron, June Mar added: “Our team is strong. We have a good import and new players. We have good shooters.”

It looks like, these band of Gilas teammates very quickly will disband and rejoin their different PBA squads and face each other — not as close buddies — but as opponents during the PBA Governors’ Cup.

About the story that leaked in the press of Manny V. Pangilinan giving each Gilas member a cool P1,000,000, June Mar said that there was no official word on that yet. “Wala pa mi gi sulti-an,” he said, although he did hear about the rumors.

As to what he’ll do with the extra P1 million if ever it gets deposited in his bank account, June Mar’s answer had me smiling.

“I’ll buy a cow for my dad,” he replied.

Baka? Cow? Yes, several cows, he said, that he’ll gift his father so that, in his own words, “daghan iyang bantayan (he can watch over several cows).”

That’s a nice and appreciative gesture — coming from a son who has proud pride to the Fajardo family.

I asked about his teammates. “They’re all very, very good to me,” he said. “Ako pinaka-baby (I’m the baby in the group). During practice, if I make mistakes, they help me out. They don’t put me down. They give advice.”

His closest friends? Marc Pingris and Japeth Aguilar. You know why? “We’re all fond of online games!” June Mar confessed.

Proud of his roots in Cebu, where he studied HRM for the University of Cebu and where he donned the blue-and-gold Webmasters uniform, he acknowledged the help of two individuals who helped mold him: Augusto “Gus” Go, the owner of UC, and the team’s mentor and manager, Baldomero “Merong” Estenzo.

Earlier yesterday, I got to speak with Atty. Estenzo and he shares our Cebuano pride in Fajardo. “I watched their games on TV,” he said. “After they’d finish, I’d give June Mar a call to encourage him. There were many games when he didn’t play long enough; I told him that he’s the youngest and to continue working hard. Never mind if you don’t score many points but focus on your rebounds, defense and blocked shots. We’re very proud of June Mar.”

On a personal note, the few times that I met June Mar in person — plus our phone conversation yesterday — he comes across as a very shy, humble and respectful person. He’s Gilas but not hilas.

Gilas loses in MOA but heads for Spain

Somebody once commented: “Second place is ‘the first place for losers.’”

That’s painfully true. But also untrue. Because while our Gilas Pilipinas squad “only” placed Runner-up, we made it. The goal was to qualify. We qualified. The goal was to beat the Chinese. We defeated them — surprisingly, not in actual combat inside MOA Arena, but we placed three spots higher than the country with 1.34 billion people.

Iran, literally, was too tall an order. Japeth Aguilar may have been eyed for the NBA’s D-League but Iran’s Hamed Haddadi is an actual NBA player. There’s a giant difference there. As expected, it was Haddadi who towered tallest — and got his third FIBA MVP trophy. Unstoppable. Haddadi was too hefty, too heavy-duty, too NBA-experienced.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re headed for Spain 12 months from now — the once-every-four-years FIBA Basketball World Cup runs from Aug. 30 to Sept. 14, 2014 — to stand on the same Spanish tiles as Kevin Durant. Although it’s unlikely that a Phils-USA encounter will happen (Spain will have six city-venues), just the thought of us playing in the same playground as the big boys will give us pride. Pinoy pride.

Final thought: You think Kobe arrived in Manila yesterday to scout us out this early? Ha-ha.

R399. Like a thousand others last Sunday morning, I joined the “R399: Live Your Dream” run that was called “Remembering Ramie.”

Ramie, of course, is Ramie Igaña, who passed away last year while doing an act he enjoyed best — biking — during the Cobra Ironman 70.3 race. His race bib last year was “R399.”

Two mornings ago, clear skies and a cool dawn breeze greeted the runners which included plenty of Ironman finishers (Richard Ho, Noy Jopson, Bernard Sia) and prominent Cebuanos: Pablo John Garcia, Ramsey and Jingo Quijano, Joel Garganera, Joy Polloso, Jesse Taborada, Roy and Dr. Rosan Trani, and our ultramarathoner editor, Michelle So.

After an absence from joining runs for over a year, what I enjoyed most about the event were two things:

First, the route. It was simply a loop around the Cebu Business Park. The run had three distances (3K, 6K and 12K) and we never ventured outside the confines of Ayala. It was safe. The air was cleaner. Fewer cars crossed our paths. The intersection areas were free from too many vehicles — unlike Cebu’s other crowded streets.

Second, I like the no-singlet-all-medals policy. I registered for the 6K and paid P350. I was surprised not to get a singlet. But, guess what: upon finishing, I got a sparkling reward and medal crafted by… Juarez. (No mispelling there; just transform the “S” to “J.”) All finishers, including my daughter Jana and her classmates Louise, Christine and Meg, got Juarez medals. Well done, Doc Humility (“Mitty”).

DUFNER. Tiger Woods lost again. It’s no surprise. He’s now 18-0. Which means that in the last 18 majors that he’s joined, he hasn’t won. Will he ever break free from his I’m-stuck-at-14-majors slump? He’s getting older (he’ll be 38 this Dec.). Meanwhile, what a victory for Jason Dufner. A first-time major winner (he’s the 15th first-time major winner in the last 21 majors), what makes Dufner famous is the word “dufnering.” Golfers know this stance. If you don’t know what it is, Googgle it. It’ll make you smile.

RAFA. Me, injured? Me, out for seven months? Me, skipping the Olympics? Yes. The “me” refers to Nadal. Did you watch a few of the Rogers Cup matches over the weekend? (Sad how Roger couldn’t play in his “Rogers” Cup.) The Nadal-Djokovic semifinal was another war. Did you watch how Nadal drilled that backhand straight to the neck of the Serb? Ouch. But that was unintended. That happens all the time, especially in doubles. What’s funny was Novak’s reaction, not acknowledging the sorry of Rafa. But in the end, after the handshake and the apology, all’s well between the two. Plus, in the end, including the final against Milos Raonic, we know Nadal is not only back — but back even better, winning 48 of 51 matches. Vamos, Rafa.

Gilas Pilipinas rocked the MOA Arena

MANILA — Here up north to attend a family wedding (in Tagaytay) and unable to join this morning’s Ironman 70.3 race (due to an Achilles tendon injury), I trooped to the SM Mall of Asia Arena last Friday.

Would you believe, it’s been 40 years since our nation hosted the FIBA Asia Championship — a smorgasbord of 15 basketball-loving Asian nations, with the top three qualifiers proceeding to Spain for the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

With Smart as the main sponsor — Manny V. Pangilinan, we know, is the MVP of Philippine sports — I was able to secure a ticket. Thanks to long-time friend Desi Arana, who helped coordinate with Smart’s manager for Sports Marketing, Epok Quimpo, I stepped inside the MOA Arena at 5:50 P.M. My wife Jasmin joined me.

Iran versus Korea were on-court — the 2nd game of a four-game schedule on Friday (the event runs from August 1 to 11). In the first half, Korea dominated. Having shocked China the night before, their confidence blossomed. But, in the third quarter, Iran recovered and took the lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Led by 7-foot-2 NBA player Hamed Haddadi, who topscored with 30 points, Iran defeated Korea, 76-65.

That’s when Jasmin and I met Dr. Manny Juanillo. Seated on the third row in the VIP Section just behind the ring, the top Cebuano surgeon was in Manila for a conference and, the basketball fanatic that he is, made sure to watch. We grabbed a hotdog and burger dinner when the Iran-Korea game finished at 7:30 P.M.

Aga Mulach stood behind me, waiting in line in the restroom. Also seen were many top government officials and celebrities: DPWH Sec. Rogelio Singson, DFA Sec. Albert Del Rosario, SM owner Hans Sy, Robert Jaworski (who was swarmed with fans wanting a photo at the lobby), and PSC Chairman Richie Garcia.

Joe Soberano watched with his son Franco. The long-time basketball fan (and team owner of the Cebu Landmasters squad), Joe also booked tickets for the upcoming 10-10-13 game between the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers, also in MOA Arena.

GILAS. Game on! At exactly 8:30 P.M., our Philippine players faced the strong Jordan visitors. It was a fabulous sight to see June Mar Fajardo wear our blue-and-red uniform. Having honed his skills under Gus Go and Merong Estenzo of UC, the tall Fajardo is now climbing the peak of Basketballdom.

The 16,000-seater MOA Arena (which cost over P3 billion to construct) was in near-full capacity. Tickets were sold-out weeks before. Blue and white balloons were waved by our fellow Pinoys. Drum-beaters, perched at the top balcony, banged the sound that echoed throughout the stadium and dribbled inside our excited hearts.

This was my second MOA Arena visit — the first was last October when Boom-Boom Bautista fought. The MOA Arena is the best thing to happen to Philippine sports and entertainment. It not only forced the rehabilitation of the Smart Araneta Coliseum; it also, literally, set the stage for shows like Rihanna (this Sept. 19) and sports events like FIBA and LeBron’s visit. MOA Arena is top-class and, like all of us from Cebu, I can’t wait to see the construction of our own at the SRP starting this 2015.

The game was unexciting/super-exciting. In the first half, we were clobbered. Trailing from the start until the end of the 2nd quarter, I thought we would lose. The Jordanians shot three-pointers with ease while we rotated the ball too many times, nobody mustering the confidence to take shots. The crowd was silenced.

Then, in the 3rd quarter, the exciting part arose. Our Gilas team went on a 17-0 run. Led by Jeff Chan, who sizzled with five three-pointers and a game-total 17 points, we took the lead and never relinquished it.

The crowd did the “wave.” The drums reverberated louder. Said coach Chot Reyes: “The crowd gave us a big lift.” It’s called Pinoy home-court advantage. We won, 77-71, and started a 2-0 win-loss record. Guaranteed a spot in the 2nd round, we dream of duplicating our last hosting in 1973. Then, we were champions. Abangan.

LeBron, Kobe and Mike Rama’s 96

Before I write about Mr. Bryant and Mr. James, let’s talk about a headline-grabbing news that should have been broadcasted in the Front Page instead of landing in these back pages.

“Mike Rama shoots 30 three-pointers, scores 96 points!”

Can you believe that? Well, better believe it because based on news reports and on the actual conversation my dad had with our Cebu City mayor, it’s true.

Thirty 3-pointers. That’s 90 points. Add six more points. That totals 96.

The game was held exactly a week ago when Team Rama played against the CIB Thunders at the basketball court of the Cebu City Police Office. The final score: 157-137; winner: Mayor Mike’s squad.

I’ve known the mayor to be a sharp-shooter, having played basketball with him a few years back. But beating Chester Cokaliong and besting Danny Green — wow, this is big, big news. And what a balanced way of scoring: the mayor shot 15 three-pointers per half.

I did speak to Mayor Mike last Thursday afternoon. He called to thank about an article I wrote about him and sports; he even added, “We should schedule that basketball game again between Team Rama and your family.”

Sure! I said. I had not read the “96 points” story at that point (I only knew about it later that night from my dad) and so I wasn’t able to congratulate him on the unbelievable feat.

Come to think of it, if Cebu City is in the Guinness books as having accomplished three world records — the largest dance class, the largest chess tournament, and the most number of fireworks in one minute — then this story should be the fourth: For who mayor in the world has scored as many points as ours?

LEBRON. He’s here. Well, not yet. Rumors, as told to me by my youngest brother Michael, circulated that LeBron James was spotted in Shangri-La Mactan. His friends, Mike said, vowed by the sighting. Impossible. If Mike Rama’s achievement last Sunday was amazing, this story of LeBron in Cebu was impossible. For who wouldn’t recognize a 6-foot-8, 250-lb. behemoth who owns the most recognizable face on Earth?

Forget this “LeBron’s in Cebu” story. But this story is true: Two days from now, LBJ will land in Manila. Just weeks after he propelled Miami to their 2nd straight NBA trophy, he arrives in the Land of Eric Spoelstra. Sayang. The two won’t be coming together. But, for sure, a big reason why the 4-time MVP is arriving is because of Spoelstra’s prodding: He wants to visit the roots of his head coach (whose mom hails from Laguna).

“Witness,” the ticket to see LeBron says. Organized by Nike, the swoosh company decided not to sell the tickets but to give them away, for free. No proof of purchase needed. Just line up and get your pass. And, sure enough, thousands lined up for the last-Wednesday-12-noon ticket distribution. Some stood on line as early as Monday night!

But not all were LeBron fans. Many were “entrepreneurs,” who, after a sleepless wait, sold their tickets for as much as P1,500/pass.

Basketball will achieve superstardom status this 2013. Here’s why. After the visit of Miami Heat’s No. 6, it will be the 27th FIBA Asia Championship from Aug. 1 to 11. I’ll be in Manila around this time (games are in MOA Arena) and I hope to catch our Gilas team in action.

Next, Kobe Bryant returns to Manila. After his visit here in 2011, the Lakers star will land at the N. Aquino airport on Aug. 12 — the day after the FIBA event finishes.

If that’s not enough NBA action, the most awaited is the Houston Rockets vs. Indiana Pacers pre-season game on Oct. 10, also at the MOA Arena. (Notice how SM’s brand-new coliseum has cornered most of the prized events; imagine if SM builds the same arena in the SRP?)

Finally — and these are just rumors — all these stories will be surpassed by this revelation if it does come true: the arrival of the greatest athlete who ever lived, Michael Jordan.

Yes, as circulated by Gatorade, they are negotiating for MJ to land in our shores. (Shangri-La?) Imagine if this happens! If it does, I know Mayor Mike’s 30 3-pointers is the top sports story in my book — but this Michael beats our Michael.

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.

The improbable win of Southwestern University

Yayoy Alcoseba calls the date “October 6” as “historic.” Ryan Aznar, the athletic director (since 2006) of Southwestern University, credits one act of his players for their success: praying before and after each game. Felix Tiukinhoy, the commissioner of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (Cesafi), when I asked him to rank this game from 1 to 10, did not hesitate to say: “The game was a 10! The best so far.”

Everybody’s talking about the incredible victory of SWU over UV last Saturday night. “We were down 18 points with seven minutes and 55 seconds in the fourth quarter,” said Yayoy yesterday. “I’ve been through many comebacks before but this one is extra special. In one final against MisO in Cagayan de Oro, my team trailed the entire game until the very last shot when we won the game. That was special. But this was historic.”

Like many classic battles, this was a seesaw contest. SWU won Game 1. UV won games 2 and 3. SWU won Game 4. Game 5? The winner-take-all finale? It appeared that UV would win. In his Facebook post, Noel Advin aptly coined an acronym for S.W.U.

SWU: “Sorry, Winner ang UV.” Noel correctly wrote that UV fans thought of that acronym for most of Game 5. Until the dramatic last few minutes that ended with SWU’s 73-72 win.

What happened? “When UV had that lead of 18 points with only minutes left, they became tentative,” Yayoy said. “They were no longer aggressive with the offense. They knew that the clock was ticking. Na usab ilang game. They were running the clock, waiting for the time.”

SWU? They had nothing to lose. That’s why Yayoy brought in John Pajantoy. They were desperate. They needed a miracle. “While UV became tentative, we became aggressive. We had no choice. We had to play catch up,” said Yayoy.

UV was playing not to lose — instead of trying to win. And it cost them. The game. The title. The season. “The momentum changed,” said Yayoy. “We fought back. Our players gained confidence.”

My fellow SunStar writer Rommel Manlosa said it best when he wrote: “UV was in total control of the game and showed it had better experience but it was SWU who had the heart and determination to win the championship.”

RYAN AZNAR. One person to be credited for SWU’s triumph is their athletic director, Ryan Aznar.

A former Cebu Country Club jungolfer who is now into practical shooting, Ryan is also a commissioner of the Cebu City Sports Commission and a board member of the Cebu Volleyball Association.

As a testament to his devotion to SWU’s sports program  — and not just the school’s basketball program — Ryan told me that while the SWU team celebrated at (fittingly) Yayoy’s Grill after the game, he head to leave early. The reason: Early the next day, the SWU girls volleyball team will play in the championship as well as the women’s team.

Ryan credits the SWU populace for the support. “Our chairman of board, Maris Aznar Holopainen, and treasurer Ana Alfonso Almario are at the forefront of our entire sports program together with the rest of the board of directors of SWU. Our university president Dr. Elsa Suralta is also credited for her all-out support and to the entire SWU community.”

Mr. Aznar thanks Coach Alcoseba. “His experience was a big factor on us winning; it was his idea that we get foreign players and even UV followed, too. Also, Coach Mike Reyes was a perfect addition to SWU’s coaching staff.”

As to the grand victory party, Ryan said that that will have to wait. “It’s our final exams this week, no time yet to celebrate.”

But very soon, the school founded a couple of years after the war (1946) will soon celebrate and party. On the 12th year of the Cesafi season, the team with the colors maroon and gold finally struck gold.