Category Archives: LeBron James

Star Wars

Only LeBron James can call the U.S. president “U Bum” and be considered a hero. Voted by his peers as “The Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team,” only LBJ can manufacture a “3 in 1” deal: absorb the shocking loss of Kyrie Irving and emerge with three replacements: Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade.

D-Wade? Yes. It’s no secret that the former Miami Heat teammates are best friends. For four years while together in Florida, they made the trip to the Finals each season and won twice. Can D-Wade’s reported entry into the Cavs elevate this squad to rival Golden State? Absolutely.

What we’re seeing is the beauty and defect of the NBA. The strong become stronger while the weak turn powerless. There’s GSW. Has there ever been a stronger bunch in the league’s 71-year history than the formation of Steph, Klay, Draymon and Kevin? Probably not. I’d rank this gang higher than MJ-Pippen.

The NBA has 30 teams. The idea is to distribute the talent so no one team dominates completely. But we know the world doesn’t operate this way. Some have more money. Others have the clout of a Magic Johnson who can lure a Lonzo Ball.

The NBA has entered the era of the “Super Teams.” Of the 29 U.S. cities plus Toronto competing in the NBA, these “super teams” are a handful of squads whose roster includes at least three superstars. And unless you’ve assembled such All-Stars, you’re doomed.

This 2017-2018 season, the Oklahoma City Thunder has emerged as a super team. Joining the MVP Russell Westbrook is Paul George. And if that one-two punch isn’t potent enough, Carmelo Anthony leaves New York to form their Big 3.

The Houston Rockets is another. James Harden is joined by Chris Paul. How about the New Orleans Pelicans, with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis? My question is: Why the lopsided strength of the Western Conference? GSW, OKC, Houston, Spurs. And there’s the Minnesota Timberwolves with Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins.

The East? We might as well proclaim the Cavs as East Champs because of their lack of competition. It’s unfair and lopsided, this West vs. East pendulum.

As for LeBron and Wade, their bromance started in Miami and is continuing in Cleveland. But these two aren’t young; LeBron turns 33 in December and Wade celebrates his 36th birthday the month after.

“I would love to have D-Wade a part of this team,” James said of his 12-time All-Star best friend. “I think he brings another championship pedigree, championship DNA. He brings another playmaker to the team who can get guys involved, can make plays and also has a great basketball mind.”

Come October 17 when the NBA’s first regular season game kicks off and, perfectly-scripted, the Cavs face the Celtics, LeBron’s face will be smirking at Kyrie as if to say, I got Isaiah, Derrick and my man D-Wade to replace you, boy!

Fast forward to the 2018 NBA Finals, imagine a line-up featuring Curry, Thompson, Durant, Green and Iguodala against James, Rose, Wade, Thomas and Love. Like the intergalactic movie series, I can’t wait for this real-life Star Wars, Part 4.

Sure NBA champion

Let’s talk business. Regardless of the Final Four outcome (my heart goes for the Cavs as repeat champs but my mind says it’s the Warriors), there’s one sure winner in the NBA.

Founded 53 years ago by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, the company was originally named “Blue Ribbon Sports” until it was changed to “Nike” in 1971. It is the No. 1 most valuable sports brand on Earth and, last year, it grossed a colossal $32.4 billion. It’s logo — the swoosh, patterned after the wing of Nike, the goddess of victory — is the world’s most iconic, defeating Coca-Cola, Apple and McDonald’s. Chances are, when you look down at your feet or you open your closet or you attend a game of volleyball or football, a pair of shoes designed with a “check mark” is being worn.

With the NBA, the undisputed winner is Nike. Because while Steph Curry wears Under Armour, James Harden dons Adidas, Rajon Rondo and Klay Thompson wear the lesser-known brand Anta (from China), all the other superstars wear Nike.

KD, ‘Bron, Kyrie, Isiah “King of the Fourth” Thomas, Kevin Love, soon-to-be-announced MVP Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Blake Griffin, CP3 (Chris Paul), and Jimmy Butler all wear Nike or Nike/Jordan-branded footwear. Even three names (John Wall, Draymond Green, and J.R. Smith) who don’t have shoe endorsements wear the same Oregon-based brand.

In the Forbes article, “Nike Will Come Out On Top After The NBA Finals, Regardless Of Who Wins” by Daniel Kleinman published last May 17, the winning moves of Nike were explained.

Why, you ask, does Nike pay Durant an incredible $300 million for 10 years? It’s because of all those KD-labeled high-cuts that Nike will be selling in a decade. (Also, because of the fear of losing out to Under Armour, who was ready to $265M.) It’s also about the millions of eyeballs from Beijing to Bacolod to Berlin to Bangkok who’ll be watching the Warriors as Durant shoots a 3-pointer while wearing Nike.

The largest Nike deal of any kind appropriately belongs to LeBron James. In 2015, Nike awarded him with a sponsorship for life, the first time ever that they’ve agreed to such a lifelong deal. The cost: P25 billion. In dollars, that’s $500M that they’re paying LeBron, for him to never wear the Three Stripes or UA.

Expensive? Who says the best player is cheap? As the cliche goes, “You get what you play for.” And look at the dividends — I can imagine the thousands and thousands of $200 LeBron James 14 shoes that will sell this month.

So here’s the conclusion: Warriors or Cavs, Durant or James, the company named after the goodess of victory will claim victory.

James will win NBA MVP, but which one?

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I’m referring to the two best players with the same name: James Harden and LeBron James. (If they decide on a co-MVP, can you imagine a James-James winner?)

So, which James? First, let’s examine how the NBA votes on their Most Valuable Player. Every year since the 1955-56 season, the MVP award, named the “Maurice Podoloff Trophy,” in honor of the league’s first commissioner, is given to the best performing player of the regular season. A panel of sportswriters and broadcasters from the U.S. and Canada cast their votes. They submit five names, ranked from 1 to 5, with their top pick garnering 10 points. All the points are tallied and the highest-pointer wins basketball’s most coveted title.

In the history of the MVP awards, no player has won unanimously. Shaq (2000) and LeBron (2013) came very close, each receiving 120 of the 121 first-place votes.    All time, the record-holder is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won six. He’s followed by Michael Jordan and Bill Russell with five apiece. Wilt Chamberlain joins LeBron as four-time MVPs while Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Moses Malone own three.

LeBron has won four of the last six MVP crowns. His quest for a three-peat last year was thwarted by Kevin Durant, who amassed outstanding numbers last season: 32 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 5.5 APG. This year’s regular season ends on April 15 and the MVP awardee will be disclosed during the playoffs. So, will it be James or James?

Let’s discuss: Since LeBron moved from Florida to Ohio, he’s transformed the Cavs from being under-performers to Eastern Conference Finals contenders. As of yesterday, his averages per game are: 26 points, 5.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists. The biggest factor is what happens to the Cavs when he’s with (or without) them. In the 11 games that he missed this season, the Cavs scored 2-9; when he’s around, they win 70 percent of the time.

According to Greg Swartz, who wrote “The Case for LeBron James to Win NBA MVP Yet Again” in Bleacher Report last March 9: “It’s not just his 26.0 points, but rather James’ overall court vision and playmaking ability that stands out… There’s all the little things that don’t show up in stat sheets. James is always pointing out what he sees on the court to teammates. He shouts defensive assignments from the bench. He supports, encourages and even criticizes when necessary… James is once again the undisputed leader of the Cavaliers, with his every move dictating their success.”

His leadership, his numbers, his elevation of the Cavs to potential NBA champs — all guarantee that he’ll be a top MVP contender. But you know the disadvantage of LeBron? His name. His reputation. This thing called “voter fatigue.”

“Much like with Durant the year before and Derrick Rose in 2010-11, it’s arguably more exciting to see a first-year winner rather than someone who’s done it before,” said Swartz. “James certainly shouldn’t be penalized for this, however. The most valuable player should be a blind award based off who’s made the biggest difference for his team, regardless of past success.”

As for James Harden, the league’s second top-scorer with a 27.1 point average, Daryl Morey, the GM of the Houston Rockets, said it best: “Take James Harden off our team and we are nowhere.”

“Harden has suited up for every Rockets game this season,” wrote Jesus Gomez in “James Harden’s durability should make him the MVP favorite,” a recent SBNation.com article. “He leads the league in total minutes played and is second in minutes per game, averaging 36.6. In a year in which most of the league brightest stars have struggled staying on the court, Harden has been arguably the most durable elite player in the NBA. It has been huge for the Rockets to be able to rely on him so much with Howard missing 27 games already. When it comes to the ability to stay on the court for his team, Harden edges out every other MVP candidate.”

L. James or James H.? Neither. I’ll go for Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook — and the discussion continues in a future article.

The Hometown King leads the Cavs

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The Cleveland Cavaliers lost their very first game this ’14 season. Then, after winning the next one against Chicago, they proceeded to lose the next two. Four wins after that and with a commanding 5-3 scorecard, NBA fans worldwide proclaimed the Cavs as legitimate title contenders.

What happened next? They lost the next four clashes, against Denver, San Antonio, Washington and Toronto. By then, people panicked. Sporting an embarrassing 5-7 win-loss record, many criticized LeBron and Co. The man himself, No. 23, summarized their state in that Nov. 22 loss to the Toronto Raptors in one simple yet horrifying word: “Fragile.”

Well, well. How time flies when you’re having fun and winning. Those defeats and that “fragile” spirit seemed too long ago. After a November that zigzagged and twirled like a roller-coaster — similar to the ones found near Cleveland (in Ohio) that’s considered as “the roller coaster capital of the world,” Cedar Point — that up-and-down first month for the Cavs has been smooth of late.

The Cavs won their 8th straight yesterday. They now carry a 13-7 record, ranking fourth in the East (against 15 teams). The latest victim? The same battalion who defeated them in their last defeat, the Raptors — a previously 16-5 (scorecard) team that’s No.1 in the Eastern Conference. How big was that? Well, how big was that shot, a looping missile from beyond the 3-point line, with 48 seconds left in the game and the score tied 99-all, LeBron James firing one rocket at the top of the key to rupture the Raptors?

That was big. That was LeBron, the man who grew up in this state as a kid and returned home as an adult to pacify and appease all those whom he crucified when he left. The same 6-foot-8, 250-lb. giant who, after that 3-pointer, said to the crowd, “That’s what I came here for.”

He amassed 35 points in 42 minutes, including a monstrous double-clutch reverse dunk after he stole the ball in the 2nd quarter. The night before: the same royal performance before royalty. With Prince William and his beauteous wife Kate sandwiched between Jay-Z and Beyonce at ringside, LBJ scorched the New Jersey Nets, leading his Cavs to a 110-88 victory.

Now on his 12th NBA season, LeBron is not only experienced as a champion, with his two NBA rings and four MVP crowns, but he’s happiest back home.

“I know what LeBron is here for,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, after the Raptors game. “And I know why he’s here. Because he wants to be. So maybe that effort that you saw and maybe what he laid out there tonight for his team and for his fans sort of speaks to that.”

Thus far in the season’s 20 games — more like a First Quarter report for the Regular Season, which has 82 games — LeBron is averaging (per game) 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists.

If he’s Batman, his Robin (Kyrie Irving) is doing excellent work, averaging 20.8 PPG. If we add Kevin Love’s 17.4 points per game, these three average 63 points — about 61 percent of Cleveland’s average total (103.5) per outing.

“It’s fun,” said Irving. “It’s fun to be playing the way we’re playing right now, and it’s fun to be part of it.”

Is this a momentum shift? Will this continue until the playoffs? Has this team gelled?

Yes, yes, yes, but, no, let’s not get too cocky in behalf of the Cavs as the NBA season has three more quarters left. And, lest we forget, in this winning streak, they did not face a single Western Conference team; and we know how bombarded that section is with the league’s finest: Golden State, Memphis, Portland, Houston, LA (obviously, not the Lakers), San Antonio and Dallas — seven teams that have better win-loss scorecards than Cleveland.

But, for now, with the King performing in front of the Prince, with Kevin Love saying, “We just have a good energy about us right now,” with eight straight smiles after four straight frowns, Cleveland is happy that their son is back home.

The Homecoming King

Have you seen the Nike advertisement? It’s called “Together” and it aired the day when LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers played their first game this season. I won’t spoil the contents of this awe-inspiring black-and-white video but please, even if you’re a Kobe fan and you wear Adidas, watch it on YouTube.

Patience. That’s the key word for the Cavs. The hype of their inaugural Quicken Loans Arena game against the New York Knicks was too much to bear. Even for the Human Superman.

Remember when LeBron moved to the Miami Heat in 2010 and they were “assured” of an NBA crown in their first season, after teaming-up with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? That team amassed a miserable 9-8 win-loss start. That’s as poor — considering the hype — a beginning as was expected.

With last Thursday’s opener, LeBron added to the frenzy when he declared the game, “Probably one of the biggest sporting events ever.” He was exaggerating. Obviously, this was nowhere near the Olympics Opening or Game 7 of a Lakers-Boston final or the possible Pacman-Money fight.

Over-emotional and over-excited, the Cavs lost to the Knicks, 95-90. But more than the defeat (it’s just one game out of the 82 that they’ll play in regular season; 41 each at home and away), that first game loss was awkward and difficult.

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I like what Cavs coach David Blatt said right after the disaster when he was asked if it was like a kick in the stomach. He said: “It was for me, for everybody — and that could be a good thing for all of us.”

For LeBron himself, an analyst dubbed that Game 1 as his “4th-worst home game ever,” counting the 507 home games that he’s played. His distasteful numbers included missing his first 8-of-9 shots; he had a total 5-for-15 shooting and committed eight turnovers.

The good news? He has nowhere to go but better. “It was one game,” said LeBron. “We have to learn from this. It’s great to have a game like this, especially this early on.”

Twenty four hours later when they landed in Chicago to play their upcoming Eastern Conference Finals rivals, the nightmare was erased; this time, with all the hysteria out of the way, LeBron played like the 4-time MVP that he is, scoring 36 points, including their first eight in OT.

Next up: a West Coast sojourn, starting with the Portland Trail Blazers this Wednesday morning (Phil. time).

What’s clear with this move by LeBron called “Decision 2.0” is this: it’s personal. More than the money and championships, he wanted to give back to the community that helped him grow. He hurt his fellow Ohio residents with the Miami transfer and, the good hearted man that he is, he wanted to make amends. “The roads, the buildings, the people,” said LeBron, “they helped raised me.”

In a USA Today Sports article entitled, “LeBron James’ homecoming bigger than basketball,” ace writer Nancy Armour narrates:

“Every athlete has a story of a community that helped him or her along the way, and every city has a favored athlete it considers one of its own. For James and northeast Ohio, however, it’s one in the same, the two as tightly intertwined as family.

“The people of Akron and Cleveland have been in the bleachers since James was not much older than his own sons are now, watching with pride as he grew and developed the skills that have made him one of the greatest players of all time. In return, they gave shelter and support to the boy with the young, single mother, making sure he never went astray and, as the spotlight grew, protecting him from those who didn’t have his best interests at heart.”

That’s why LeBron returned. To pay back. To say thanks. Strong-willed and bull-headed, LeBron is, at the same time, an emotional being who cares for and sympathizes with his neighbors.

Here’s my conclusion: This one is for keeps. I can’t imagine LeBron having to move out again and leave home. This is it. He’s here to stay. And the Clevelanders can’t be happier welcoming home their own son — even if he messes up in that first game.

Home is where the heart (not Heat) is

You cannot please everybody. That’s a fact of life. No matter how good you are or how sincere your intentions are, there will always be that one person — or 20.5 million Floridians — who’ll despise you. That’s life. “You can’t please everyone, nor should you seek to,” said actor Dylan Moran, “because then you won’t please anyone, least of all yourself.”

Agree. Pat Riley must be fuming bad. What happened to their four year ride, reaching The Finals all four seasons and winning twice?

Yes, but then LeBron James is The King. As today’s Jordan, his decision is honored. He is not only basketball’s best but this planet’s greatest athlete. And when you’re at the Mt. Everest of your game and only 29 years of age, you can do as you wish. The Chosen One chooses.

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After getting embarrassed by the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron must have looked at his pal Dwayne Wade’s 32-year-old banged-up body and concluded, “Man, he’s old.” This is a fact: If Miami Heat had remained with the same roster for next season, the result will be the same: they’ll get clobbered by Manu and Tony and Tim.

Stay with the old or gamble with the future? In “The Decision Part 2,” LeBron followed his heart. His heart had always resided in Ohio, where he was born. “Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” wrote LeBron in Sports Illustrated. “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart.”

The King is coming home. Who’d have expected that? Given their success in Miami, wasn’t the logical move to at least try one or two more seasons before leaping? I’m sure LeBron pondered on that thought. The Heat and our fellow Pinoy Erik Spoelstra have been good to him and helped him purchase what couldn’t buy in Cleveland: two NBA rings. And, yes, while Miami cracked and wilted against the Spurs, surely with some tweaking and importing of new blood, they’d have the best chance next season, right?

Maybe. But that’s now forgotten. What’s important is that a decision has been reached and it’s an astonishing one. “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” added LeBron. “After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown.”

Though this issue isn’t about money, it’s not bad receiving extra: While he started with $4 million as a Cleveland rookie in 2003, James took a pay-cut when he flew south to Miami, pocketing $14.5 million in his first season. Obviously, big bucks — but for a giant of his stature, that’s small. Believe it or not, in his whole career James has never been his team’s highest-paid member. That will change starting this October with the Cavs when he pockets $22.2 million.

This story is also about forgiveness. One of the major stumbling blocks of his return was the animosity he received from the Cleveland fans, most notably the Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Four years ago when LeBron shocked his employer with his goodbye, Gilbert wrote a scornful letter, saying LeBron was a coward. LeBron never forgot that (justified) cruelty.

Now he has. In a secret meeting last Sunday, Gilbert was said to have told LeBron, “We had five great years together and one terrible night. I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for the situation carry me away. I told him I wish I had never done it, that I wish I could take it back.”

LeBron reciprocated, saying that he, too, was sorry for “The Decision” that aired on worldwide TV in 2010. And so, the two shook hands, probably hugged, and ‘Bron’s coming home.

Which means that Cedar Point, the “roller coaster capital of the world,” will have to fulfill its promise of a new ride: a roller-coaster named, “King James.”

I can’t wait for the roller-coaster ride called the NBA.

Cold-blooded Heat

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Unstoppable. Remorseless. A wipeout. Mortifying. How do you describe yesterday’s performance by Miami versus Indiana? How about “No match.” Yes, it was a mismatch. Leading 9-2 in the first minutes of Game 6, I thought the Pacers had a chance. They didn’t. It turns out, they were just given a few moments of bliss followed by endless minutes of agony. Have we seen a more dominant LeBron & Co.? Blowing away their tormentors by a whopping 37 points in the 3rd quarter? How’s that for a statement.

After scoring a measly seven points in Game 5, LeBron was MIA. Yes, “MIA” means Miami but it’s also “Missing In Action.” In Game 5, LeBron was embarrassed. Well, he embarrassed the Pacers the next game. How many times have we watched a completely boring 2nd half — when the outcome was so obvious … in the final game prior to the NBA Finals! Very few. That’s because very few teams in the history of this 68-year-old league are like Miami.

“Not satisfied with our performance… we can still play better,” said LeBron James. We’d understand if he uttered those 10 words after Game 5. But he said that right after the first half, when the score was 60-34. Leading by 26 points, he wasn’t happy. He wasn’t satisfied. And that’s the hallmark of all champions, from Jon Jones to Ronaldo to Usain: they’re relentless, forever looking to improve, always asking how they can do better. “Just what you expect from greatness,” said the NBA commentator (and former coach) Mark Jackson.

Attack, attack, attack. That’s what champions do. That’s how they respond. That’s the LeBron James mantra. It worked yesterday and the previous two years when they won the NBA rings; it will work for No. 6 as he aims not just for a three-peat but for that Ring No. 6 in a few years‘ time. He’s only 29 — at his prime. And “he’s not Michael” said the commentator, referring to His Airness, MJ. “He’s Michael and Magic.” I agree. This is the great thing about the greatness that we observe in LeBron. He’s unselfish. While he can penetrate and shoot every time he’s handed that ball, he always looks for the best way to score — an open teammate, a drive that draws the defendants like a magnet then he dishes out a zip of a pass. He’s got Magic’s height and passing talent coupled with Michael’s drive and jump-shooting and air-defying prowess.

As to Lance Stephenson? Ha-ha. Guess who has the last laugh? He tried to bully his way into a mind-games battle against LBJ. It failed. Sure, this soon-to-be-a-free-agent has the guts to shoot faraway three-pointers and is unafraid … but his antics against the Heat (including that painful slap on Norris Cole’s face) backfired.

LET’S GO HEAT! This was the constant chant that reverberated inside the Florida stadium. They’ll need it. Whoever Miami faces in the finals will have home-court advantage. If the Spurs win today (that’s no guarantee given the tremendous lift that tilts towards the home team), it will be a rematch of 2013. If OKC wins, it’s Game 7. Either way, we know who the favorites are. When you’ve arrived at The Finals for four straight years, experience is guiding your brain. It’s called, in lay man’s terms, confidence. You don’t panic when you’re in trouble. You stay calm. You attack.

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What’s dangerous about MIA is that they’ve got so many weapons, from Dwayne Wade’s playing Robin to the Batman that is LeBron, to Chris Bosh’s stellar offensive play of late, to Birdman’s return from his nest to grab rebounds and scare the opponents with his tattoos, to Ray Allen’s beyond-the-arc loopers — these are pellets of ammunition that Erik Spoelstra, our proud fellow Pinoy, can utilize to dismantle the opposing squad. Just ask Frank Vogel or Larry Bird.

I admit bias. After the era of the Los Angeles Lakers when I rooted for them against Kevin McHale and Robert Parish of the Boston Celtics … after the Chicago Bulls domination over the Pistons and human race’s reverence for Jordan … I’ve been cheering for the planet’s hottest five.

For MVP, can Durant dethrone King James?

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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.)

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.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s…….

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Michael Jordan? Yes. Today’s version. The way King James played two days ago reminded us of His Airness. He unleashed 3-pointers. He soared for lay-ups. He drilled 18-footers as effortlessly as free throws. The entire world’s basketball population — hundreds of millions of us, earthlings — expected the best from our planet’s best. He delivered.

It may be premature to compare MJ to LBJ — No. 23 had six NBA rings and five MVP awards compared to No. 6’s two rings and four MVPs — but the way LeBron played on the biggest game of his career was vintage Jordan.

The pressure of that winner-take-all Game VII was unbearable. LeBron had been ostracized for his transfer to Miami. He has been labeled as “Choker” for the occasions when, with seconds left on the clock, he’d rather pass than drive.

LeBron’s performance this season (26.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.3 APG), in these playoffs (25.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 6.6 APG) and especially with his Game 7’s output of 37 points (five 3-pointers) and 12 rebounds — these numbers should silence the harhest of critics.

LeBron is the world’s greatest athlete today. That’s undeniable. Nobody comes close. But as examplary as his statistics reveal, what I recently found most remarkable about the 28-year-old is this trait: He’s humble.

Yes, LeBron is a nice guy. If you listened to his post-game interviews, he didn’t call attention to himself. He thanked his teammates. He applauded San Antonio. He used the words “I’m blessed” like a priest would in a homily. LeBron is blessed. He knows it. We know it. But what’s amazing is that he doesn’t put extra focus on himself — unlike Kobe and, at times, Chicago’s No. 23.

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In line with this selfless attitude, he’s also not “buaya.” (Again, sorry to Kobe fans but this differentiates the two.) Didn’t we often complain that he looks to pass more than to score?

LeBron is like a little kid in Disneyland. This amusement park is called the American Airlines Arena. “I’m from Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here,” he says, with all gratefulness. When he was asked in the press-con what motivates him, he said that he plays the game “to inspire the youth to play basketball or to become better at what they do.” Perfect. He knows his role — to be a role model.

GAME 7. Didn’t the final game mirror the entire NBA Finals series? Every single minute was close — until the final moments. One team wouldn’t lead by more than four. It was the same in the entire series. But in the end, in James vs. Duncan, the current MVP defeated the former MVP.

James converted on his jumpers. Duncan missed two nearby attempts that could have tied the game at 90 in the final minute. The Spurs didn’t score another point. It was that close. “Probably, for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me,” Duncan said.

What I enjoyed most about the NBA Finals — one of the most-followed in history — was because so many players emerged as heroes. Ginobili in Game 5. Wade in the fourth game. Danny Green’s record 27 3-pointers. Tony Parker’s heroic basket in Game 1. Miami’s Big 3 scoring 85 in Game 4. And, of course, the one shot that will forever be etched in our brain’s internal hard drive: Ray Allen’s 3-pointer in Game 6.

In Game 7, apart from LBJ’s 37 points (scoring nearly 40 percent of the Heat’s entire team score), the hero was Shane Battier, who made six of eight 3-pointers. “I believe in the basketball gods,” Battier said. “I felt they owed me big time.” Like I said, a different MVP for each game. (Interesting stat: among all the Miami players, only five scored last Friday; Allen, Miller, Haslem and Bosh had zero points!)

How about Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs? With Tony Parker a non-factor (him scoring only 10 points will not win the trophy for his team), it was the 21-year-old who aggressively attacked and scored a crucial 3-pointer in the dying minutes. Like Paul George of Indiana, Leonard will be a youngster to watch.

But that’s in the future. For now, there’s only one champ with the initials “MJ.”

Mr. James.

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Hoping the Spurs win so the Heat can be champs

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There’s a pattern brewing in the NBA Finals. The Spurs win Game 1, followed by the Heat’s victory. The Spurs win Game 3, then the Heat follows suit. Will San Antonio win Game 5, following the script of this win-loss, win-loss, see-saw battle?

I hope so. I’m no Spurs fan. Like the color (or shall I say, no color) of their jerseys, they’re gray — not as colorful and acrobatic as the red-hot Heat. And, unlike others who prefer the underdogs, I’ve always rooted for the MVPs. Back when MJ wore No. 23, I cheered for Chicago. Same when Magic weaved his magic with Kareem for the Lakers. And, after all the hate that LeBron’s been through after The Decision, it’s a terrific feel-good (from hate to beloved) story for Mr. James. Plus, before we forget, there’s only one Pinoy in the roster of both teams. He’s Erik.

Still, I wish for a Spurs win tomorrow. Why? Because I love Game 7s. They’re the 5th set of a Wimbledon final. They’re the sudden-death playoffs of golf’s U.S. Open. Game 7 is like a 12th round of Pacman-Marquez Part 5 — with Manny scoring a KO in the dying seconds. It’s thrilling. It’s the entire 2012-2013 NBA season coming down to 48 minutes. It’s all-eyes-on-the-TV-this-Friday-morning if this happens.

Don’t we all want a 7th game? But this perfect ending is only possible if Miami loses tomorrow. Because if they win and carry a 3-2 advantage heading towards South Beach, then it’s game over for this Texas – Florida match. There’s no chance for SA to win back-to-back in MIA. And so a Spurs victory in Game 6 is a must for their survival.

BIG 3. Even before the series began, talks centered on the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili vs. Wade-Bosh-LeBron contest. Which Big 3 will triumph?

In Game 4, we witnessed the answer. Miami’s Big 3 combined for five blocks, nine assists, 10 steals, 30 rebounds and a whopping 85 points — scoring 78% of the Heat’s entire output. This is the Miami team that everyone’s feared. This is the squad that we all expected to win — not just two but — four NBA rings.

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The question for tomorrow is this: Which player or trio or team will show up? It’s been an erratic four games.

In his first three outings, LeBron scored 18, 17 and 15 points. That’s a super-lowly 16.6 PPG average. In Game 3, he had one of the worst performances of his career in a big-game moment — 7 of 21 scoring, 1 of 5 from 3-point range and zero free throws taken. Can you believe LeBron not taking any free throws?

“As bad as I played in Game 3, I put all the pressure on me to say I can’t afford to play like that and hope for us to win. Not at this level,” James said. “So I was able to forget about it. It hurt. I watched the film. It hurt watching it. I didn’t like the way I was playing.”

Champions are graded based on how they respond. Author Sherrilyn Kenyon once said, “Sometimes things have to go wrong in order to go right.”

True. As wrong as Game 3 was, it was the right impetus for Game 4. Like Clark Kent turned mad, LeBron unleashed 33 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. From a dark, dark knight, he soared like Superman.

Same with D-Wade. Not until their team was pushed to the brink of embarrassment (no team in the Final has won from a 1-3 deficit) did he transform into his old nickname, Flash. “Yeah, I needed a game like this,” said Wade. “No, I don’t feel like it’s 2006. But it felt good.” Chris Bosh added 20 points in Game 4. It was the first time since March 15 that Miami’s Big 3 each scored 20 or more points. Shane Battier, their Miami teammate, said it best: “Tonight was a Big 3 night. It just was. We all knew it on the bench. It was their night.”

That’s all past. It’s now 2-2. It’s best-of-three. It’s also the best scenario for NBA officials — knowing that, as days prolong, more and more TV viewers from Guatemala to Guadalupe will be watching.

Go, Spurs. Win it tomorrow. Go, LeBron. Win both in Miami. Prove to us what we’ve long suspected: that underneath that No. 6 jersey resides an emblem with the letter “S.”

Spurs vs. Heat: Battle of the Big 3s

Spurs vs Heat

Miami is in Florida while the city of San Antonio is in Texas. I’ve never been to either state. But, based on my little research, no two cities can be more different.

Miami is the “Cruise Capital of the World” and is located along the Atlantic coastline. We all remember the hit TV show, “Miami Vice,” right? We picture a city with blue skies hovering, red Ferraris sprinting, and green palm trees lined-up along Miami beach.

San Antonio is large. It’s the 7th most populous city in the U.S. (1.3 million) and it hosts several military bases — apart from having a rich history of cowboys. The city is named after Saint Anthony of Padua.

MIA v. SAN: Starting tomorrow morning (Phil. time), all eyes will be on both basketball squads. Plenty of questions arise: Is Miami weary and tired? The 10 days of rest between games, will that make San Antonio rusty? How will each team clamp down on Tony Parker and LeBron James? Which coach is better: our Fil-Am Erik or Gregg Popovich? Miami hosts games 1, 2, 6 and 7 — will this home-court advantage help?

I guess that — excluding Game 7 — the most crucial game in the series is Game 1. If the Spurs win that game, it sets the momentum. It transfers the home-court advantage in their favor. It adds extra pressure on the Heat to win Game 2 because if they also lose that fight, then it’s game over. If the Heat win Game 1, then all order is restored. They’re not tired after all. They’re on track to receive the trophy that’s been awarded to them even before the season started.

Another question remains: Can LeBron finally beat Tim Duncan? Six years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers faced the Spurs in the Final. They were humiliated with the 4-0 win by Duncan.

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“I think our team is more experienced, first of all,” James said after his team defeated the Indiana Pacers in Game 7. “My Cleveland team, we were very young, and we went up against a very experienced team, well-coached team. And they took advantage of everything that we did.”

Back in 2007, LeBron was only 22 years old. He did not own an MVP award yet. Today, at 28 years of age, his season includes averaging (per game) 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 7.3 assists. He made 56.5 percent of all his field goals. To top these amazing statistics, he is a four-time MVP, a six-time All-NBA first-team member and was, for five straight years, part of the All-Defensive first-team. “I’m a much better player (now),” said James. “I’m 20, 40, 50 times better than I was in the 2007 Finals.”

One more question: Which Big 3 will dominate? San Antonio has Manu Ginobili, Parker and Duncan. Miami has Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and James. (On Wade and Bosh, they’ve played sub-standard games against Indiana. Wade averaged only 14.5 points per game before scoring 21 last Tuesday. Bosh, in his last four games, was worse: making only 8 of his 34 shots.)

My pick, of course, is Miami. But plenty choose San Antonio. One of them is Ben Golliver of SI.com who picks the Spurs to win in 6. He says: “Rested, experienced, balanced, intelligent, disciplined and potent, San Antonio is a nightmare matchup for any opponent, particularly one struggling with team-wide inconsistency and, possibly, a series-altering health concern in the form of Dwyane Wade’s ailing knee.”

I asked former PBA star and UV coach Elmer “Boy” Cabahug for his assessement. Here’s what he said: “Spurs is doing great. Consistent game of Duncan, Mano and Parker are big, big factors. Plus, McGrady might be their secret weapon. If they scouted the game between Miami and Pacers, the Pacers won when their team had balanced production: Low post and outside shooting. Miami lost when Wade and Bosh were off. Miami’s outside shooting must be consistent. That is their first option (shoot outside); they don’t have a post-up man. These two teams should stay healthy; any injury will cost them the championship. It will all depend on coaches’ strategy and counter-strategy.”

The NBA: Where amazing happens tomorrow!

Miami wins 4-2? Yeah, ‘Yoy says

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Almost like a ritual, each time the NBA Playoffs gets underway, I make a phone call. It’s no ordinary Samsung-to-iPhone conversation. That’s because the person on the other end of the line is no ordinary basketball follower. He’s Raul “Yayoy” Demerry Alcoseba, the Phil Jackson of Cebu.

“Miami owns championship experience,” said Yayoy Alcoseba, moments after the Miami Heat defeated the Indiana Pacers, 90-79, last Friday. “This is the huge edge of Miami. Plus, of course, LeBron James. Wow. His third quarter was unbelievable.”

The no-holds-barred forecast of Coach Yayoy? He said: “Miami will win Game 6 (today) and win the series, 4-2.”

We talked at length about Miami’s player with the jersey number 6. “The reason why LeBron has improved so much, especially this year, is because he’s surrounded by good players,” Yayoy said. “There’s Bosh, Wade, Haslem. Unlike his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was alone. Iya tanan. Now, he not only scores but also has double figures in assists and rebounds. He’s complete.”

The winningest coach in Cebu basketball history, Coach Yayoy gave me a phone lecture on what makes a team successful. “It’s never a one man show,” he said. “Sure, there will be superstars. There will always be stars. Look at Michael Jordan. He was the star. But he would not have become great and won for Chicago all those titles if not for Pippen and the rest of the team.”

It’s the team, says Yayoy. It’s never about one player. Although what we witnessed in Game 5 — when LeBron performed a one-man demolition job; outscoring the Pacers, 16-13, in the third quarter, for example — was different, throughout the season, LeBron has relied more on this teammates than at any other point of his career. “Chemistry,” Yayoy adds, “is essential to success.”

Miami Heat has become an even better team this year, he says, because the other players have contributed more. Yayoy spoke about Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen. “They may not contribute with points but with the defense,” he says. And when LeBron penetrates to the rim, he has many options in case the defense is overwhelming. He can pass and the others will score. Look at Haslem.

This is what’s scary about Miami — scary for their opponents. Because while all the focus is on LeBron and/or The Three Kings (LeBron, Wade, Bosh), it appears that they have other weaponry available — thanks to the other teammates. “Their bench is very deep,” Yayoy adds.

What if Indiana wins today (Game 6) and upsets Miami in Tuesday’s Game 7?

Yayoy laughed. “The ratings will go down!” he said. Few want an Indiana-San Antonio NBA finale. That will be boring. The NBA is about superstars and, devoid of figures like Durant or Kobe or LBJ, that championship will have the lowest ratings in years.

How about a Miami-San Antonio final, what’s Yayoy’s prediction. “Four-two, Miami,” he said.

CEBU. Speaking of local politics, Raul Alcoseba, after three terms as Cebu City councilor, ran for Provincial Board member in the last elections. Never used to losing, he, obviously, won.

“I’ve spoken to Governor-elect Junjun Davide,” said Yayoy, “and I hope to help with sports. That’s my expertise. And not limited only to basketball but to the whole sports program of the Province of Cebu. We will help identify and develop athletes.”

Back to coaching, has he resigned? Reports have surfaced saying that he will no longer coach the Southwestern University (SWU) Cobras.

“I have to finish my contract,” he said. “I have one year to go. I just got very busy with the campaign and the elections that I had to reassess my coaching job.”

Coach Yayoy is excited about the improvements being done to the Aznar Coliseum. “SWU has spent P1.7 million for the rehabilitation of the flooring,” he said. “Plus, Michel Lhuillier, through M. Lhuillier, has spent P1 million for brand-new, NBA-caliber goals. Once reopened, this will be a great-looking gym!”

That’s in Cebu. But for now, at 8:30 A.M. (PHL time), our focus is in Indiana. Go, Pacers. I’m rooting for a Game 7.

LeBron: Hybrid MJ, Magic, Pippen, Robertson

With limited TV time the past three days, I only got to watch the NBA festivities last Sunday night.

Erik Spoelstra beamed an earful smile. As head coach of the league-leading Miami Heat, he got to coach the Eastern All-Stars, including his three players in the starting five: Bosh, Dwayne, LBJ. How cool is that? The Filipino-American looks relaxed as ever. He’s won an NBA crown and is headed for another one this June.

I watched the practice session when the West and East stars shared half-a-court each. While the West All-Stars were tutored seriously by their coach, Gregg Popovich, the Team from the East were joking: they positioned themselves across each other, passed two balls simultaneously, rotated their giant bodies across the rectangle.

To any basketball fan, watching this NBA weekend “live” must be a dream. In one arena, in one floor, in one game — the best of the best gather. They’re relaxed. They score up to 143 points. They dunk and dunk.

SAMSAM GULLAS. Each time I need expert inputs on the NBA, I always seek the advice of one man: Gerald Anthony V. Gullas, Jr.

The AVP for Finance and Administration of UV, if Samsam were not working for the family-owned university (or not running for Congress this May), he’d be a full-time basketball player or coach.

“I love the new concept of the East vs. West Format for all the events,” said Gullas. What he likes most? The trait the Gullases are most known for: giving back to community. (During the All-Star Weekend, the winning team was given $350,000 for their charity while losing team, $150,000.)

How about the weekend’s most awaited contest? “The Slam Dunk competition was very entertaining compared to last year but without NBA stars I believe it still lacks the kind of hype it had in the 80’s and 90’s,” he said. “It’s just sad to only see clips of the 80’s and 90’s when the stars took stage in the Slam Dunk Contest. MJ, Nique, Spud, Kobe, etc. I believe the All-Star Game would showcase the REAL slam dunk contest.”

Asked to name a standout player, Samsam picks Kyrie Irving who, he says, should overtake Chris Paul as the league’s top point guard. “He is smart, athletic, possesses a great shooting stroke and most importantly, clutch. Just ask the Thunder,” said Gullas.

MJ vs. Kobe vs. LeBron? Samsam answers: “MJ turns 50. More than a decade removed from the game, we still hear stories of MJ joining Bobcats practices and even challenging Bobcats rookie sensation Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a one on one game and won. The best thing about MJ is that he will always be a competitor.

“MJ had the talent to be the best basketball player in the world, but his will to win and love of competition made him, the G.O.A.T. MJ hated to lose, that’s why he has been to the finals six times and is a six time NBA champion and a six time NBA Finals MVP.”

As to Jordan saying Kobe is better because “5 will always be more than 1,” Samsam cries foul. It’s unfair, he says.

“Even being a Kobe Bryant fan, I’d have to say talent-wise, LeBron is the best basketball player in the world today. Kobe Bryant in his prime vs. LeBron today would definitely be a tossup, but today, it’s a no contest. I think it is unfair for MJ to use the 5 vs. 1 ‘rule’ because I believe he is the G.O.A.T and I will never pick Bill Russell to be a better player who has 11 rings to Jordan who has 6. With the way LeBron has been playing, he will definitely have 3-4 more rings added to his collection. Kobe will always be the closest thing to Jordan but LeBron is the first hybrid of Jordan, Magic, Pippen and Oscar Robertson.”

Which Dream Team is better, 2012 or 1992?

Kobe Bryant created a Ruping-like controversial storm last week when he broadcasted this boast: “It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”

Calling today’s USA Olympic basketball team “a bunch of racehorses who are incredibly athletic,” he insulted the 1992 squad, saying they “consisted mainly of players at the tail end of their careers.”

Ouch. Charles Barkley, the offensive rebounder, took offense, saying, “How old is Kobe Bryant? He’s 34? And he’s calling us old? … Other than Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant, I don’t think anybody else on that team makes our team.”

Now that reply’s a slam dunk. Michael Jordan added: “For him to make that comparison, it’s one of those things where it creates conversation. I guess we’ll never know. I’d like to think that we had 11 Hall of Famers on that team, and whenever they get 11 Hall of Famers, you call and ask me who had the better Dream Team. Remember now, they learned from us. We didn’t learn from them.”

MJ is right. Team 1992 was composed of Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Christian Laettner, David Robinson, Magic Johnson, Barkley and Jordan. (All are Hall of Famers except for Laettner.)

In the Barcelona Olympics, they beat Angola by 68 points, Croatia by 33, Germany by 43, Brazil by 44, Spain by 42, Puerto Rico by 38, Lithuania by 51 and, in the final, beat Croatia, 117-85. Their average margin: 44 points.

So, 1992 or 2012? Who’s better? The funny thing is, the London Games haven’t even started! Team USA hasn’t even won a single game.    Still, if this hypothetical encounter were to happen, what would be the result?

One dominant theme arises: Size matters. “There’s no question about it — we’d kill them,” said Ewing. “We were much bigger. Our bigs were much bigger and if not the same, [even] more athletic. We had Magic, Michael. I think we would dominate them.”

While the 2012 US team only has one natural center with Tyson Chandler at 7’1”, the ’92 team had plenty of giants: Robinson (7’1”), Ewing (7’0”), Laettner (6’11”), Malone (6’9”). And should we forget, Bird and Magic stood at 6-foot-9.

“Because we don’t have a lot of big guys, Carmelo, LeBron and Kevin Durant will all be at the 4 [power forward] and 5 [center],” said coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Andre Iguodala will be at one of the bigs, too. We have to compensate our loss of big guys with athleticism.” The coach added: “The quickness of this team, this is the quickest team I’ve ever coached, including U.S. teams. We have to build on that. Instead of talking about the fact that we don’t have many centers — it would different if we had Dwight and Chris Bosh. We’d play a little bit differently. We don’t, so we have to rely on our strength, which is versatility, quickness, speed.”

In the end, all this trash talk serves one purpose: to draw attention. And, for that alone, shifting the focus from Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt to the American basketball team, why, that’s good for Kobe and LeBron.

And you know how good Americans are at trash-talking. Very often, these words scare the enemy. That’s an added purpose. Still, some players don’t like this verbal war, LeBron included. “It’s nothing fun about it,” said LeBron. “That’s a great team, we understand that. They set the standard for a lot of us. We’re trying to make our own mark so that teams will come after us.”

Carmelo Anthony agrees. “Why can’t it all just be love? It’s always got to be us against them or them against us,” said Anthony. “We all USA basketball players, man. I’m not here to sit and say we’re better than them, or better than this or that. We’re trying to make a statement with the game we have. What they did back in ’92 will never be duplicated. We’re just trying to start our own thing and hopefully continue our legacy.”

As for Deron Williams, he wants this issue settled, joking, “I think right now, if they come out here, we’ll beat them,” Williams said. “Right now.”

Yep, when MJ is 49 years old!

Sure shot! The A-Team to strike gold

Twenty years ago in Barcelona, a group of giants named Magic, Larry, Michael & Co. won the Olympic gold medal in basketball. Their average winning margin? An unfathomable 43.8 PPG. That was the 1992 Dream Team, acknowledged as the greatest ever cast of athletes assembled—of any sport.

Now, it’s 2012. It’s London. Will Kobe, Kevin, LeBron & Co. become today’s “Avengers” and win gold? Absolutely. As sure as basketball was invented by an American, Team USA will beat Spain, Argentina, France and Russia.

Look at the roster: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Andre Guodala, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams. These are the 12 best ballplayers of our planet’s seven billion inhabitants.

Durant? Bryant? James? Those three alone can beat the five-man squad of Tunisia.

“When I think about ’08, we were really good then. But like me, LeBron and D-Will, all of us talk about, you’ve got to think about how much better all of us are now than we were in ’08. All of us as players, we shoot the ball better. Guys are more athletic, guys are more confident. One through 12, no question we’re deeper than we were in ’08.” Who said those words? Chris Paul, the 6-footer point guard.

In Beijing, Team USA won by an average of 32.2 points in the elimination round. In the quarterfinals, they defeated Australia, 116-85. In the semis, Argentina got trounced, 101-81. And, in the finals, it was closer than expected: 118-107 versus Spain.

While 2008 was The Redeem Team, the 2004 squad was The Nightmare Team as the US (with Dwayne Wade, LeBron and Carmelo Anthony) lost to eventual gold medalists Argentina in the semis.

This 2012, the country of Barack Obama wants to ensure that they’re all-smiles during the Awarding.

One man who’ll savor his first time Olympian status is Kevin Durant who, at age 19 four years ago, was not selected. “It was almost end of the world,” said Durant, “especially seeing those guys win it—celebrating the gold in Beijing. I couldn’t stand it.”

LeBron? The 27-year-old has the opportunity to match a record that only one other human being has accomplished: Michael Jordan. In 1992, MJ earned the MVP and Finals MVP awards, the NBA ring plus an Olympic gold medal.

Kobe? He’s the “senior citizen” (oldest player) at age 33.

There are a few notable no-shows: Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and Miami teammates Wade and Chris Bosh. They’re injured.

Studying the line-up, it’s obvious what Team USA lacks: height. Of the 12, only three players stand 6’10” and taller. Spain has the Big Three: Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka—two brothers who are All-Stars plus a player who led the NBA in blocked shots (3.7/game) last season. Are the Americans concerned? Ever the confident people, they say, No way! As their one true center, 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler puts it, “we’ve got some hybrids.”

USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo answers this lack-of-big-men concern: “People keep throwing Spain in our face, ’What about the Gasols?’ And I say, ’Well, what about the Gasols? Our guys play against them every day. And matchups always go two ways. They have to be able to guard our quickness, our speed, our versatility, and so I’m not really concerned about that.” He added: “There are a lot of 6-9 and 6-10 guys who are much better than 7-footers.”

“The United States will rely on the same formula it did in winning the gold medal in Beijing when it overwhelmed every opponent with its full-court pressure and transition game—until the final, when it took scintillating shooting to hold off Spain,” wrote Fox Sports’ Billy Witz.

Athleticism. Speed. Offense. They’ll spread the court and drive to the basket to create opportunities. Added Matthew Kitchen of NBC Olympics: “You realize how stacked Team USA really is: six rings, six scoring titles, four MVPs, the reigning Sixth Man and Defensive Player of the Year.”

Dream Team Part 2? Yes. The A-Team.

Samsam Gullas: LeBron more like Magic than MJ

Last Friday, Gerald Anthony Gullas was both happy and sad. Happy because, seated beside Rep. Eduardo Gullas, his grandfather whom he fondly calls “Papa Eddie,” he made the announcement that will forever change his life: Samsam will run for Congress next year. Sad? That’s because, as big an NBA fan as he is, the scheduled press conference coincided with Miami Heat’s winning Game 6.

“I watched up to the 3rd quarter but missed the look on LeBron’s face when he finally won his first ring,” he said. Still, “CongresSam” is ecstatic. Last December when the NBA season began, I asked for Samsam’s predictions. His reply: LBJ will be the MVP and MIA will win. He’s two-for-two.

Yesterday, I interviewed Samsam again. A lifelong ballplayer—he regularly practices with the UV varsity squad (he’s the team manager plus the school’s AVP for Finance and Administration)—here’s the full commentary of the young Gullas:

MVP. “LeBron was legendary. With this championship he has put himself in the group together with the Jordans, Magics and Birds of the world. LeBron was aggressive and he showed that he wanted it more this year. The main difference was his improving post game; it was causing all kinds of problems for OKC. If LeBron didn’t score, 9 times out of 10, he would make the right pass. LeBron was just being LeBron. He made the game come to him. He assessed what defensive scheme OKC was running. He has been doing this even while we was with the Cavs but was never surrounded with two other superstars plus very good 3-point shooters.”

DOMINANCE. “Yes, I expected LeBron James to be dominant in every facet of the game. What I love about LeBron is that he can score 30 points and it would be not the best thing he did for the team. People always compare LeBron to Michael Jordan; I think he’s more of a Magic Johnson. LeBron is bigger, stronger, a better passer, a better ball handler and has more skills than MJ. But what MJ had was HEART. It is unfair to compare the two of them.”

KOBE. “I’m a Laker fan for life. But today, if I were to build a team, I would take LeBron as my franchise player. He does everything: score, rebound, pass and, most importantly, defend. Kobe will always be the better offensive player; LeBron is just the better all-around player.”

RESILIENCE. “Miami learned from last year’s loss. Erik Spoelstra said it best when he used a boxing analogy (but before that he said he was a huge Pacquiao fan), We were knocked down so many times, but each time we got up. With Boston they were down 3-2, Indiana 2-1 and OKC 1-0. Playoff basketball is more on making game-time adjustments and off-day adjustments. Credit should be given to Coach Spo, despite being a young coach he is able to adjust.”

TEAM. “LeBron became the beast we thought he would be last year. Wade said that this is LeBron’s team and he accepted the secondary role to perfection. Miami’s role players did well: Chalmers, Battier, Haslem and Miller. Lastly, credit to Coach Spo, his defensive schemes were a joy to watch. Papa Eddie voted for OKC to win but, as a former coach, he always admired the defensive schemes of Coach Spo.”

BOSH. “Bosh gives the Heat another scorer and one of the league’s best Pick and roll players. When used as a screener in the pick and roll with either Wade or James, it was a deadly combination. Bosh was also able to extend OKC’s defense because he can shoot. Perkins or Ibaka had to leave the paint making it very open for LeBron and Wade to penetrate.”

NEXT SEASON. ““I see Miami winning 1 or 2 more titles, but this year was the best chance for the Heat to win. Rose (Chicago), Ray Allen and other role players of Boston were injured. The West teams will be improving, so next season will be interesting. If OKC learns and takes this loss as the most humbling experience of their lives, they will be very dangerous next year.

“OKC will be contending again, Mavs might get an overhaul from free agency, Spurs will always be ready, and it seems like everyone is forgetting about number 24 in LA. Stay tuned!”

Miami will win the 2012 NBA Season

It’s Showtime! After a 149-day lockout when the NBA season was expected to vanish, it’s back. Yes. It’s Christmas — the most joyous time of the year! What a day to start playing ball. What’s in store for 2012?

“Heat will definitely win the East,” proclaimed Gerald Anthony “Samsam” Gullas, the team manager of the University of Visayas Green Lancers. “And, with his improved post game, the runaway choice for MVP is LeBron James.”

For a diehard Kobe Bryant fan, Samsam’s prediction is all-confident. “LeBron will shine in the biggest stage and earn his first ring against anyone who comes out of the West. He will now be called Mr. Dollar because he has now 4 quarters. Last year, 3 quarters and 75 cents ra. Haha!”

In the Dec. 25 game between the Heat and the reigning champs, Mavericks, Mr. Gullas was proven right: LeBron scored 37 points. In a game that had Miami leading Dallas by 15 after the 1st quarter, 21 at halftime and 35 in the 3rd quarter, Miami won the Christmas contest. (One play – it’s on YouTube — was spectacular: LeBron tossing an alley-hoop pass to Dwyane Wade for a slam.)

This NBA season will be electrifying. In a Sean Gregory article entitled, “Welcome Back, Basketball: Five NBA Stories To Watch,” a league executive, Tony Ronzone, was interviewed. Here are the five stories…

ONE, the shortened 66-game season. Instead of the usual 82 games, every single ballgame is important. “‘It reminds me a little of Europe, where every game, you can’t lose,’ says Ronzone. ‘Lose two games, and getting to the playoffs becomes that much harder.’ The schedule also included a multitude of back-to-back games for teams: the Lakers, for example, play four games in the first five days of the season. Weary legs mean more playing time for guys you’ve never heard of.”

TWO: Chris Paul joining Blake Griffin in Los Angeles. In the NBA Finals, it might be Miami vs. LA. But, no, it’s not the Lakers — but the Clippers. “Expectations for the morbid franchise are higher than ever,” wrote Sean Gregory. “‘Showtime just went from purple and gold’ – the Lakers – ‘to red and white,’ says Ronzone.”

THREE, the Heat from Miami. Like Samsam, Mr. Ronzone believes Miami will win. “‘They will definitely be better,’ says Ronzone. ‘It will help that the media attention won’t be on them from day 1, like last year.’ In a season with a tiring schedule, the young and hungry will survive. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are veteran players, but only Wade is pushing 30 (he turns 30 on Jan. 12).”

FOUR: “Spur of the Moment,” wrote Gregory. We seem to forget that the San Antonio Spurs, beaten in the first round by the 8th seeds, Memphis Grizzlies, finished with the best regular season record in the West, 61-21.

“You get the sense this is the last year for the Spurs to muster something,” says Ronzone. “They seem to be saying, ‘OK, let’s give it all we can.’”

Tim Duncan is 35. Manu Ginobili will turn 35 this summer. Will this be their last hurrah? “A condensed schedule could hurt older teams – their legs tire out more than others,” wrote Gregory. “However, the shortened training camp may favor teams with an established chemistry, like San Antonio. And remember: in 1999, the last lockout-shortened season, the Spurs won it all.”

Samsam Gullas comments: “Whomever wins the West solely depends on how good the Clippers are or how improved the Thunder are.”

FIVE, watch for Ricky Rubio. This Spanish star is the rookie to watch. Only 21, he was the fifth overall pick in 2009. He postponed his jump from España to Estados Unidos but now he’s with the Minnesota Timberwolves. (His resume includes being the youngest ever to play in the Spanish ACB League — at 14 years old.)

“He’s the kind of player you’re going to want to watch,” says Ronzone. “Players want to play with him. He makes guys around him better. He has that soccer mentality, where the assist is just as important as scoring the goal.”

Imagine a soccer-loving Spaniard wearing hi-cut sneakers?

This Christmas, here’s one more reason to celebrate: The NBA is back.

Facing intense heat, James wasn’t LeBron

ESPN summed it up best: MIAMI NEEDED LEBRON TO BE GREAT. HE WASN’T.

Dirk Nowitzki was. That’s why he and the Blue Boys of Texas are the World Champions.

What happened to Mr. James? It’s bewildering. It’s astonishing. You saw it on BTV. Here’s the most talented athlete in basketball, one 6-foot-8 who can dribble like Isiah Thomas and rebound like Abdul-Jabbar, one who can soar like Erving and drill that long-range missile like Bird.

What happened to Mr. Great? LeBron collapsed. The burden was too massive and heavy, even for a muscular 250-lb. behemoth. LeBron yielded to the unbearable pressure. Of Dallas. Of Stevenson. Of Florida. Of his teammate, Dwayne. Of all of us, scrutinizing his every dribble, fake and jump shot.

LeBron was not LeBron. We’d become accustomed to watching him penetrate and score. He’s the Gladiator. One who’s unafraid. One who, by the sheer muscle of his Mr. Olympia body, could score 35, or 44, or 56–like he did once against Toronto in 2005.

The past two weeks, LeBron was paralyzed. He was intimidated. By who or by what? I don’t know. It’s puzzling. But he was. Whenever he’d touch that ball, the first thing he’d do–within a millisecond–is to search for one of his four teammates. He forgot who he was. He forgot the games in Boston and Chicago. Mr. Extraordinary became Ordinary. In the first five games of The Final, he scored a combined 11 points in the fourth quarter. Can you believe that? Those numbers belong in the lowliest of the Guinness World Record. That’s 11 points in the 60 most crucial minutes.

In all, the No. 6-wearing Heat averaged 17.8 points per game. His regular season numbers? He averaged 26.7. That’s a big, big letdown.

The happiest people on earth today? Cleveland residents!

Because the star in James fizzled, Miami deserves to lose. LBJ isn’t worthy. Not this time. Maybe next year. Maybe never. You know how some people–no matter how talented or how hard they try–never win the prize? In nine years of attempting, LeBron has scored 0 for 9.

Nowitzki? He’s ReDirkulous. Scoring a ridiculously-low three points in the first half of Game 6, he rebounded to score 18 in the second. “I don’t think there’s any doubt after this series,” said coach Rick Carlisle, “that Dirk has certainly earned the clout of being one of the all-time great players.” He now has one ring. LeBron has empty fingers.

The man who made famous the term “The Decision,” when he transferred from Cleveland to Miami, now has a new term to remember: “The Disintegration.” Or, how about… The Indecision. It bewilders me how indecisive LeBron was. You win championships–think of Li Na of China–by being the aggressor. There’s no champion with the first name Doubtful.

You know the term “buaya?” Of course, in basketball parlance, we know what this means. It’s negative. It means a player hogs the ball too much, shoots too much; he’s selfish. Well, guess what? LeBron should have been a buaya. He forgot that he’s not Scottie Pippen. He’s the star. He’s not Robin, he’s Batman. Or Kobe Bryant. He ought to have copied Kobe, who has five more NBA titles than him. Kobe is buaya. Everybody knows that. So what? Kobe answers. That’s why I’ve won so many, he’d say.

Maybe LeBron’s too nice. Maybe he wants to be called “Mr. Unselfish.” But that’s not why Miami paid him $19 million this year. He’s there to score, dunk, score, dunk.

The saddest part in all this: Many rooted for James to win. I did. Jana and Jasmin did. So did majority of my friends. This is unbearably painful for him. Did you watch him walk out of the stadium and inside that hallway to the locker room, with head bent low and down? Nobody has been more ridiculed, scorned, tormented, vilified.

But success breeds high expectations. Look at our Pacquiao. He’s won the last 14 fights so convincingly that, even with a lopsided victory against Shane Mosley, we crucified him, saying, “MP wasn’t at his best.”

LeBron is the best. We expected more. Instead, we got LeChoke.

Dirk vs. LeBron? The blue German towers

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Miami’s vice called Dallas may win. Or the heat inside the American Airlines Arena may burn the Mavs. This is the beauty of sport. The surprise. The suspense. The thrill. There are no guarantees. Sure, odds and probabilities are plenty. Experts predicted that the Miami Heat would go all the way — but lose to Dirk Nowitzki?

The Spalding ball is round. It spins. It back-bounces. It rolls. This NBA Final is a dice roll. Pick the Texans to beat the Floridians? Good choice. Or, maybe not. Remember how Kobe Bryant, last year, flew from Boston to L.A. and won the season’s final two games? James can do a Bryant. Nike star can follow Nike star. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. But this we know: In a battle of giants, the 7-footer is taller than the 6-foot-8. Dirk Nowitzki soars above LeBron James.

LeBron has Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh as teammates. Dirk? His teammates look so old they can claim 20 percent discounts in Cebu establishments without showing their Senior Citizen cards. Dirk is surrounded by non-entities. Well, okay, that’s too harsh. There’s Jason Kidd. But Kidd is no kid, he’s 38 years too old. “We’re like the movie ‘The Castoffs’,” said Donnie Nelson, the General Manager of the Mavericks. “Our superstar is a superstar. But go down the list. J.J. (Barea) is too small. Jason Kidd is too old. Jason Terry is the Stevie Nash boobie prize. Tyson Chandler and (Peja) Stojakovic are returned or damaged goods. And (DeShawn Stevenson) was a throw-in with our Caron Butler deal.”

True. Yet, look at the score. Tomorrow, Dallas will be 48 minutes away from its first-ever NBA championship. The single-handed reason for this all? A single person. An 84-inch-tall German native who, in 2007, was the first European-born player in NBA history to win the Most Valuable Player crown. After five NBA Final games, Dirk Nowitzki has averaged 27 points and 9.4 rebounds. Jeff Van Gundy, the former New York Knicks coach, pronounced him as the series MVP — prior to Game 5. Van Gundy believes that, even if Miami rallies to win games 6 and 7, the MVP ought to be Dirk. (Only once, in NBA history, back in 1969 with Jerry West of the Lakers, has an MVP been named from a losing team.) “He is now being known by one name,” Van Gundy said of Nowitzki. “You start saying ‘Dirk,’ everybody knows.”

All this, Dirk is doing despite a myriad of problems: an injured middle finger on his left hand during Game 1 and a 39-degree Celsius high fever in Game 4. While LeBron and Wade were supposed to be the clutch performers (think of their demolition of the Chicago Bulls), they’re lousy compared to the rule of one. . . Dirkules.

Dirk has scored a combined 52 points in the fourth quarter. LeBron? Embarrassing. After zero points in the final quarter in Game 4, he scored only two meaningless points in Game 5. Total for LBJ in five games: 11 points. In Game 5’s last six minutes, LeBron missed two of three shots, had zero assists, zero rebounds, and one turnover.

The Bavarian Bomber blitzes. Big D bombards. The King is dead. DALLAS WINS!!!

Well…. Not so fast. Although the Game 5 winner has gone on to claim the trophy in 19 out of the 26 times after a 2-all score, “Miami 2011” hopes to do a come-from-behind like “Los Angeles 2010.” Possible? Yes. In Hollywood, anything is possible. In Miami? Only if LeBron James rises to the challenge — and up on the air — like Michael Jordan.

It all culminates in tomorrow’s Game Six. Whoever wins the 8 to 10:30 A.M. contest wins the ring. If Miami stops the Dallas momentum, the balance of confidence will shift. The NBA Finals is like a seesaw. 1-0. 1-1. 2-1. 2-2. 3-2.

4-2? ReDirkulous.