Category Archives: NBA

Boy Tiukinhoy is the David Stern of Cebu

Like the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, who has been in command of the world’s most famous dribbling league since 1984, we have our own version in this Visayan land.

Yes. David Stern is to America what Felix Tiukinhoy is to our beloved Sugbu. Both are commissioners. Both serve as leaders of other organizations on a concurrent capacity: Mr. Stern as the Chairman of the Board of Columbia University; Mr. Tiukinhoy as President of food giant Virginia Food, Inc., makers of famous brands like El Rancho, Virginia, Champion and Winner. I like the last two VFI, Inc. brands. Don’t they speak of the league that Boy Tiukinhoy is leading? Turning ordinary teams into Champions and Winners?

As commissioner of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc., (Cesafi), he lords over universities, colleges, high schools. In fact, Mr. Tiukinhoy is so alike Mr. Stern that, very often, he, too, is called Mister Stern. And by “Stern,” I mean the real definition of the word: strict, tough, stubborn. That’s stern. Like David Stern. That’s Boy Tiukinhoy.

As Cesafi’s overseer, he has to be. You can’t be weak or indecisive if you’re the skipper. As chieftain of Cebu’s top school-based sports league, you have to be stern. Exacting. Bossy. Inflexible. At times, harsh.

Remember last year? When players were caught playing games outside Cesafi’s parquet floors? And were terminated from continuing play? Despite the school’s pleadings and clamor for mercy? Boy, he was stern. He didn’t budge. The rules, he said, are simple: They. Are. The. Rules.

In email exchanges last week, I asked Boy Tiukinhoy this: How difficult and stress-filled is the job? Considering that, in another instance last Sunday, on just Day Two of the Cesafi 2010 season, the UV Baby Lancers did not show up at the Cebu Coliseum because, they said, “we didn’t know the schedule.”

BT fumed mad. Then he said: “The toughness of the job is part of the territory.”

A sports-lover all his life, he has been the Cesafi commissioner since Day 1… when the league started in 2001. Until today… Year 10. Prior to Cesafi, there was the CAAA, the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association. He, too, for the last five years of that league, was the commissioner.

Any satisfaction you get from this work? I ask. A stress-loaded job that, in case we Cebuanos did not know, does not pay him salary, not even P10 per year? “I consider my work as CESAFI Commissioner,” he said, “as a community service without any remuneration.”

How many Cebuanos, I want to know, are willing to forgo of their full-day weekends, of weeknights, of the relaxation that comes after work, to deal with the problems of Cesafi? Only Mr. Stern of Cebu.

“It’s another world for me when I enter the coliseum which is different from the business environment,” he said. “I find the job a pleasant experience which removes whatever stress I encounter from the office.”

That’s good to hear. Here’s another good message from him: “I would not be effective without the support of the Secretariat headed by Bernard Ricablanca, the Athletic Directors, the Officers and the Board of Directors.” This means he is no one-man show. He seeks help. Encourages teamwork. Consults the Board. Another good act? From this man who, despite his diminutive size, has giant responsibilities? It’s the addition of non-sports events.

“Academic and cultural events have been part of CESAFI since we started,” he said. “As commissioner, not only basketball but also other sport events were given importance. This year, we will give even more focus on academic and cultural events.” He sent me a long list of Cesafi events that I did not even know existed: Oration, Debate, Extemporaneous contests; Math, Science, Computer, Current Events, and Spelling Quizzes. There’s a Song Solo challenge, an essay-writing contest, and—this is amazing—a Sudoko competition.

Stern? Nah… he’s sterling.

The fall from the rise of LeBron James

Two Sundays ago, I made a mistake. I declared LeBron’s joining forces with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade as the right move. Now I’m having a change of mind. Sure, LBJ wants to win that NBA ring. Sure, it was legal. But here’s another sure thing: LeBron made millions of enemies.

His blunder wasn’t joining the Miami Heat—again, he’s a free agent and that’s his prerogative. His mistake was his decision to have “The Decision.” If you recall, LeBron announced to the world his Miami transfer not via a no-nonsense, 12-minute press conference. Instead, the self-proclaimed King promoted himself like a God—to the full hilt, holding six NBA teams as hostage and starting a fiery hype that engulfed the sports world.

Really?

On July 8 in the ESPN show “The Decision,” 13 million TV viewers locked-in for 60 minutes to watch his lips say the seven words that will be embedded in NBA history: “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”

Why was this TV show dubbed a LeBacle? Simple: Knowing that he was going to hurt the 11.5 million residents of Ohio—fans who’ve embraced him as their native son the past seven years; knowing that he was going to disappoint the citizens of New York, Chicago, New Jersey and LA—couldn’t LeBron have focused the attention less on himself? Couldn’t he have done a plain announcement? Been more sympathetic? To his Cleveland family?

Yes, yes, yes. Yes to all of the above. And, I’m sure if you give me LeBron’s number now and I ask him if he can redo how he packaged his decision, he’ll say Yes. I wish I could have given it less hoopla, he’d declare. For, as the saying goes, “Hindsight explains the injury that foresight would have prevented.”

Today, in Fox Sports, ESPN and dozens of other NBA commentaries, they sadly pronounce the same thing: Bad move, LeBron. Sad, isn’t it? From the most revered of athletes comes this worldwide repudiation and scorn. (Can you imagine the jeering and booing he’ll hear when Miami visits Cleveland?)

Commented Michael Jordan: “There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team.’” Ouch. Does this mean LeBron did not have enough courage to stand up on his own and win? Yes, says MJ.

Charles Barkley added: “Mike and I are in 100 percent agreement on this. If you’re the two-time defending NBA MVP, you don’t leave anywhere. They come to you. That’s ridiculous. I like LeBron. He’s a great player. But I don’t think in the history of sports you can find a two-time defending MVP leaving to go play with other people.” (True. Instead, shouldn’t LeBron have enticed Chris Bosh to move to Cleveland?)

Now. What’s LeBron got to do? Well, simple: Win the championship. Now. This season. Anything short will mean more ridicule and damage to his already-damaged persona.

Not everybody’s a loser in this controversy, though. The big winner is Fil-Am Erik Spoelstra, the Miami Heat head coach. His mother, Elisa Celino, hails from San Pablo, Laguna. “I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve visited the Philippines only when I was three years old,” he said in the Phil. Daily Inquirer. “I’m definitely planning to go again.” Bringing with you the Three Kings?

The jackpot winner of this whole story? Of course, Miami. Quoting an AP story entitled “Heat business takes over on and off the court,” there’s now a dish in Miami called LeBron Burger. Served at the diner OneBurger, “It starts with Kobe beef (a nod to Bryant), with Swiss cheese, an onion ring (think championship ring) and jalapenos (for heat, er, the Heat).”

Hotels in Miami? One room, the “Heat Suite” for $2,500/night, includes a “Ferrari F430 rental, James’ favorite snacks, an iPod with his favorite tunes.” Mandarin Oriental has “Live Like LeBron” weekends—with basketball-shaped cookies.

Spa? There’s “LeBroyal Treatment” with “a massage, manicure, personal training session, jet-ski rental, gift package and a six-pack of beer.” For $149, it’s expensive—and better than lingam!

Boston won until LA stole the gold

BOSTON WINS GAME 7! That was the prepared headline. It was written. At the start of the final quarter of the final game of this NBA season, the score was 57-53—one of the lowest in The Finals history—favoring the Celtics. And doesn’t Boston win all low-scoring games? Don’t they triumph in all games via defense? “It was exactly the type of game we wanted,” admitted Doc Rivers.

Boston owned a 13-point lead and won… the first three quarters. The Lakers? In this game where a resale ticket costs over P50,000 ($1,099), LA played their worst game of the playoffs. Maybe, of the season. Kobe Bryant was 1-for-7 after the first quarter, 3-for-14 at halftime; in all, he missed 18 of 24 attempts. The entire LA team? At halftime, they shot 25.6 percent. At game’s end, it was 32.5 percent. Free throws? I’ve never seen them more lousy. Yet, in this off-day for LA which the TV announcer calls “one of the most poorly played games you’ll ever see,” it wasn’t Gilbert Teodoro’s color that won but P. Noy’s.

D-FENSE! D-FENSE! Those shouts reverberated inside the Staples Center. And while the Celtics are best in defense, the Lakers won this contest because of their D. Determination. Led by Kobe who said, “I just wanted it so, so bad.” That’s D: Desire. Maybe, this all-too-consuming Dream by Kobe was the reason why he missed so, so much… from free throws to threes to open jumpers. You can’t blame Mr. Bryant. After 82 games in the regular season and many more in the playoffs, even though he’s Superman, he’s super… but human.

To me, three lessons can be derived from this NBA Finale. First, basketball—like life—is about teamwork. Kobe’s team won not because of him–but because of him with his teammates. Here was a man transformed from being selfish to selfless.

Ron Artest? He was the Game 7 MVP. He guarded Paul Pierce, forcing him to miss 10 of 15 shots. He played 46 of the game’s 48 minutes, stole the Boston ball five times, scored 12 in the second quarter to keep the halftime tally close. “He brought life to the team,” said Phil Jackson. “He brought life to the crowd.”

Pau Gasol was the hero. That offensive rebound (he totaled 18 rebounds, nine offensive) after Kobe missed a three-pointer with 27.9 seconds left had Kobe saying at the end: “I can’t say enough about that Spaniard. That guy is unbelievable and just a hell of a player. We wouldn’t have won it without him.”

Kobe’s realization: Rely on others. Ask for help. Trust your teammates.

Lesson No. 2: Anybody can have an off day. You can’t expect perfection 100 percent of the time. This happens to Kobe, to you, to me, to the world champs, Lakers. What’s essential is to rise above this temporary lapse, this “off day.” The LAL, despite trailing 85 percent of the way, found a way. They never gave up. Never felt deflated nor discouraged. Look at Kobe. Inside his brain entering those final eight minutes, he must have wondered, “How can I mess up this bad?” Yet he persevered, passed instead of shot, rebounded 15 times, and converted—finally!—those free throws.

Lesson No. 3: The game is won in the end. It’s like a sprint. Anybody can take the early lead. But it’s the finish that matters. Championships are won in the final 300 seconds. Like a 400-meter dash. The winner isn’t the one who gallops off the starting line first or leads halfway, it’s the one who leads at the very last meter. That’s what the Lakers did.

“They scored 30 points in the fourth quarter, and for us, a defensive group, that’s the toughest part to swallow — that we gave up 30 points,” said Doc Rivers.

The Lakers summoned up all their past triumphs, absorbed all the deafening vibes of the Los Angeles crowd… and sprinted first to the finish. Much like the victory of our new Vice President, right?

One game left in this Hollywood blockbuster

(Wally Skalij/LA Times)

I wish tomorrow were a holiday. I wish last Monday’s Independence Day no-work schedule was moved to Friday. That way we can all watch this contest between two of the most significant brands in sport, Lakers and Celtics. Yup. From a best-of-seven series, it’s down to a best-of-one. Who’s the best one?

Here’s my prediction: The team with the most energy wins. We saw that yesterday. Right after the jump ball, the LA boys, buoyed by fellow Californians, rebounded, hustled, fist-pumped. The electricity of the Staples Center audience electrified their muscles. Kobe Bryant, the undisputed playoff MVP, scored 11 of his team’s first 21 points. He sizzled as hot as the Kobe Beef in Japan. No wonder the whole night the crowd chanted “M-V-P!”

The Celtics? They’re the Most Vilified People in Hollywood. Worse, their spirits were left in Boston yesterday. They were slow-footed as LA was sure-footed, they missed shots (Wallace, Williams and Davis scored zero points) as LA out-rebounded them 52-39, they were embarrassed inside the arena that houses 15 banners. Will it be 16 championships for the Lakers?

The odds are, Yes. Sixteen times the NBA Finals have culminated in a Game 7 and 13 of those were won by the home squad. Win or lose for BC or LAL, the sure winners are the hundreds of millions of fanatics—that’s us—who’ve been treated to ballgame spectacles this week involving the hands (NBA) and the feet (World Cup). “This is definitely a special treat for the NBA,” said Boston’s Ray Allen. “We’re going to Game 7, and this is The Finals, and it’s the Celtics and Lakers.”

Allen, who, like this seesaw series, has been hot-cold, cold-hot (he made eight three-point shots in Game 3 before missing 21 straight in Games 4 and 5), is right. Tomorrow’s finale is like an American Idol final where, after a season-long wait and dozens of cities visited, we’ll be treated to The Finale. It’s like Tiger vs. Phil tied going into the final day at the US Open in Pebble Beach. It’s RF vs. RN in the Wimbledon final next Sunday. It’s Money against Manny come November. It’s a best-scenario ending (well, OK, next to a Game 7 by LeBron vs. Kobe) that can only be rivaled if Spain meets Brazil in South Africa this July 11.

How important is the Staples Center for LA in Game 7? HUGE. A total of 11 playoff games Pau Gasol and his gang have played and they’ve won 10. That’s a 90% winning clip. But Boston has to feel upbeat, as I’m sure coach Doc Rivers will remind them. After succumbing to an NBA Final Game 1 loss, they rebounded to win Game 2. Mentally, this tells their internal circuitry: We can do it.

Again, I go back to the E word: Energy. Who has it more—who’s more Excited and Emphatic—triumphs. “Our energy went down a little,” said Rajon Rondo of their Game 6 effort. “We just came out and didn’t have it.”

“I thought we would play better,” added Doc Rivers. “I just thought they were ready. I just thought the Lakers played harder, better. They executed, they trusted more.”

Maybe it’s the crowd (can you imagine if the Los Angeles fans brought vuvuzelas for Game 7?). Maybe it’s the threat of losing, like they did in 2008 to the same faces, that sparked those plugs inside Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom. Maybe it’s just the you-win-now, I-win-next yo-yo effect that happens when two past champions collide. It’s even. Now, at 3-3, it’s even. Tomorrow, the final odd number, one team will cry, another will rejoice.

In all this, nobody has more experience than No. 24. “No different to me,” said the four-time champ, No. 24. “I don’t mean to be a buzzkill, but it’s not. I know what’s at stake, but I’m not tripping. It’s a game we’ve got to win, simple as that.”

(Michael Dwyer/AP)

For with Kobe, his philosophy is simple: 48 minutes left this season then I get my fifth ring, one for each finger. I call him The Ring Bearer. This draws him one closer to The Air King, Michael J., and five more than The Supposed-to-be King, LeBron J., who has zero.

My pick, green or yellow? Expect the same winning color as May 10.

LA rebounds with a steal in Boston

LA won Game 1, Boston won Game 2, LA won yesterday, Game 4 to Boston, Game 5 for Los Angeles, Game 6 to…. Game 7? This is the NBA Finale. That’s how it’s supposed to be. A seesaw. A pendulum. One swing here, another sway there. It’s a boxing fight of 10 men minus the red gloves.

Yesterday, I only saw the final 12 minutes. The hero of the game, of course, was Derek Fisher. He’s 35 years young and keeps four NBA championship rings at home—while many have none—yet, he’s still hungry for one more ring to make it all five for his fingers.

“Won the game for them,” said Doc Rivers. “Derek Fisher was the difference in the game. We lost our composure a little bit down the stretch — a 4-point game, all you need is a stop. We let Derek Fisher dribble the ball all the way up the court, unattended, get a three-point play. If you get a stop there, we had plenty of time. But that’s where we (need) the mental toughness. We’ve got to hang in there. It’s not going to be an easy game, none of them are going to be, and that’s what we have to do.”

In all, Fisher netted 16 points—nothing too extraordinary a catch. But, when you examine that 11 of those points came in the fourth quarter, then that’s the reason why his team leads 2-1. “He’s our guy that pulls everyone together,” added Kobe Bryant of his teammate who stands as tall as my brother-in-law Rommel Desnacido at 6-foot-1.

“To come through tonight again for this team, 14 years in, after so many great moments, it’s always quite surreal,” said Fisher. “It’s quite humbling to experience it again and do it again. But it’s like being a kid, man. You just never get tired of candy.” For, with Derek Fisher, the NBA crown looks like candy. It’s tempting, sweet, mouth-watering and, once tasted, always desired.

How about Ray Allen? Wow, what a split personality. In Game 2, he converted eight 3-pointers. That was an NBA record. Yesterday? He attempted to smash another National Basketball Association record: 13 times he attempted, 13 times he missed—barely missing the all-time record for misses (14). “I thought all of his shots looked flat tonight,” said Boston coach Doc Rivers. “I don’t know if he had any legs.”

Maybe he overspent himself in Game 2. Like Robin Soderling who upset Roger Federer and squeezed out a five-set-win in the semis against Tomas Berdych in the French Open, only to lose stamina in the final against Rafa Nadal, maybe it was the same with Allen. “Ray went 0-for-13,” said Glen Davis. “Who would have ever thought that?

No one. Not even Ray. “This is why you always have to be humble, thankful,” said Allen. “You have to continue to work on things to make you successful. I never hang my head. Tomorrow is another opportunity.” That’s the spirit. That’s being positive. Let’s see what happens to his hot-and-cold hands in Saturday morning’s (RP time) Game 4. But, for now, the series is back where it belongs—home-court advantage for the Lakers. If they win the next game, it’s over for the Celtics. A 3-1 lead is insurmountable. Thus, Game 4 is a must, must-win for Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. Win those 48 minutes of play time, then another in Game 5, then the pressure and pendulum shifts to the West Coast in Los Angeles. But these Green Goblins have to win the next two on their home turf.

One man is optimistic. He’s Paul Pierce. “The Lakers are a high-powered offensive team that is used to scoring in the 100s and we’ve got the game in the 80s,” he said. “It’s our type of game. Usually, we win these type of games.”

Usually. But LA is not your “usual” team; they’re the reigning champs. They’ve got KB24, Pau, Artest, Lamar, and the captain of their ship is Fisher.

Kobe Bryant and his golden Los Angeles

I used to idolize Michael Jordan. Who didn’t? But when he retired the Chicago Bulls jersey, then, after he stopped wearing the Washington Wizards uniform, my interest in the NBA faded. Then LeBron James arrived. Here was Air Jordan’s Heir. Yet, after seven years and numerous Most Valuable trophies collected, he has zero titles; LBJ is no MJ.

Kobe Bryant is. Though, in his own words, he admonishes the comparison. “I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan,” he said. “I only want to be Kobe Bryant.”

What a performance thus far by the 6-foot-6, 205-lb. “NBA Player of the Decade” from 2000-09, as named by TNT and Sporting News. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Kobe showed the world his Barack Obama-like leadership acumen on the basketball court. He scored 30. He blocked Tony Allen’s shot. He sprinted to dunk an alley hoop seconds later. He banged a three-pointer to lift his Los Angeles city to a 102-point haul. He rebounded seven times, assisted on six, made 9 of 10 free throws, and caused frown lines on millions of Celtics fans worldwide.

Kobe Bryant is. For here’s one lesson I’ve learned from watching KB24—a life lesson that we can all use: “He who wants it more, gets it.” Get it? I repeat: Nobody in the NBA wants that title more than Kobe… and that’s why he’ll get it.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it’s sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot,” Kobe was once quoted.

Amazing, right? For herein lies his secret—and the secret of life: The man who wins is the one who thinks he can. The man who, like the 31-year-old Kobe, has more enthusiasm, more vitality and will, more eagerness and zest and spirit than anybody else… wins.

Kobe Bryant is. That’s who he is. That’s why he’s won four times and will add another. It’s called focus. It’s named tenacity. At one episode in Game 1, the comedian Chris Rock, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated, sat beside Kobe in the front row and kept on talking to him, clowning around, dishing out tips and words. Kobe’s reaction? None. He hardly noticed the superstar. His eyes and mind and focus were serious, all zoomed in towards one goal: winning the ballgame.

“I’m chasing perfection,” he once said. Yup. True. In this case, Kobe’s definition of chasing “perfection” is chasing “a fifth NBA championship.” He longs for L.A. to win their 16th title and move them just one behind Boston’s record of 17.

He who wants it more, gets it. What a lesson Kobe is demonstrating to his audience. From the stern look on his game face to his three-point-shots despite the in-his-face defense to his fist-pumping, Kobe shows us that he wants it more than Pierce or KG or Rajon.

“Some are destined to succeed, some are determined to succeed.” I like that quotation. I’m sure jersey No. 23 does, too. For this word—Determination—is Kobe Bean Bryant’s middle name. It’s embedded in his system. It’s the reason why, failure after failure—a rape case in 2003 that nearly collapsed his life and reputation, an embarrassing Game 6 finals loss of 39 points to Boston in 2008—he’s able to overcome the challenges.

“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise,” is another of Kobe’s more popular Quotable Quotes.

Kobe Bryant is. He’s the reason why the team in gold will win gold.

Scanning the sports horizon for athletes with similar conviction and single-mindedness, I can think of one other today. He, too, embraces the motto, “He who’s more determined, triumphs.” And, like Kobe, who’s gunning for his 5th NBA crown, this man, tonight at 9 p.m. in our Cebu cable TVs, will aim for his 5th crown in Paris. Watch for Pau Gasol’s countryman from Spain to win the French Open.

Boston versus Los Angeles: This is it!

Kobe Bryant is not Michael Jordan. But he’s getting close. With Kobe’s fifth NBA ring just four games away, he’s nearing MJ’s record of six NBA crowns. And, in the much-debated Kobe vs. LeBron contest, we know who’s the true season MVP. One is at home wearing pajamas; the other is playing on Friday.

“Kobe is so good, he makes incredible normal for us [and] those that are around him,” said Lamar Odom. “He spins away from a double team, leans back and hits those medium range jumpers. He uses his footwork to free himself while he’s double-teamed. There aren’t too many players in the history of the NBA that can make those plays. I always commend Kobe for his competitiveness, his preciseness, the way he studies the game and his goal as far as being the best player ever.”

Incredible made Normal. Opposite words turned into synonyms by Mr. Bryant. This series, he’s been Jordanesque; making 52.1 percent of all his shots, and averaging 33.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 8.3 assists. Don’t those numbers remind us of MJ? Here’s more: He scored 30 or more points in 10 of his team’s last 11 games. Plus, if you watched Game 6 two days ago, you will never forget the one shot that caught us in disbelief: Facing Grant Hall on the three-point-line with 34 seconds left, he fired a jaw-dropping shot that blackened the sun of Phoenix.

Incredible is Normal. “He’s one of the very few guys that I have seen play that literally can will the ball in the basket,” said Derek Fisher. “He has the ability to lock in on the rim.”

Like an F-16 jet with laser-guided missiles that “locks-in” and rarely misses the target, so is Kobe. When the ball leaves his fingers, there’s a magnet attached to it that forces the object to swoosh inside the ring’s middle.

“Hey, I’ve known him all his life, since he was about 16,’’ said Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry. “I’ve always been a big fan of his. He knows that. He probably solidified my thought process as to he’s the best basketball player right now.’’

Ouch, LeBron. Beware, MJ. Which brings us to The Finals. It’s the Rivalry of Rivalries. It’s the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, Ali fighting Frazier, Borg-McEnroe, Prost vs. Senna. For no two NBA teams have won more, loath each other more… than Gold vs. Green. The NBA Finals have been contested 63 times and, on 32 occasions, either Boston or L.A. has triumphed.

Starting 1959, they’ve met 12 times in The Finals. In that era, the Celtics beat the Minneapolis Lakers for the first of their eight straight NBA crowns. Those were the 1960s when Jerry West guarded Bob Cousy.

In the 1980s, we remember what transpired: Magic Johnson faced Larry Bird three times, with his Lakers victorious twice. That last game was in 1987. Then, 21 years after, the courtship happened again. This time, in 2008, it was the league’s MVP in Kobe vs. The Big Three of Boston. Against an impenetrable defense, Green beat Gold, 4-2.

And, now. This. Friday, 9 a.m., Cebu time. The Rematch. The Revenge. The Rebirth of a Rivalry. Call it what you may, but KB24 calls it by another name. “It’s a sexy matchup,” he said.

Sexy? Ha-ha. I hope he’s not reminding us all of his past “sins.” But Kobe’s telling the truth: In Los Angeles, it’s a world of glamour, glitz, Greta Garbo. It’s Hollywood. In Boston, it’s cold and hostile territory for the Californians.

What does Phil Jackson have to say? “We remember more than anything losing on our home court, a situation where we had some defensive lapses and they took advantage of it,” he said. “This year we have home-court advantage, and we look forward to the rematch with great intensity.”

Home court advantage, in politics or sport, is an advantage. This time, the Lakers want to score early. And, with the 2-3-2 format, those first two games are at the Staples Center. If LA wins those, they’ve got momentum. If Boston steals one in The City of Freddie Roach, it’s Advantage, Celtics.

Like you, I can’t wait for Friday.

Scorching hot in Phoenix, can the Suns win?

Ninety four teams have attempted to come back from a 0-3 deficit in the NBA and 94 have lost. That number includes yesterday’s loser, the Orlando Magic. Don’t tell the Men In Blue they didn’t try. They did. In Games 4 and 5, their vacation plans were readied by the Boston Celtics. But Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Co. fought. They forced a Game 6. Sadly, that’s as far as they were allowed by this unstoppable Green Machine whose bloodline includes Larry Bird and Bob Cousy.

BEAT LA! Did you see that banner? One Celtics fan raised up high that poster in yesterday’s NBA Eastern Conference finale. He’s right. For who, but the boys in Gold-and-Blue, does Boston want to face? LeBron James they’ve ousted in the quarterfinals, last year’s conference champs—the Magic—they’ve outclassed in the semifinals, now it’s time for The Super Bowl of the NBA, the Oscars Night of dribbling, basketball’s Wimbledon final.

Ponder on this for a moment: Which team, apart from a LeBron against Kobe face-to-face, would we all want to see? Orlando vs. Phoenix? Nah. Zzzz. Sure, those two have their admirers but they’re nowhere near the zealots of Lakers vs. Celtics.

It’s like boxing. Mayweather against Mosley was thrilling; Pacquiao versus Clottey was crazy inside the Cowboys Stadium. But those fights were mere rehearsals. They were preliminaries. The show we all await to see—in November—is Manny beating Money.

Same with tennis. A Djokovic – Murray final at the ongoing French Open won’t prevent you and I from watching next Sunday; but that’s boring. We anticipate that. Nothing beats Federer and Nadal.

Just like the NBA. No two teams are as opposite, no two squads have as much historical pedigree and will bring more eyeballs to watch than the upcoming Final.

BEAT LA! But, wait. While it’s Mission Accomplished for Boston, it’s still Mission To-Be-Accomplished for LA. Up against the Phoenix Suns this 8:30 a.m. (RP time), they’re facing Steve Nash who predicted, “We’re going home and win Game 6 and come back in Game 7.” That’s confidence. That’s the voice of a two-time Most Valuable Player.

BEAT LA! That, too, is the chant of the Suns today: to scorch, burn, light aflame Los Angeles when they set foot inside the US Airways Center in Arizona. This contest is terrific: Pitted are Nash, the 2005 and 2006 MVP, against a one-time MVP in Kobe (2008). Nash is Canadian; Bryant is as American as Barack Obama.

No doubt, the Lakers will attempt to finish their Western Conference series today. With Boston’s Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo to watch their game with both feet up on a chair, with masseurs massaging their stiff backs—they’re fully relaxed—it’s still a work day for the Lakers. And if LA loses Game 6, it’s a pressure-packed Game 7… while Boston is getting those foot massages.

Phoenix? Despite on the precipice of losing the series, they’re undaunted. Here’s why: In this LA-Phoenix series, the home team has won every single game. Plus, the Suns have won their last six consecutive playoff games at home. Will it be 7-0 for Amare Stoudemire?

“We don’t plan on going to Phoenix and losing three times on their home court,” said LA coach Phil Jackson. “We’re not making this trip over there just to fill a date. We’re going over there to win a game. We’re highly motivated for this game, but we understand that if it has to go seven, we’re damn well ready to come back home and defend our home court again. This is a series that has taken a lot of different faces to it in the course of these five games, and we don’t expect Game 6 to be any different.”

My prediction? BEAT LA! No, not for the Lakers to lose this morning, as I’m no fan of the Suns—though it would be a perfect reward for them, after four decades in the league, to finally win an NBA Championship—I’d want for that Boston Celtics fan holding that “BEAT LA” banner to hold it aloft once more… against Los Angeles.

Green vs. Yellow

Now that LeBron James is asleep, it’s time to expect an L.A. vs. Boston finale. This isn’t too bad an ending. For while we all predicted LBJ to hoist that NBA trophy and point it upwards to the Quicken Loans Arena ceiling in Cleveland, we’re now about to feast on a sight that’s even more savory: the greatest rivalry in all of basketball.

Who’s my pick between Green vs. Yellow? (Gibo v. Noynoy?) While my favorite color is green, I’ve always been a Lakers fan. I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s idolizing Magic Johnson’s 6-foot-9 large-frame parting the Celtics defense like Moses. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Pat Riley, Kurt Rambis, James Worthy… those are names that are forever etched in my mind’s memory bank.

I like the Lakers. And though they’re the reigning NBA champs, beating Ranjo Rondo and the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will be a struggle for the boys from the City of Freddie Roach.

Can New York move James to LeBronx?

Will he or will he not? Mr. James is, by a slam dunk, the NBA’s best player. In the recent MVP celebration, he was adjudged the undisputed champ of the basketball world. Thus far in his career, his credentials are Michael Jordan-like: 2004 Rookie of the Year, an Olympic gold medal in Beijing, two MVPs, Defensive First Team, Scoring Champion. Name it, he’s got it. Yet, all these accolades don’t matter as much as the one he lost two days ago: the chance to win an NBA ring.

Be like Mike? Not so fast. For with His Airness, it took him just six seasons before he won an NBA Championship. Then he won two more straight. Then, three more for a total of six NBA rings. LeBron has zero. After seven years and thousands of lay-ups and offensive rebounds, LBJ is still scoreless.

Will he or will he not transfer? KG says he should. “Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can’t get your youth back,” said Kevin Garnett, who stayed with the Minnesota Timberwolves for 12 years and never won there (compared to Boston’s 2008 victory). “I can say that if I can go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I’d have done it a little earlier.”

KG has a point. Change a losing game is one of my favorite quotes. And LBJ is losing. Added Garnett: “The world is his. Whatever he wants it to be. He’’s the face of basketball.”

Without doubt, every state in America wants The Chosen One. But maybe none more than the most famous address in the world: NYC. “If asked, if he calls me and says ‘What’s it like to live in New York,’” said NYC’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, “I’ll give him a big sales pitch for New York. I think LeBron James would love living in New York. It’s the world’s greatest stage.”

True. With Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, the U.N. headquarters, Times Square, and the Bronx all found in the largest city in the U.S. (pop: 19.1m), NYC is the capital city of Planet Earth. Will LeBron soon call The Knicks his home team?

Not a good idea, wrote Ian Thomsen in his CNNSI article, “Countdown: LeBron’s future,” if LBJ’s main criteria is to win that NBA crown: “They can add James and another not-quite-max talent, which is not to say James couldn’t work out some way to recruit Bosh or Joe Johnson… They would be joined by Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, a couple of bench players, the woebegone Eddy Curry and then a bunch of veteran-minimum fill-ins. That means New York will need at least two years to develop a roster with the depth and heart to get by an Eastern contender like Orlando… The Knicks have an excellent coach and the world’s largest market, but they face practical hurdles in their ability to build a winner around James.”

The Knicks isn’t the only option for LeBron. There’s the Nets, Miami, Chicago or Dallas. How about Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats? And, of course, let’s not forget his current home in Cleveland. LeBron grew up in Akron, Ohio—which is less than an hour away from Cleveland. The city is not giving up their favorite son. Led by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, his fans remade “We Are The World” to “We Are LeBron.” (Check it out in www.break.com). The lyrics include… “Please stay, LeBron. We really need you. No bigger market’s gonna love you half as much as we do…. New York’s overcrowded. Those people are unbearable. And don’t forget, the Knicks and Nets are terrible.”

For now, let’s wait. And not forget that the Final Four is starting: Magic-Celtics, Lakers-Suns. My prediction? LBJ soon gets envious of Kobe’s fifth NBA ring.

Boston, Binay spoil the wins of LBJ, Mar

The LA Lakers are 4 and 0. Same with Phoenix. Against San Antonio, the Suns scorched the Spurs. The reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Orlando Magic? With their magic wand, they metamorphosed the Atlanta Hawks to fly into oblivion. The score? Four, zero. This means, as expected, Los Angeles is in, Phoenix is in, and Dwight Howard and his Magicians are in. This was forecasted.

Like our elections of 72 hours ago. Noynoy Aquino was expected to win. He did. Bong Revilla was prophesied to top the senatorial slate. He did. Manny Pacquiao? Well, whenever he fights, he wins. And so finally, on the political arena, he won. But the win we never saw coming was the “loss” of the seemingly-unbeatable Manuel Araneta Roxas II, who led by as much as 33 survey points just months before last Monday.

Mar beaten by Robin Hood? That’s an epic upset by Jojo Binay. Much like what we saw yesterday morning: LeBron James, all but crowned by Mark Garcia and Charlie Pages as the 2010 NBA champions—they lost. But wait, this isn’t all-too-surprising. This is sports. And, like politics where surprises are common, it’s the same with basketball: the ball is round, thus it bounces one way, spins another, ricochets left, sways right, often tilting in favor of the underdog.

Not that the Boston Celtics, the winningest franchise in NBA history (yes, more than the Lakers) with 17 NBA trophies, are weaklings. Boston won the NBA crown as recently as two years ago. And, of course, they still have the Big Three: KG, Ray Allen and PP. Plus a point guard named Rajon Rondo who, in Game 4, was phenomenal with 18 rebounds, 13 assists and 29 points. Boston is Boston. They’re NBA legends.

Still, with Shaq and LBJ, everybody crowned the Cavaliers as this year’s winners. Like we all did with Roxas. Well, yesterday’s 120-88 trashing by Boston in LeBron’s home court was embarrassing. It also put Cavaliers in a 2-3 win-loss quicksand. With the coming Game 6 in Boston, if Cleveland wins, they live for one more game. If they lose those 48 minutes of ball-playing, they’re out. As in Roxas-out. Ouch.

Which makes me ask: Where was the two-time MVP? LeBron missed his first seven shots and ended with 3-out-14 shooting for 15 points—the fourth lowest-scoring total of his playoff career. When he finally left the game with 3:58 remaining, he was booed. Imagine… the MVP booed. (Contrast this to the “M.V.P.” serenade Rajon Rondo received in Boston after Game 4.) It’s obvious that if LeBron performs the same dismal way tomorrow (Game 6 is 8 a.m. RP time), it’s an early summer vacation for the 25-year-old.

Upset of upsets, right? Right. Which makes tomorrow the most important game of LeBron’s seven-year-long NBA career. Three years ago, his Cavs reached the NBA Finals. They were humiliated, 4-0, by the San Antonio Spurs. Last year, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals, beaten by Orlando. Then they hired the 7-foot-1 Shaquille O’Neal. With the stronger big man, they finished the year with the NBA regular season-best of 61 wins, 21 losses. This 2010 is Cleveland’s number. It’s LeBron’s time.

Here’s my analysis: If LBJ steals the Boston game tomorrow, they’ll fly back to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland with momentum pushing their giant-sized bodies and they’ll win Game 7. Having escaped that Boston scare, they’ll ride to avenge their Easter Conference Finals loss to Orlando last year and, once in the NBA Championships, they’ll trample the Lakers in a LeBron vs. Kobe face-to-face.

All these…. if they win tomorrow. If they don’t, well, yesterday might have been the last time LeBron wore the Cavaliers jersey in Cleveland. For the internet is abuzz with rumors that LBJ wants out of Ohio. When he becomes a free agent on July 1, the city that never sleeps, New York, will beg for his superstardom to shine there. He’ll probably wear the uniform marked “KNICKS.” But that’s speculation. For now, let’s wait and watch. It’s one fight tomorrow. Like Jojo vs. Mar. Abangan.

Mark Garcia reviews the NBA Playoffs

He putts on the Cebu Country Club golf course and swings a tennis forehand but ask Mark Garcia which game he loves most and his reply will echo as loudly as the slogan… I Love This Game!

The NBA. And, yes, after five months, we’ve reached the Final 16 (of the total 30) as the playoffs started last Saturday. “I think the Cavs and the Lakers will meet in the finals with Cleveland winning,” said Mark. “The Cavs have loaded up their team with Shaq and Jamison. They also have a deeper bench. The Lakers also have been banged up this year, which is a concern. The advantage of the Lakers is their experience being defending champs and that they have the best closer, Kobe. But I think that this is going to be Cleveland’s year.”

Mark Garcia has, like millions of us worldwide, followed the NBA for decades. But what few of us have experienced is watching an NBA game. Live. Mark’s done that five times. “The first one was Game 2 of the 1992 playoffs between Detroit and New York in Madison Square Garden. Detroit had Isiah, Dumars, Rodman, Laimbeer (The Bad Boys); Knicks had Ewing, Mark Jackson, Kenny Walker and were coached by Pat Riley.”

In 1996, Mark saw three games. On one occasion, together with his cousin Chris Aldeguer and best friend Quinito Moras, he saw Chicago vs. the Clippers in LA. “The Bulls lineup were composed of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman.. and MJ scored 40 points. That was the game when he closed his eyes for one free throw,” he said. “We were six rows from the court and Jack Nicholson was across us.”

Mark Garcia (right) with Chris Aldeguer

(All photos by Mark G.)

Last year, Mark watched the pre-season game in Las Vegas between the Lakers and Kings and saw top rookie, Tyreke Evans, plus, said Mark, “Kobe who played 30 minutes and put on a show with three dunks.”

KB24? Yes. “My favorite players are Kobe and Lebron. Kobe because of his work ethic and will to win attitude like Jordan. He’s also worked hard to make himself the best clutch shooter. He came into the league as a pure scorer but learned how to play the team game (like Jordan).

“LeBron came as the most hyped NBA player but he exceeded all expectations. Like Kobe, LeBron has gotten better every year. His jump shot and defense have improved every season. LeBron’s understanding of the game at a very young age is amazing. Plus, both have great charisma.”

But who, among the two, is No.1? “Last year, Kobe and LeBron were about the same level,” he said. “Both of them were dominant offensive players and made the all defensive first team. This year has been different. LeBron has been amazing in almost every category and will surely win his second straight MVP with the second place far behind. LeBron is the better player now and will be for many years.”

Cleveland will win, assures Mark. “I love the Lakers but I think the Cavs’ defeat last year against Orlando will be enough to motivate LeBron and Co. It’s like the Lakers when they lost to the Celtics during the ‘07-’08 finals.”

How about the Boston Celtics? “I think this is going to be their last run at a championship with the Big 3 (Garnett, Pierce and Allen). If healthy, they might be able to get to the conference finals because of their experience but I don’t see them going to the finals. They haven’t played consistently.”

For the best first round playoff match-ups, Mark lists three:  Celtics vs. Heat (“A good one since the Heat closed the season on a high note winning 12 of their last 13 games), Dallas vs. San antonio, and Denver vs. Utah.

As to which teams might surprise us, “I think Dallas has a chance since they have an experienced lineup with Kidd and Dirk. They also pulled off the best trade this season with Butler and Haywood. San Antonio, now healthy, can also do well. Orlando has also gained experience from last year’s finals plus they have Vince Carter.”

Mark’s final words: “This year’s Playoffs will be great since there’s no clear-cut favorite. Whichever team gets hot in the next month could win, like Miami in 2006. A lot of the playoff seedings were determined on the last day of the regular season which shows how close the teams were.”

Johnvic and Boy on KB24, Phil and ‘Cry Baby’

Two basketball tacticians I conferred with yesterday. JOHNVIC GULLAS, whose family owns the University of the Visayas (UV), stands over 6 feet tall and, during his schooldays, shot eight triples for Sacred Heart (Boys) in one game and nine three-pointers in a Velez College intrams contest. ELMER “BOY” CABAHUG is a celebrity. A former PBA star, he has since led the UV Green Lancers, as head coach, to eight straight CESAFI titles. Here’s my Q & A with the two:

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(Emmanuel Dunand/AP)

ON L.A. Gullas: The Lakers played the Magic so well that I was not surprised they dominated. Look at Game 3 when the Magic shot a record 75% (first half) but won by only four, 108-104. That shows you that for the Magic to win they have to play at an extraordinary level. The Lakers’ big men exposed Howard’s lack of a low post play. The Lakers defense on the perimeter vs. the Magic was excellent, preventing them from hitting open shots (with Game 3’s exception). Cabahug: It’s all about experience. Orlando is new in the Finals. The crucial games were 2, 3 and 4. The Magic had chances and it could have been 3-1 in their favor. But what LA always does is to ‘take the last shot.’ They control the game’s final outcome, win or lose. They were also very composed in their execution. Their experience made the difference. Continue reading Johnvic and Boy on KB24, Phil and ‘Cry Baby’

No hypnotic magic can stop the Lakers now

ORLANDO WINS GAME 4! THEY DID IT! SERIES NOW TIED, 2-ALL!!!

Sorry. That was supposed to have been the script. Orlando should have won. They led 24-20 after 12 minutes, held a 12-point advantage during halftime, led 67-63 after the third quarter and, with just 39 ticks left, led by five. Then, with the same length of time it takes to count “1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5,” they owned a three-point edge. But, left unattended because the enemy believed they’d rely on Kobe The Great, a forgotten elderly named Mr. Fisher was left open. Swoosh! It was 87-87. It’s called “LeShot” of these NBA Finals.

It’s called Experience.

For here he was, 34 years old in a league where the average age is 26 years young. Wasn’t Derek Fisher a bygone? Obsolete? An abandoned relic? Not with that three-pointer he converted to force OT. And not when, minutes later with 31 seconds left, he scored another 3-pointer. To think that, prior to those two heroic bombs, he attempted five 3-pointers and missed all five. Isn’t that called luck? Swerte? No.

It’s called Experience. Continue reading No hypnotic magic can stop the Lakers now

Kobe stumbles, Orlando revives Magic touch

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Last February, Sports Illustrated conducted a survey where 190 NBA players were asked, “With the game on the line, which NBA player would you want to take the last shot?” Dwayne Wade got two percent; Paul Pierce got three percent, same with Chauncey Billups and LeBron James. Who received a staggering 76 percent? You guessed it right: Kobe Bean Bryant.

But, as we all saw yesterday, with less than 30 seconds left in the game clock and Orlando Magic leading by two, Kobe dribbled left, then right, penetrated—then he fumbled! From a potential game-tying two-pointer, he lost the ball… and the ballgame. Worse, minutes earlier, he missed a free throw. Not once but five bungled free throws out of 10 attempts. And he’s the man proclaimed by 76 percent of his peers as the game’s “best closer?” Continue reading Kobe stumbles, Orlando revives Magic touch

Orlando vs. LA? Cebuano NBA fans choose

Yayoy Alcoseba: LA, 4-2. They have Kobe and Pau Gasol plus Phil Jackson who has 9 titles. Also, their experience in the Finals last yr was impt. Orlando is good but not in the same caliber. Howard can also be contained by Gasol. Plus, none of Magic players have any Finals experience.

Bimbo Bael: I’m for Orlando, the underdog. Who would have thought they’d make it to the finals! Now that they have, the momentum is on their side.

John Cheu: LA in 6 or 7. Kobe & d deep bench of LA will make d difference. But Coach Van Gundy is a great strategist and will give Phil a hard time.

Chester Cokaliong: Orlando. Have never been a Laker fan. Howard, MVP, because he is their Heart & Soul. He is unstoppable inside while the Lakers has Gasol as a go-to guy in the absence of Kobe.

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(Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images) Continue reading Orlando vs. LA? Cebuano NBA fans choose

Alone, LeBron’s magic vanishes against Magic

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Would you believe that, had LeBron James not made “LeShot” in Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, the series today would have been 4-0? Yes, Four… Zero. A clean sweep by the Orlando Magic against the team who owns the regular season record, who embarrassed Detroit and Atlanta in the earlier playoffs, 8-0, and boasts of Player No. 23 who’s proclaimed as “Today’s Michael Jordan.”

Confounding? Hard-to-believe? Perplexing? Yes, yes, yes. For how did a team that was destined to reach The Finals (while Kobe and L.A. would struggle) almost got obliterated, 4-0? How? Continue reading Alone, LeBron’s magic vanishes against Magic

NBA’s No.1, with 0:01 left, bangs ‘The Shot’

Call it any adjective you prefer—“Amazing,” “Incredible,” “Breathtaking”—what transpired 24 hours ago at the Quicken Loans Arena in Ohio will forever be etched in NBA history. Down 0-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, down 93-95 with the same length of time it takes to say “goodbye,” LeBron James does the unthinkable: He grabs the inbounds pass, spins around and, barely looking at the goal and with roughly 0.4 seconds left, unleashes a missile that dribbles against the rim of the basket and slides down the net.

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Swoosh! Wasn’t that stunning? It wasn’t a Steven Spielberg movie—it was better; a real-life script with turns and twists that no one could have plotted and whose ending, wow, was spectacular and unknown until after the buzzer sounded.

Best of all, wasn’t that a Michael Moment? For while LBJ had accumulated a multitude of accolades—Rookie of the Year, MVP, scoring champion, Olympic gold medalist—he’s never had that one moment like MJ.

Now, this. The LeBron Moment. “The biggest shot I’ve made in my career,” he said. Hey, it may have been the biggest shot in all of the National Basketball Association. Continue reading NBA’s No.1, with 0:01 left, bangs ‘The Shot’

Near drowning, Kobe rescues the Lakers

Yesterday, like many of you, I watched part of the Lakers-Nuggets game. From start to near-the-finish, Denver led. They led 5-0 after the opening tip, led by 13 points during the First Quarter, led by 11 at half time, led by 7 points with 7:01 left. But, as we all know, the term led during the game is nowhere near the same as led at the end of the game. Because in sports, the beginning and middle are essential—but what’s most imperative and paramount is The End.

Take swimming. Many a backstroke swimmer has led Michael Phelps at the start only for the Olympic gold medalist to overtake in the end. The same with cycling. A few overeager pedalists sprint to the front when the starting gun is fired—only to evaporate towards the finish line.

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Which brings me to Kobe. Is there any ballplayer who’s a better closer? Who, when the seconds are ticking and the enemy is bloodying you, stands up front, lifts his sword like King Arthur and bludgeons his way to victory? Continue reading Near drowning, Kobe rescues the Lakers

As LeBron is crowned, a retrospect on No. 23

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Valentine’s Day three months ago at the sprawling and expansive Asturias farm of Frederic Chiongbian, seated around the dining table were Chris Aldeguer, Meyrick Jacalan, Frederic and myself. We debated. The topic? Who, among the billions of earthlings who have inhabited this planet, is the greatest athlete of all time.

“Lance Armstrong!” I said. As rapid as our Pambansang Kamao’s left punch, my trio of friends—all ardent bikers and devotees of Lance—quickly shot down my proposal and, in unanimous decision, echoed with one answer: No. 23.

I soon retreated. And concurred. It’s MJ. Think about it: In the 1990s decade and the 15 years that we’ve been blessed with his soaring presence dribbling that orange ball, weren’t those weeks and months the best in sports? Don’t those mental photos—of an identifiable black object flying inside the United Center skyline—bring back joyous memories?

Remember the tongue-wagging? The shiny scalp? Those baggy shorts? The Air Jordans? The diamond earring? Those dunks that slam. The red Chicago Bulls jersey with the most famous number in sports, 23? Remember those contests between Bird and Magic? The two Olympic gold rings? Space Jam? Best of all, remember the smile? Continue reading As LeBron is crowned, a retrospect on No. 23