Hapit! Mandaue’s Landmasters/RDAK scares Smart Gilas

Marcus Douthit is 6’11”. Japeth Aguilar stands 6-foot-9. Together, side by side, standing on the parquet floor with their arms outstretched like wingspans of two Airbus A380s, they’re unstoppable.

I watched them play last Thursday. Inside the Mandaue City Cultural and Sports Complex, the Philippine team called the “Smart-Gilas Pilipinas” faced Cebu’s latest phenomenon, the Mandaue-Landmasters/RDAK squad.

We beat them. Hapit. Almost. With 3 minutes, 18 seconds left in the 4th quarter, our locals led the nationals, 64-61. This was after Mandaue’s latest recruit, Vic Manuel, did the unthinkable against the Gilas giants: In a fast-break, with two hands gripping the ball, Manuel vaulted up on air and slam-dunked. Yes! Mandaue slam-dunked Gilas.

I arrived at the gymnasium during the start of the 3rd quarter. Of the gym’s 5,000-seating capacity, the venue was 70 percent full.

We did not lead all the way. Earlier, Gilas led by as much as 16 points when the score was 37-21. They dominated. Like they did the night before in Cebu Coliseum, against the M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala, when the Cebu Niños suffered a humbling 89-62 loss. That’s a 27-point margin.

Not in Mandaue City. I was seated between the two most influential VIPs in the coliseum that night: to my left sat Joe Soberano, the CEO of Cebu Landmasters, Inc. and the owner of the team; to my right was the Vice Mayor of Mandaue, Glenn Bercede. With them cheering from the front lines, Mandaue was invigorated. They played inspired basketball.

VM Glenn Bercede

With 92 seconds left in the ballgame, the score was 68-66. Gilas led. Then, as the seconds inched forward, the score read 72-70. Only 22 seconds were left. Imagine, our Landmasters/RDAK lineup had a good chance to tie—or possibly defeat—the much-heralded PHL team?

UPSET! Can you picture the headline-grabbing news that this will generate, nationwide? ‘PINAS LOSES TO M’DAUE!

And though this wasn’t a tournament, still, a game is a game. Nobody wants to lose. Not even in an exhibition contest.

With 15 seconds left in the final quarter, the score was 73-72. We had a terrific chance. When Gilas made a two-pointer to make it 75-72, we owned ball possession. A three-point shot to make it 75-all would have ended the game. Exhibition matches don’t extend to Overtime.

Mandaue did a trick shot. One player (I could not recall who), who was to do the inbounds pass, could not find an open man so he did a crazy yet effective ploy: he bounced the ball off the opponent’s back, caught it, then the ball was in play. He then passed it to his teammate. Smart play against Smart!

But, in the end, the 75-75 “dream score” would not happen: the Landmasters turned-over the ball in their last possession and Gilas scored one last time.

Final score: 77-72. (Had two-time MVP Mark Magsumbol played, many from the crowd, including Caecent, believed we’d have won.)

Despite the loss, VM Glenn Bercede was all-smiles. Looking fit and lean (he plays basketball, up to this day, at least twice a week), the top sportsman/ official is not only a huge basketball follower, he helps Landmasters/RDAK in all ways that he can. Two other ecstatic fans were Atty. Lito Pascual, the sports chieftain of Mandaue, and Rere King, the owner of RDAK.

Landmasters/RDAK is a three-time Liga Pilipinas weekly/leg champion. In this SMC Liga Pilipinas Conference V (fifth season), the first three legs were won not by Manny Pacquiao’s GenSan-MP Warriors… but by Jose Soberano’s group.

In the recent fourth leg, though, they lost to Misamis Oriental Meteors, the eventual champion. It all ends in the “Super Leg,” the Grand Championship, at the Xavier University Gym in Cagayan de Oro City starting this Tuesday, from July 12 to 17.

Too bad Cebu won’t be hosting the Super Leg. It would have given us home-court advantage. Still, with a 12-4 win-loss record in the past four weeks, and a performance last Thursday that had Gilas’ Chris Tiu in difficulty (he was blocked), let’s hope for a super win in the Super Leg.

Gio Gandioco’s dream: ‘Be like Rory’

Tiger Woods is outdated and passé. Today’s young golfers want to be like the 22-year-old Irish champion of the United States Open.

Take the son of Opep and Cora Gandionco. Only 16 years old, he possesses the confidence and maturity of Rory McIlroy.

Angelo Jose “Gio” Gandionco explained: “Rory inspired me to do better and to challenge myself; if Rory can do it, why can’t I? It may be tough to be the best or even get in the PGA Tour but if you have the will and desire, you can achieve it. Rory winning made me realize that it’s possible to win one of the biggest tournaments and beat the best. Like now, I’m touring America playing tournaments and I’m up against the best juniors. I know if I play my game I can beat them like Rory. If I focus on what I’m supposed to do and not get intimidated, I can win.”

Spunk, spirit, and self-assurance. That’s Gio.

From the U.S., he emailed last week. “I just finished my first tournament this second trip here,” said Gio. “It’s the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) Club Corp Mission Hills Desert Junior in Rancho Mirage (Palm Springs), California. Despite jet lag since I just arrived three days earlier and playing in 114-deg, I finished 2nd with a score of 71-73-72, which is my best finish so far here. Most of the other players were from California, LJ Go (from Cebu) also played.”

Gio, third from right, winning 2nd place

Gio, a 2-handicapper who also idolizes Rickie Fowler (“He stands out with his fashion statement”), travels next to Pinehurst, North Carolina and Huntsville, Alabama. He then returns home to Cebu, where he is a 4th year high school student at PAREF-Springdale (and a five-time Student-Athlete Of The Year).

“Last April,” he added, “my mom’s family had a reunion in Hawaii so we went on to Texas to join a tournament at the Texas A&M University. I finished 14th (that was a highly-ranked junior tourn) and, at the PGA Golf Club in Florida, I finished Top 10. Here in the U.S., there are 5,000 junior golf players… so I think I have been doing well.”

Gio started golf at the age of four. He used Little Tikes plastic golf clubs and his dad, Opep, who heads the family-owned giant Julie’s Bakeshop, was the person who taught his son how to swing.

By age 7, Gio joined golf events. But, he also had a similar interest in the Azkals game of football. He was Springdale’s striker. Finally, he had to choose. “When my soccer tournaments and golf coach schedules competed for my time,” he said, “I knew I had to make a choice. Although I enjoyed the team play in soccer with my friends, I knew it was Golf I really loved! So at 11, I started to seriously work on my game.”

Mixing academics and sport has not been easy. “My schedule is very hectic,” said Gio, an honor student who consistently averages 90+. “But, I always try to put time for both practicing and studying. During schooldays, I get dismissed 4:30pm so I head to either the range or the golf course on MWF. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work out in the gym. I get home 6:30pm, study, eat, sleep. It is not easy being a student-athlete; you have to learn how to manage your time well. Even while I’m away for a tournament, I still have to read books and do homework to prepare for tests.”

Gio’s dream? To play in the PGA Tour. But first, he says, “My goal in the medium term is to get a scholarship at a prestigious U.S. university. I would like to play college golf, at the same time graduate with a degree in Business.”

His best score? A 5-under par in a Men’s Amateur tournament late last year. “Although I am still working on my game,” he says, “my short game has always been my strength. Every aspect of my game is still a work-in-progress, and I am open to learning and improving.”

As to the aspects of golf that he enjoys most, he answers, “I love every part of the game: the pressure, the challenge, the intimidation, the hard work, the difficulties that come everyday and, most of all, the feeling of knowing you’re improving.”

Only 16, Gio sounds like a very, very mature person. Just like Rory.

Novak’s ‘Independence Day’ from R + R

(Toby Melville/Reuters)

HONG KONG—The headline news here yesterday, in The Standard’s back sports page, proclaims it clear and loud: “DJOKOVIC REIGNS.” In an all-green Wimbledon backdrop photo, Novak Djokovic thumps his right fist on his left chest, opening his mouth to a scream, clasping his Head racquet with the other hand, as if to shout, “I AM NUMBER ONE!”

Novak “The Djoker,” is, no joke, the world’s best. In a span of 72 hours, he clinched the No. 1 world ranking and, two nights ago in London, his first ever All-England Club trophy.

“It’s the best day of my life,” said Novak. To win undefeated in seven matches spanning two weeks in the oldest and most exalted of all the tennis tournaments, it ought to be the best. Wimbledon is the best. Novak is the best.

Djokovic did it by dismantling and mutilating the usually-unconquerable Rafael Nadal. In the first two sets, which Novak won, 6-4, 6-1, his game was as polished as Jason Terry’s three-pointers. Novak hardly missed. He retrieved unretrievable shots. He drop-volleyed. He was, as sports writers would term it, “in the zone.” His game flowed. He was inspired. And, buoyed by the new No. 1 ranking, mentally, he could not be defeated.

He was not. Except the third set. He had a momentary lapse of focus. And, when the Spaniard won that stretch, 6-1, weren’t the members of the “Rafa We Love You Forever Fans Club” relieved? They must have thought… if Rafa can only get the fourth set… we’ll score a come-from-behind victory.

Novak didn’t allow it. Oddly, except for that third set, it was Rafa, the 10-time Grand Slam champion, who was nervous at critical points of the match. At 4-5 in the first set, anxiety crept into the left-hander’s fingers. Same with the latter stages of the fourth set when he made plenty of un-Rafa-like mistakes.

The happiest bunch today? With Rafa’s loss? Yes, of course, the Djokovic fans—though they still number in the thousands. But, by the tens of millions, the happiest are the Roger Federer devotees, for though their man was halted in the Quarterfinals, at least his arch-rival was terminated, too. (Here in Hong Kong, I watched, while sipping Heinekin beer and munching on pizza, in a bar. In another of those Oh-no-not-again moments, my hotel room didn’t have Star Sports. The lady bartender who watched while I sat on the bar stool? Of course, she’s a Roger fan.)

Who is this new Manny Pacquiao of tennis? “I started in the mountains,” said Novak, 24, of his early days when he first held a tennis racquet at age four. “Started in a very small place, and then I continued in Belgrade, practicing tennis—that wasn’t really popular at the time. We were going through some difficult periods—you know, our country had wars and stuff. So it wasn’t easy to hold that desire and really believe in yourself. But I always did, and the people close to me did.”

(Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Belief. Yes. Self-belief. In anything and everything in life, this is what matters the most. To you. To me. To all things that we do. If we possess this six-letter word, “belief,” then we can achieve everything and anything we aspire for. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you believe you can do a thing or believe you can’t, you are right.”

It begins in the mind. Tennis, you think, is physical? Like boxing? True, these sports are brothers—they are a handful of games that are one-on-one, mano-a-mano. And, true, a muscular Nadal flexes his biceps to win points. Tennis, like boxing, is physical.

But it’s more mental. Take Pacquiao. It’s his mind that defeats the Mexicans. The same with Novak. Beginning late last year when he won for Serbia the Davis Cup crown, that win changed his outlook. I AM THE CHAMPION. I CAN BEAT R + R.

And, yes, has he beaten the Roger-Rafa combination, these two who’ve combined to corner that No. 1 ranking since 2004. Yes, in one of those hard-to-believe sports statistics, for the past 7.5 years, only Nadal and Federer have been tennis’ No. 1.

July 4, 2011. Independence Day. A new No. 1. The serving Serb is an ace.

In Wimbledon, it’s Numero Uno vs. Number One

Why is tennis often referred to as “lawn tennis?” That’s because, back in the 19th Century, when the modern game originated, tennis was played on a lawn. Yes, a patch of green field that’s covered with grass.

Tennis started in the United Kingdom. Just like golf. And, just like golf, whose oldest major championship is “The Open,” in tennis, it’s the same: the oldest tournament in the world is found in England. It’s the tennis version of The British Open: Wimbledon.

It began 125 years ago. Imagine that longevity? But the best part about “The Championships” (as organizers want their event called) is not only Wimbledon’s survival and resilience after World Wars I and II—but more so its tradition.

Grass. Unlike all the other tennis contests on Planet Earth, with surfaces that range from hard-court to red clay to indoor carpet, Wimbledon uses the same, old playing field that it’s utilized since 125 years ago.

The surface is alive. Grass grows. They water the court. This happens prior to the two-week-long Wimbledon. And, after Petra Kvitova and Bernard Tomic and Sabine Lisicki trample and pound on the surface, the grass dies.

From green, healthy turf, the grass is massacred and mutates into brown, dead clay. This is Wimbledon. This is what makes the All-England Club exclusive. Its breed. Its antiquity. Its unparalleled class. Its all-white formality.

Two nights ago at Ayala Center, I met two men who’ve been to Wimbledon.

Ramon Saret, my long-time friend from Manila, visited our Queen City for an overnight stop. Mon’s daughter, Jennifer, was ranked among the top two junior tennis players in Asia during the ‘90s. With that lofty ranking, she and her father toured the world—including Wimbledon. In one instance, Mon was dining at the exclusive, for-players-only Dining Hall when two empty seats were soon occupied by familiar names: Boris Becker and Jim Courier. (The two, said Mon, hardly spoke to each other. Puzzled, Mon soon found out why: Boris and Jim were to play each other an hour after that sit-down meal.)

Ernie Delco, a top official of the MCWD, was in London last week. The tennis nut that he is, he queued for two miles before watching Roger Federer in Centre Court.

Both agreed—and had me envious—that Wimbledon stands alone as the most revered of all in tennis.

Which brings me to tonight, 9 P.M., Sunday, July 3. After two weeks of nightly Star Sports shows, starting 8 P.M., we arrive at the conclusion. This is Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It’s the Sunday of the U.S. Open golf in the Congressional Country Club (sadly, a non-Scottish player, unlike Rory McIlroy, will play since Andy Murray lost).

It’s No. 1 versus Numero Uno. Novak Djokovic, beginning tomorrow when the new ATP Rankings are announced, will become the world’s top-ranked player. Rafael Nadal, today’s No. 1, will meet tomorrow’s best in the finals. Isn’t that interesting? A plot and script as good as Steven Spielberg’s?

After six uninterrupted years of all Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, when both won a combined 21 of the last 24 Grand Slam singles titles (an unbelievable statistic!)—we finally have a different finale. I like this ending better. Para lahi na sad.

The Spaniard is targeting his 11th major title. (If he wins, he’ll be just five away from Roger.) He has not lost in Wimbledon since 2007 and, against the Serb (Novak), their record is 16-11 (including 5-0 in Grand Slam events), in favor of Rafa.

The odds favor the lefty versus the right-hander, right? Not exactly. Because the last four times they played, including two on clay, Mr. Djokovic has triumphed. Which thickens the plot tonight. Watch it, starting 9 P.M., over Star Sports. (Good news for non-cable TV subscribers: live telecast over local channel IBC.)

So… Today’s No. 1 or tomorrow’s? Rafa in 5.

Greg Slaughter: From UV to Gilas to Ateneo

“I’m doing good,” said Greg Slaughter, yesterday. “Just getting ready for the season.”

“The season,” of course, refers to the UAAP Season 74 that opens this July 9. Greg was “pirated” from the University of the Visayas by Ateneo de Manila University. This happened last year.

Are all your documents OK? I asked. “Well, they haven’t officially released the decision,” he said. “But I think I’ll be all right.”

Greg moved to Manila in 2010. But, after arriving at the Quezon City campus of ADMU, he could not wear the Blue Eagles uniform because of the one-year-residency ruling. He waited. For the meantime, he donned the Smart Gilas jersey.

This UAAP season, Greg and his Ateneo coach, Norman Black, whom I spoke to over the phone two weeks ago, are excited.

After winning three CESAFI trophies from 2007 to 2009 here in Cebu, Greg’s shift from UV’s green garb to Ateneo’s blue motif will mean one giant move for this giant: Ateneo will win Consecutive Title No. 4.

“I miss Cebu,” Greg said. “But I’ve had no time to visit. Been busy with Gilas and the PBA. And, after that, with the Ateneo training camp. Our team flew to Las Vegas. I’ve also been busy with school.”

Is Ateneo difficult? “It’s pretty tough,” said the only player in CESAFI history to have won the season MVP, the All-Star MVP, and the Finals MVP in the same season (2008). “School is tough but they help us. I’ve got tutors.”

Finally, I asked Greg, given all the good nutrition that they provide in Manila, if he’s grown even taller. (I once asked him, “When you fully stretch your arms, how near are you from the basketball ring?” His reply: “My fingers are about 8 inches away. I can tap the backboard and grip the middle of the net while standing!”)

Greg’s answer: “I’ve reached the limit. I’m 7 feet tall.”

With that height, Ateneo will stand tall this year while their enemies will have a tall, tall order.

At the 2009 Cebu Sports Awards; from left, Raffy Uytiepo, Jun Migallen, John P., Manny, Greg, Jingo Quijano and Raffy Osumo

Past articles I wrote about Greg:

As Greg slaughters, UV marches to No. 8 this ‘08

Greg Slaughter: Q & A with the triple MVP

The ‘Tim Duncan’ of Cebu basketball speaks

With UV’s 9th prize, Eddiegul is on Cloud 9

MARIA. Ms. Sharapova is blonde, tantalizing, long-legged at 6-foot-1; she adorns the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and is the world’s richest female athlete. The sports giant Nike just paid her $70 million for an eight-year deal to wear The Swoosh. She earns $25 million total, through sponsorships, every 12 months.

Sharapova is the prettiest face and the sexiest body in sports. That’s according to me, to Mike, to you, and to Sasha Vujacic, whom Maria will soon marry.

What makes Ms. MS so appealing? Everything. Her face glimmers. Her three Grand Slam singles trophies radiate. Her seductive photos adorn Google. Her mini-skirt flutters open. Her aggressive backhands obliterate women. Her shrieks echo in Centre Court.

Maria has won Wimbledon before. This was in 2004 when, as a 17-year-old, she surfaced as the winner in a “Beauty versus the Be(a)st” contest against Serena Williams. Sadly, since that surprise moment seven years back, Maria has never won the London major title again.

Until this Saturday. Against unknowns Sabine Lisicki, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka, we know the result. Three are not glamorous; one is. And the prettiest wins. It’s about time. The last time that Sharapova won a major was the Australian Open in 2008. Since then, she’s been plagued by a chronic shoulder injury.

Helped by the losses of the Williams’ sisters and of No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniaki, the path has been made easier for the California-based netter who moved from her native Siberia, Russia to Florida at the age of seven.

ROTARY. Like Pres. Noynoy Aquino, I celebrate my one year as president of the Rotary Club of Cebu West today, June 30. But, unlike P-Noy, whose term extends for 60 more months, I step down by midnight. Starting tomorrow, July 1, a new leader will guide our club—one of the oldest-running in the country, at 49 years old. Our new chief is Lenton Beltran. To all of Cebu’s outgoing Rotary officers… smile. You deserve it. To District Governor Ted Locson: Congratulations! And, to our incoming RCCW president, Lenton, enjoy the fabulous ride on the Rotary wheel!

The secret to reaching the age of 100

Ernie Delco watched Wimbledon—live! The Rafa Nadal fan, who just landed in Cebu, called his trip last week “A dream come true” and added, “I may not have seen Nadal but was lucky to watch Federer at Center Court. I witnessed how fast yet graceful he moved his feet to get to every ball. I bet he will win this year.”

Ernie, together with friends Astro and Jeff, queued with 8,000 others for as long as two miles. “Venus and Serena were so elusive,” said Ernie, who also witnessed the 2009 Australian Open. “But I chanced upon their controversial father outside Court 2 where Serena was struggling in the first set. The guy was imposing but sounded soft-spoken.”

Maria Sharapova was also hard to find but one player whom Ernie stared at was Ms. Ana. “I got close to Ivanovic after her game against Daniilidou. We shook hands to the protest of her multiple guards. She’s more beauteous than on TV!”

JOEL GARGANERA. Minutes before boarding time at Singapore’s Changi Airport last Friday, I was with Steve Benitez. We walked towards E3, where our plane was parked. We saw Gino and Carmel Salvador and Joel Garganera.

Joel joined the 100-km. Sundown Ultramarathon. In his Facebook page, he said: “17th Century, My 17th Ultra/Marathon is a Hundred. 13:04:41.” Amazing. Congrats!

HOOPS DOME. The 7,000-seater Hoops Dome of Lapu-Lapu City will be open to the public. I’ve visited the facility (that’s located just minutes away from the old Mactan Bridge) and it’s Cebu’s best-kept surprise. The seats are multi-colored with backrests. The basketball boards are NBA-like. This is our mini-Araneta Coliseum.

“We are launching the Hoops Dome on July 2,” said Councilor Harry Radaza. “Lapu Lapu City is home to the first Filipino hero. And who better person to launch it than our very own modern-day Filipino hero, Manny Pacquiao. Of course, he will not be fighting, but instead singing with his MP Band featuring Lito Camo.”

LEBRON. Dr. Antonio Gestosani, the uncle of my wife Jasmin, wore an Ohio State T-shirt last weekend. I asked him about LeBron.

“He’s a traitor,” said Dr. Gestosani. “After Dallas won, Ohio celebrated like we won the championship. LeBron got greedy. The fame and money got to his head. He also thought he was Michael Jordan. He’s not. With Jordan, when he drove down the lane, players didn’t want to hurt him. Not with LeBron. They wanted to hurt him.

“Also, it wasn’t about him leaving the Cavaliers. That happens. We know that. What we despised the most was ‘The Decision.’ In Cleveland, a family of four pays $300 to watch LeBron. That’s expensive. But we all loved him. We all did. Not anymore.”

100. I was in Iloilo City last weekend. The occasion was the 100th birthday of Jasmin’s grandmother, Corazon Gayanilo.

Though riding on a wheelchair, Lola ‘Zon can still think and speak well. At the grand celebration last Saturday at the Sarabia Manor Hotel, what was amazing was that there were two birthday parties held at nearby function rooms: one was for our lola, at 100, and another was for a 95-year-old!

What’s the secret to becoming a “Century-old Chick,” as my daughter Jana jokingly referred to her lola?

Laughter. As family members spoke, including my mother-in-law, Malu Mendez, it was unanimous that Lola Zon was forever smiling and laughing. She’s a joker. (Days before her party, attended by family members who flew-in from the U.S., she joked: “Te, sin-o ma bayad sine tanan?” (Who will pay for all of this?)

I’m reminded of a similar party I attended a few months ago at the Casino Español. The celebrant was Mrs. Bebe Alcoseba. The auntie of my dad (and the mom of Councilor Yayoy Alcoseba), Lola Bebe turned 90 years old. Yet, she looks as youthful as 70; always giggling, her face radiates and glows. She is forever cheerful. She jokes a lot, laughs aplenty.

As one proverb reads, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” And, as NFL’s Michael Pritchard said: “We don’t stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing.”

Cebu’s SRP and Singapore’s Marina Bay

The best way to travel when visiting a new city is not via bus, MRT, or taxi. It’s not even while riding on a chauffeur-driven E-class Mercedes Benz. It’s by foot. I did that last Friday. Starting at 7 in the morning, I stepped outside our hotel and was greeted by the Singapore sunshine. I walked, stretched, jogged towards the Singapore Recreation Club, just 300 meters away, where green fields awaited. Football rectangles, covered with pristine grass, smiled. Then, I saw a sight that sparkled: Grass courts. Yes. The same ones you’ll see tonight on Star Sports. The club is exclusive and I did not carry my Babolat gear—so no chance to swing a volley. But the sight was more enticing than any 70-percent-off store in the Singapore Sale.

I ran. Along the famous The Fullerton Hotel, I glided. This was the same strip that our Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC) group passed during the 2008 Singapore Marathon. I relived that 42K. As sweat rolled down my cheeks while running, another smile emerged. For that’s the secret of running; the satisfaction earned comes from within. Some call it “runner’s high” or “adrenaline rush.”

In Singapore, running is the most popular recreational sport. At their annual Marathon held every first Sunday of December, 50,000 join. Last Friday, I saw snippets of that as dozens exercised, planting one rubber shoe in front of another.

The best part of running Singapore? The Marina Bay. You’ve seen the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Its design adorns every postcard of this first-world nation. With three colossal towers standing to hold a “boat” at the summit, the sight is majestic. (It’s the world’s most expensive stand-alone casino at $8 billion.) The Marina Bay Sands is the Eiffel Tower… The Burj… the Petronas Towers of Singapore. It’s now the land’s most photographed structure.

Imagine running beside the Sands? For that’s what amazes you about Singapore: their planning and consideration for open, clean and green space. Along the Marina Bay is a boardwalk. That’s where, for 90 minutes, I ran. That’s where you’ll find tourists and locals strolling. It’s a haven for exercise that’s exercise heaven. Fresh air. The water streaming beside you. The Esplanade (or “durian”). I even found solar panels scattered around the boardwalk that provided lighting and cooling (with large fans) to passers-by.

Just last year, when Singapore hosted the Youth Olympic Games, they built the Youth Olympic Park. Plus, around Marina Bay are the Singapore Flyer (Ferris wheel) and the Helix Bridge.

Which got me to thinking: this is how our South Road Properties (SRP) should aim to look like. The similarities with Marina Bay are obvious. Both are on reclaimed land. Both sit on large tracts of land (ours is 300 hectares; theirs is 360). Both sleep beside the water.  Our city leaders should visit the Marina Bay project—and copy portions of it for the SRP.

Back to running; another thought came to mind: the Ungo Runners (Max Limpag) vs. Bobby Nalzaro debate on “Road Revolution.” Max and his fellow runners immensely enjoyed that Sunday when Osmeña Blvd. was closed to vehicles; Bobby opposed it. In Singapore, there’s no quarrel. There’s no need for road closure. Why? Because they’ve got sidewalks, open spaces, boardwalks, parks. We don’t. What we don’t have is strategic thinking. (Decades back, Lee Kuan Yew set aside wide roads and planted huge trees that now benefit his people.) Which leads me back to SRP. This open area is the only one we’ve got to do right. There’s nothing much we can do to save our Cebu City inner city roads. They’re narrow with zero sidewalks.

The SRP is bare. The Marina Bay (www.marina-bay.sg) is our best, nearby example. Their vision? “A green-field site surrounded by water and gardens… that provides an opportunity for further urban transformation, attracting new investments, visitors and talent, as well as becoming a new destination for the local community.” They call it “Garden City by the Bay.” How should our SRP be named?

From Singapore to London, the grass is all green

SINGAPORE—I’m here in the Lion City. Literally, the words “Singa” and “Pura” mean “Lion City.” And, when you do get to visit the Singapore Zoo, one of the world’s best, you’ll see plenty of the gold-colored beast.

Singapore is like our Shangri-La. It’s all green. It’s all garden. As soon as you exit Changi Airport and travel through the straight, long road into the city center, trees sprout, all lined-up. Grass litter and glitter. Singapore is an oasis.

It’s sunny here, like it is year-round. It’s also that time of the season when the ladies get excited: it’s the Singapore Sale. Flying here via Air Philippines two days ago was relaxing; the flight departed at 3:20 P.M. and we landed before dark, at 6:40. It’s unlike the past-midnight schedule of Cebu Pacific.

What I dislike about this trip? The cable TV offerings. Would you believe, out of 32 channels at the Peninsula Excelsior Hotel, they don’t have Star Sports. Which means, for this tennis fanatic, plenty of cricket—but no Wimbledon. I’ll have to contend with gazing at Singapore’s grass.

DEL VALLE. One couple whom I envy the most is Randy and Christine Del Valle. A high-ranking executive of Shell, the oil giant, Randy moved to London a few years ago. Here’s Randy’s first-hand report…

“Christine and I queued in Wimbledon on the first day. We were expecting long lines but, surprisingly, there was none. We were able to enter by 12:30 (games started at 12 noon). We heard that most of the spectators lined-up early to get to Centre Court and Courts 1 to 3.

“We watched a number of matches: Tommy Haas losing in four sets to Gilles Muller. We got a glimpse of Donald Young (USA).

“Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Shuai Zhang (3-6, 6-3, 6-4) was a good match with the 4th-ranked Chinese player winning the first set. Lots of Chinese watching. Zhang was good with her strokes and it was exciting.

“We also watched two seeded players lose: Ekaterina Makavova (seeded 28), beaten by 19-year-old American, Christina McHale. No. 22 Shahar Peer lost to Ksenia Pervak.

“Around 5 P.M., we transferred to Court 18 (the court where Isner-Mahut played the longest match in history last year) to watch US Open champ Juan Martin del Potro vs. Flavio Cipolla. Del Petro won the first set and, in the middle of the 2nd, rain poured. Unfortunately, they had to cancel all the games except the Centre Court (with the roof)…

“As we only had Ground Tickets, it was impossible to get inside Centre Court to see Nadal, Venus, Murray.

“That’s it for now. Will try to go there on Friday and Saturday. Will keep you updated.”

GRAEME. Typing this article from Singapore and receiving an e-mail from Randy in London, I contacted a friend from Australia to make his Big W. comment. (Isn’t the world so much ‘smaller’ and interconnected now?)

Graeme Mackinnon, the Cebu Hall of Fame football coach who’s now back in his native Australia, had these predictions: “Who is going to win Wimbledon? From an Aussie perspective, unfortunately, I cant see an Aussie being involved in the singles in the second week. With the limited preparation of Hewitt, he will be out sooner rather than later. Sam Stosur is the Murray and Henman of Australia. She is carrying the weight of the country on her shoulders and although she has the game to test the best, she is too inconsistent to win. (My tipping is atrocious so there is hope for her.)

“In the past, the Men’s was a two horse race. But, on form this year, there are now three horses with almost equal chances of winning. Roger and Rafa are the perennial thoroughbreds of the field. But Djokovic is the “dark horse” capable of upsetting the frontrunners.

“The Women’s is open; toss a coin among the top 8. I don’t think there is a clear favorite; but if you ask Mike Limpag then Maria is his favorite and she doesn’t have to go on the court. The dark horse (no pun intended) will be the Williams sisters and how they can perform after their injuries. There will be the upsets and on-court dramas but that is Wimbledon.”

Tiger who? Rory roars at the 111th U.S. Open

Eric Deen, the five-time Cebu Country Club champion, sent me this SMS yesterday: “Rory winning after his meltdown at The Masters will make him the new Tiger Woods. Being the youngest ever, beating Nicklaus’ record, will elevate him to superstar status. Inspiring for the game of golf.”

Eric is right. Just last April 10, heading into the final Sunday, Rory McIlroy led the entire field at The Masters by four strokes. But, instead of cruising to victory, he disintegrated. McIlroy shot an embarrassing 80. It was one of the most painful breakdowns in golf.

You know what his reaction was? The day after that collapse? It spoke of his mental fortitude. He sent this Twitter message, quoting Muhammad Ali: “It’s repetition of affirmations that leads to belief — and once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

McIlroy’s response, after leading the entire Augusta National tournament and being just nine holes away from triumph, is a lifelong lesson for you, for me, and for everybody else who’s alive on this planet. It says, I have suffered defeat… but I am not defeated.

Two days ago, what supremacy and domination. His achievement created several records, 12 U.S. Open records, to be exact, among them:

McIlroy is the second-youngest player to win a major since World War II. (The record-holder? A 21-year-old T.W. at the ’97 Masters.)

At 22, he is the youngest to win the U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923.

Rory is the seventh wire-to-wire winner in U.S. Open history and the first since Tiger in 2002. His margin of victory (eight strokes) is the third largest ever of the U.S. Open and tied for the sixth largest at any major.

McIlroy, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 160 lbs., continues a new “youth movement” in golf. Consider that each of the last four majors has been won by a player in his 20s. His win also marks the 11th different winner in as many majors; eight of whom are first-time champions.

I watched ESPN early yesterday morning. I saw the final six holes. What’s fun with Rory is that. . . he’s fun. He bounces when he walks. He smiles more than Y.E. Yang. He’s charismatic. He has fuzzy hair. He’s in a hurry, always. He doesn’t even take a practice swing! Unbelievable. Whether it’s to putt an 18-footer for birdie or to smash that tee shot using his Titleist 910D2 driver, he simply points his eyes toward the target, stands squarely in front of the ball, then, boom, smothers that Titleist Pro V1x ball.

Best of all, Roarin’ Rory has that inborn, inward, incredible confidence. “I like his moxie,” said one golfer who’s accumulated 18 major trophies. “I suppose that is the right word. I like the way he carries himself — his moxie.”

That’s Jack Nicklaus speaking and, when I researched on “moxie,” it captures the true meaning of Boy Wonder. Moxie means possessing the “audacity, courage, braveness, spirit, daring, gutsiness.” It means having “spunk, drive, boldness.” Perfect description, Jack.

Now, with Tiger Woods injured and celebrating Father’s Day at home with his daughter Sam Alexis and son Charlie Axel, it’s just fitting that somebody else replace him.

“If you’re going to talk about someone challenging Jack’s record,” said Padraig Harrington, “He’s your man. When you are winning majors at 22, with his talent, and he’s got 20-something more years to play majors, and another 100 majors in him, I would give him a great chance to catch Jack.”

Ouch, Tiger. Move over. At 35 years old and not having won a major since November 2009, his instinct is getting extinct. McIlroy, who idolized Woods, has a similar childhood pedigree: his father, Gerry, taught him golf at age 4, when he hit a drive of 40 yards; by 7, he was a club member, and, by 15, Rory qualified for his first pro tournament.

“The thing about these major championships is the history and the prestige,” said McIlroy. “Just being able to add your name to a list like Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer — that is the most satisfying thing about it.”

Dear Dads: Give Presence not Presents

Dad (center, standing) with the family during Jana’s graduation

Dad with the first Filipino on Mt. Everest, Leo Oracion, and my daughter Jana

Of all the blessings that the Lord has gifted me and my three brothers (Michael, Randy, Charlie) and one sister (Mary Cheryl Anne), the most important was giving us extraordinary parents. My mom, Maria Elena “Allen,” and my dad, Manuel “Bunny,” were always there for us.

My dad taught me about sports. He biked, pedaling a “racer” (road-bike). He jogged. He walloped that pelota racket. He exchanged tennis volleys with Monico Puentevella at the Negros Occidental Tennis Association (NOTA) courts in Bacolod City.

He showed me the importance of a daily sweat. He lived it. He practiced the age-old adage: “A healthy body equals a healthy mind.”

Bunny Pages played basketball. No, he wasn’t in the PBA. That was his younger brother, Ray, who wore the Crispa Redmanizers jersey. My dad joined the Bacolod Professionals (BAPRO), a gathering of executives and businessmen—all united by the same love of sport as Moses Malone and Paul Westhphal. This was in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. As the eldest child, I’d tag along. A tall, 6-footer forward, my dad scored 23+ points, his jump-shot from the side was unstoppable, like George Gervin’s.

My brother Charlie and I played basketball. We joined the La Salle Bacolod varsity team.

One of my life’s most unforgettable moments was in our Intramurals. Facing a team in the Finals composed of the best in our Grade 7 batch, our underdog team fought. It came down to the last few seconds. I was fouled. Make both free throws and we win the championship; miss one attempt and we lose. The La Salle Gymnasium was packed. Cheering engulfed the indoor arena. At 13 years old, it was unbearable pressure.

Swish. Swish. We won.

The reason for all this? My dad. He recognized early-on our passion for basketball and he built, right at our backyard in Mountain View Subdivision, a half-court so that all-afternoon-long, after school, we’d dribble and practice lay-ups. Each night, after Charlie and I would rush to finish our homework, we’d turn on the spotlights and play until our elbows ached and our necks stiffened.

Thanks to the green-painted basketball court, our skills improved. Our La Salle elementary team won the overall championship in Bacolod. I was the point guard and was adjudged the MVP.

I cite this example because it’s true. It’s personal. And, now as a father to my 12-year-old daughter Jana, I look back at what my dad did and apply the many learnings I’ve accumulated.

My dad and mom were always there. Always. Always. Always. Always. In basketball contests, tennis matches, declamation performances, PTA meetings—in anything and everything that had to do with their most-loved possessions, their children… they were present.

Be present. Remember that presence is more essential than gifts. Children spell love. . . T-I-M-E. Above all things, our life here on earth will be measured by how much time we spent with our children. I believe in this mathematical formula: the amount of time you spend with your children is commensurate to how good your children will become. Trust me on this. That’s what I’ve experienced with my own parents.

More time + attention = Better children.

Sports? Above all things, this is one activity where you and your child will bond best. Sport means playing. And don’t children love to play? Find the game that your child enjoys. Jog together. Swim. The more time you and your child spend playing, the healthier you become; the healthier your relationship.

To my dad… I love you. Thanks to your childhood present—that basketball court—and to your presence. Happy Father’s Day!

Me and dad in Seoul, Korea

During the Davis Cup with Treat Huey and Cecil Mamiit

‘Federer’s Best Shot’

Here’s a comprehensive and entertaining piece by Tom Perrotta…

Roger Federer shouldn’t look this good. He has played 959 professional matches in his career, appeared in 46 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments and spent more than a decade criss-crossing time zones while collecting a record 16 major singles titles and more than $60 million in prize money. Married and the father of twin 22-month-old girls, Mr. Federer brings his family—jet lag, runny noses and all—on the road with him from Melbourne to Paris to London to New York, and many places in between.

All of this for a man who in August will turn 30, the beginning of the twilight years in modern competitive tennis.

Yet as the 125th edition of Wimbledon is set to begin next week, Mr. Federer is fresh, fit, confident and, remarkably, on the upswing after a stellar performance at the French Open, where he ended 24-year-old Novak Djokovic’s 43-match winning streak and pushed Rafael Nadal, age 25 and perhaps the best clay court player in history, to four sets in the final…

Read more of Tom Perrotta’s article here.

Jesse Bernad hurls a sales pitch for baseball

Jesse Bernad (right-most) in last Sunday’s game

Yesterday, via email, I interviewed the man whose passion for softball and baseball is akin to Jun San Juan’s fervor for volleyball, Paul Taneo’s obsession with MMA, Boojie Lim’s craze for chess, Lando Alvarez’s fascination with swimming. Jesse Bernad, whose Fastball Sports Ventures holds court at the Aboitiz Sports Field, offered these words in a Q & A:

How was the Manila-Cebu “Baseball Phils Series 8″ last Sunday?

“The Baseball Philippines Independence Day Encounter between the Cebu Dolphins and Manila Sharks last Sunday held at Aboitiz Sports Field was fantastic. We couldn’t ask for a better game. We had over 300 people watching from all walks of life – rich, poor, young, old, players and non-players, foreigners, etc. Everybody had a wonderful experience of high-caliber baseball and with our own Cebu Dolphins playing, we had so much to cheer for. Sharks led the game with 2 early runs and the Dolphins fought back to tie it and eventually lead by as much as 3 runs. But the Sharks clawed back to tie the game at 6 all and eventually won it with a final score of 8-6. A classic game of ups and downs which is a trademark of a baseball game. Its a marathon of a game. No lead is safe.

“After finally accepting Fastball’s invitation to come to Cebu, Baseball Philippines is in fact hinting on coming back again for more games especially if the Cebu Dolphins make it to the Finals. It makes us all proud since this is the first semi-pro league official tournament game played outside of Luzon and it was a huge success. The weather cooperated and the playing field was excellent. We owe our success to all our sponsors, volunteers and everyone who lent a hand. We however feel there are a lot of improvements that needs to be done to make the next games better and more successful in terms of attendance.

“In the morning, we got to meet up close and personal the Dolphins and Sharks players during the baseball clinic for kids. We had a very good turnout with around 120 kids  who joined ages 4 to 16 and they got to learn the different techniques of how to play the game the right way direct from the Coaches and players themselves.”

How was Ken Griffey Jr’s visit?

“The Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball Clinic last March 3 and 4 was a huge success and it opened a lot of doors for us. It led Team Cebu to finally joining the Little League Philippines Series, after seeing the talent pool we had during the clinic. There were over 300 participants from ages 4 to 18 and over 30 Coaches and Trainers that PSC Commissioner Jolly Gomez invited us to dinner together with Cebu Sports Leaders to convince us that we need to open our doors and compete outside of Cebu and expose ourselves to better competition and learn better techniques so we can gauge our skill level against teams from other parts of the country. True enough, we learned a lot during the games in Lipa City, Batangas. We noticed that our players lacked the composure during tight games due to lack of exposure. We also observed that our training techniques and mental approach were lagging behind. With the experience we had in Lipa, perhaps we can improve our performance in future competitions.”

How is baseball and softball in Cebu today compared to a few years back?

“No doubt, baseball in Cebu has improved by leaps and bounds since the time Fastball started promoting the sport. Through our program, we have created Baseball Clubs in different private schools. Our talent pool has dramatically increased through our Baseball Clinics and Summer Camps. As for Softball, the number of adult Softball Clubs and tournaments have tripled since we first introduced our Softball Summer League for Adults and our 1-day Leagues. More people are playing now, which was our goal in the first place – giving more access to beginners and former players to get into the game. Other groups and organizers are catching up and joining in the fun – which is fine for us. Fastball is proud to be in the forefront of the revival of the 2 sports in Cebu.”

What are your other plans for 2011?

“Fastball has a lot more to offer in the coming months.
1. We are coordinating with Philippine Amateur Baseball Association (PABA) to conduct a Coaches and Trainers training here in Cebu by coaches from Major League Baseball soon. We also plan to request a training for Umpires in Baseball and Softball to improve their game-calling
2. Fastball has created new Baseball and Softball Clubs in the new schoolyear to jump start our plans for a tournament between private schools.
3. We will continue the Fastball baseball and Softball clinics for individuals who do not have teams or Clubs.
4. Fastball will be hosting an Invitational Tournament wherein teams from Manila and nearby cities will play against our local teams in the 10 & under, Little League Baseball and Softball Majors and Softball Juniors categories.
5. With the successful application of our Cebu Little League Charter with Little League International, Fastball will be launching the Cebu Little League tournament which is the preeminent league for baseball and softball for kids.
6. Fastball has been contacted and offered by certain groups to organize and host bigger leagues or tournaments in Cebu which are yet to be finalized.”

What is Fastball doing to help the sport?

“Fastball is creating ways not only to improve our players but to attract more people to the sport. Hence, by convincing the US Embassy to bring Ken Griffey Jr. to Cebu was a big start. Then we had Baseball Philippines coming over which as also huge. We have now gotten the attention of the public -fans and non-baseball fans. The support from the LGUs is a huge boost to us and they know Fastball is sincere in our dealings with them. Our league at the recent Cebu Fest 2011 in SRP had one of the most participants with 22 teams from ages 5 to 60 years old from 6 different categories. We were the first to start and the last to end our games at this sports festival created by CCSC.”

How can Cebuanos play the game?

“Interested players who do not have Baseball Clubs in their school but want to join and play with us can join our Baseball Clinics for kids – boys and girls which we do on Saturdays. Adult Softball players can join our Leagues: the 1-day Leagues that we hold every 3 months or the Fastball Summer Softball tournament. Groups can also contact us to conduct private clinics or friendly games at their convenient time and venue. They can reach us thru email: jessebernad@yahoo.com or mobile 09173222284 for more details.”

What is your ultimate dream with softball and baseball in Cebu?

“The plan is to make Baseball and Softball at par with Basketball and Soccer in terms of popularity for players and spectators. Right now, it is a challenge to convince schools and students to join our organization since most are into the 2 aforementioned sports. But with our persistence and determination, we will soon achieve our goal. Kids don’t know that the easiest way to reach international level competitions abroad is through baseball with so many “Invitationals and Regionals” games going on in nearby Asian countries. The challenge is also to convince corporate sponsorships to support our program. We need someone to see us thru and make sure we achieve our dream.

“Lastly, we dream of our very own “Field of Dreams”. A baseball/softball diamond where we can play our game anytime and call it home.”

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.

Boom Boom

Cebuano boxing aficionados often complain about the slew of nobodies the ALA boxers face each time they fight at the Waterfront Lahug. A First Round knockout. An easy Round 2 TKO. A lopsided, unanimous decision. Not this weekend. Boom Boom Bautista, the most famous boxer representing Cebu and the ALA Boxing Gym, has lost only twice in 32 performances. That’s an impressive 93.75 winning percentage.

Once, he got KOed by Daniel Ponce de Leon. The other fighter to have beaten Rey? Heriberto Ruiz, the shirtless man he’ll be facing on the center-stage three nights from today. Not young at 33 years old, the Mexicano is nine years older than the Boholano.

Boom Boom (fourth from right) with businessman Wally Liu (third from right) and the ALA boxers.. Milan Melindo, Rocky Fuentes, Donnie Nietes, AJ Banal, Mark Melligen and Jason Pagara

Is this good or bad for Boom Boom? Good because Ruiz has been inflicted with thousands more of uppercuts, bloodied noses, wallops, damaged ribs. Bad because of his longevity and experience — and because, mentally, when they eyeball-to-eyeball soon, Ruiz knows he’s won before.

Like in almost all events of the ALA Boxing Promotions — led by the father-and-son duo of Antonio Lopez Aldeguer and his second son, Michael — this will be a crowded, wall-to-wall, SRO-only fight… all eyes on a TKO. This, I predict, will be this island’s Fight of 2011.

Dirk Fever ices Miami’s heat

Dirk Nowitzki’s body temperature read 102 degrees Fahrenheit. In our usual Celsius reading, that’s 38.9. That’s a high fever. Well, he was high all right; scoring 21 points yesterday, including a game-winning lay-up with 14.4 seconds remaining.

Dallas wins Game 4, 86-83. From a best-of-seven NBA Finals series, it’s now two-out-of-three. The score is 2-2. The whiteboard is a clean slate. It’s back to Square, Game One. All the previous skirmishes — the 82-game regular season, the Eastern and Western Conference Finals, the Heat’s dramatic loss in Game 2 — all these no longer matter. What matters is, Philippine time, the mornings of Friday, Monday, and, possibly (and hopefully), Wednesday.

“He did everything that he could possibly do,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, of his 7-foot German center, Nowitzki. “The ball was moving to other people; he was creating when he could create. I love the way he played. Fighting through that was not easy.”

It was another come-from-behind Dallas win. Miami led by nine points early in the fourth quarter. And didn’t we previously think that the Heat, in the final 12 minutes, was unstoppable, right? Wrong. For the man who wronged the most yesterday — LeBron James – was the best player of the Finals. Was. Because LeBron scored only eight points — breaking a streak of 433 regular- and post-season games when he scored double-digits. It was his first lowly number in 90 playoff games. Worse, he took only one shot in the last quarter. (In his career, when LeBron scores 15 or fewer points, his team is 0-7.)

Pagkatoytoy, as Bobby Nalzaro would say it.

“The fact that it happened in a loss is the anger part about it,” LBJ said. “That’s all that matters to me. If I’d have had eight points and we won the game … I don’t really care about that. The fact that I could have done more offensively to help our team, that’s the anger part about it for myself. But I’ll come back in Game 5 and do things that need to be done to help our team win.”

Game 5, of course, will be the most crucial of the entire NBA season. If Miami wins, it’s Game Over. With the final two encounters scheduled in South Beach, Florida, they’ll have two chances to win for James and Bosh their first-ever NBA rings. But, if Dallas wins, this concert turns electrifying. A Game 7 can happen, like last year when the Lakers bested the Celtics in the NBA’s very last game.

I’m for Miami. But, for the sake of prolonged excitement, I’d like Dallas to claim victory tomorrow, with the extended hope that LeBron nails the championship-winning shot in Game 7 — much like Boom Boom’s knockout punch this Saturday. Go… Boom and ‘Bron.

10 points on Rafa’s 10th major

Roger Federer should have won that first set. He led 5-2. He owned a set point. But, after missing a drop-shot by millimeters, he lost the next five games. Had Roger won that set, we never know…

But now we know. We know that, after the first 63 minutes were his, Rafael Nadal was invincible. He started jumping, lunging, fist-pumping. Vamos! reverberated throughout Stade Roland Garros.

Head-to-head, Rafa has won 17 of the 25 occasions that he and Roger have played. At the French Open, the record is 5-0 (including four in the Finals). On clay, it’s 11-2; hard-court, 4-all; on grass, Roger leads 2-1. And the most telling of all statistics: in Grand Slam finals, Rafa owns a 6-2 winning edge.

(AP/Lionel Cironneau)

It’s obvious that, between the two, Nadal is better. So why, you ask, is Federer universally proclaimed as The Best Ever? All this chatter, of course, is pointless. RF fans will forever defend their man; so will RN devotees. Rafa himself addressed this issue, saying, “When you talk about these statistics, when you try and make these comparisons, really it’s not very interesting to me. I’m very happy with what I have, with who I am. I’m not the best player in the history of tennis. I think I’m among the best. That’s true. That’s enough for me.” Roger offers his own analysis: “He plays better against the better ones, and that’s what he showed today. He’s a great champion, on clay especially.”

What did we witness last Sunday? I cite 10 thoughts after observing the 10th Slam victory…

One, the Roger v. Rafa Rivalry is one of sport’s most compelling. No other one-two contest (Borg-McEnroe, Ali-Frazier, Palmer-Nicklaus) can compare. The contrast in personalities. The styles and spins of play. The emotions: cool vs. combative. These are incomparable. And a message to all tennis fans that, should one have the resources, they ought to watch them play “live” before they retire.

Two, on court, if it’s Rafa’s forehand against Roger’s backhand, the outcome is as obvious as Pacquiao-Marquez III. The lefty wins. Roger has to find a way to avoid such ping-pong, cross-court exchanges.

Three, the tenacity of the Spaniard is unfathomable. His doggedness, resolve, and fortitude — more than his whipping forehand topspin or 100-meter-dash speed — gifts him victory. Tennis is mental. He who grits his teeth harder and wants it more pockets the $1.7 million prize money.

Four, defense wins the game. Watch the NBA. Listen to Coach Yayoy Alcoseba and to LeBron James & Co. “Defense is the key to success,” they’ll voice out in unison. Same with tennis. Nadal’s retrieval prowess — his ability to return a shot that, to anybody else on the ATP Tour, would have been a point lost — makes him greater than Bjorn Borg on clay.

Five, Roger is only 29. Which means he’s not 30 – a “psychological barrier” age when tennis pros (who’ve played since six years old) are on decline.

Six, the question is: Can Rafa, now with 10 majors, surpass Roger’s 16? At 25 years old, he’s five years younger. That’s about 20 Grand Slam title opportunities. He can if…

Seven… his body doesn’t complain. No body is subjected to more excruciating torture than Rafa’s 188-lb. frame. He slides, stretches, smashes, swings, sprints… suffers. Injury can derail his pursuit more than Federer Express.

Eight, Rafa can win despite “playing ugly.” Rafa almost lost. In the first round against John Isner, he was down two sets to one. Had he been defeated, that would have ranked as the greatest upset of all time. But he kept afloat. He survived. “The real Rafa is both the Rafa who wins and the Rafa who plays well, and the Rafa who suffers and doesn’t play that well,” said Nadal. “You have to face this situation.”

Nine, had Rafa faced Novak in the finals, he’d have lost. I think so. Roger’s backhand is his weakness. Not Novak. His two-handed shot causes grief to Rafa. That’s what caused defeat to the Mallorcan in the last four Final meetings they had.

Ten, I can’t wait for Wimbledon…..

Love Triangle: Roger spurns Novak for Rafa

A funny thing happened in this 2011 French Open. Everybody forgot about Roger Federer. All the focus was on Mr. Djokovic. All the talk was on Rafa’s quest for a sixth trophy. Who’s Roger? Is he still alive? In this planet? Playing tennis? Well, he happens to be the only living (and, yes, non-living) male person to have won 16 Grand Slam singles titles. He won on the Parisian red clay in 2009. He won an Olympic doubles gold medal in 2010. He is, almost unanimously, the best hairy, male player who’s gripped a tennis racket.

And, during the past two weeks in Paris, like a stealth bomber that’s hidden from the radar view, he was silent, unseen, moving, targeting, and now, all of a sudden, he’s out in the open, in the Finals, and within sight of the prize.

Less pressure. Compared to Rafa and Novak, the Swiss had it easier. He’s relegated to a world ranking of # 3. That’s a lowly position that RF had not stooped down to since, when, 2002? Yet, all this is working for the good. For Roger’s good. Because elite, world’s-best athletes need an extra boost of motivation to allow them to climb beyond Mount Everest’s peak – and this is it for Roger.

Neglected, ignored and, yes, disregarded as a 30-year-old (in August 8) has-been former-superstar whose star has faded, this abandonment Roger is using to spark himself.

COME ON!!!!!!! I’ve never, in over eight years of observation, seen him pump his fist and shout “Come On!” as many times as now. He’s feeding off this omission by the media — myself included — and using it to power his smash. You think I’m gone? I’ll prove you people wrong! he’s mentally saying.

Did you see his annihilation of Novak? He served 18 aces. He fired his forehand down-the-line. He snapped his backhand cross-court. He gracefully performed drop shots. He attacked. He was unafraid to exchange shot versus shot against the Serb. “I really wanted to make it as physical as possible,” which I was able to make happen,” said Roger.

Because of RF’s win, the happiest man in Paris today is… Rafa… the arch-rival but best friend of Roger (you should see their YouTube video, giggling and joking for endless minutes while filming an advertisement).

Had Djokovic entered the finals, he’d have been world No.1 when the new ATP rankings are released tomorrow, Monday. Roger prevented that. And he did so during Rafa’s 25th birthday last Friday. Best friends help each other. Roger did his part. Will Rafa return the favor, losing to his similar 6-foot-1, Nike-fully-clothed amigo in tonight’s Grand Finale (at 9 P.M., PHL time)?

Ha-ha. It’s like LeBron James asking Nowitzki, “Hey, Dirk, can you pleeeease give me a chance and give me my first NBA ring?” (Dirk’s reply: ‘Bron, me, too. I’ve never won a title!)

And so we’re back to one of the greatest rivalries in history. “I have another opportunity to beat Rafa here and get the Roland Garros title,” said Roger. “I’ve got to play some extraordinarily special tennis. I’m aware of that. But I obviously took a huge step today, and hope I can get everything together for the final.”

My pick? I’ve always attempted to stand on neutral ground when these two play. Roger is an exquisite, Swiss-cool, one-handed-backhand-hitting, effortless, injury-less gentleman. Rafa is animalistic, bull-like, tenacious-beyond-compare, humble yet ferocious. The two — apart from having collected 21 of the last 24 Grand Slam singles titles since 2005 — also share a loftier accolade: they are two of the most courteous, good-mannered role models in entertainment.

So I pick… “R.” Once, in a Casino Español luncheon with Frank Malilong on one side as Rafa’s Cebu-based attorney and Moya Jackson, Chinggay Utzurrum and Michelle So on the opposite end as I’m-In-Love-With-Roger lifetime members, it was a cross-fire worse than Mayweather, Sr. and Freddie Roach.

Seriously, as inspired as Roger is by his twin daughters, I’d pick RN. A winner in 44 out of 45 matches in Roland Garros, he’ll add a sixth crown past 12 midnight tonight. Vamos.

I went to North Korea — almost

SEOUL, KOREA–This city is huge. Next only to Tokyo, it owns the title of “the world’s second largest metropolitan area” with 24.5 million people. About half of the entire population of South Korea reside in the Seoul National Capital Area — an expanded version of the City of Seoul, much like Metro Cebu or Metro Manila.

Seoul is expansive and vast. In the three nights that we stayed here, we traveled to several places. In almost each stop, traveling time takes 30 to 45 minutes — and the roads are eight-lanes-wide. Traffic exists, but not much. Vehicles move. Everybody here moves. Fast.

Apart from meeting prospective business partners (the Philippines has about 120,000 Koreans), we visited, last Tuesday, the most popular tourist site of the peninsula: North Korea. No, we did not step inside the most confined and repressive nation on earth — that’s disallowed and would mean lifetime imprisonment (and possibly torture; remember Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in Die Another Day?). But we — Dondi Joseph, Joe Soberano, my dad Bunny and myself — did get the chance to be as close as possible to this nation that’s oddly (or shall I say, wrongly-named) “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

We went to the DMZ. That’s the De-Militarized Zone, about 40 minutes from hotel in Downtown Seoul. At the DMZ, we watched a video of the war between the two Korean sides in 1950 that claimed about four million lives. We traversed the 3rd Tunnel, walking down over 300 meters below sea level. The location was called the Joint Security Area. As is expected, the “38th Parallel” is the most militarized border in the world.

The day prior to DMZ, we had a whole day of business gatherings with the PHL Ambassador to South Korea, Luis Cruz. Dr. Bernard Villegas spoke. So did the officials of KEPCO, one of the world’s biggest energy firms — and one who has three power plants in our soil, including two in Cebu (Naga).

Food? Since I love spicy dishes, I’m at home here. Kimchi, “shabu-shabu,” and many more that perspire you while you sit and dine… these abound here. After the DMZ experience, our four-person Cebu group got hungry. It was 2 P.M. Scouring through the inner roads, we found a small, home-like restaurant. It was our best meal here; seafood soup, mackerel fish (much like our “buwad”), beef Bulgogi with noodles — it was perfect.

John, Bunny, Dondi and Joe

Rotary? Since Joe Soberano (the president of the Rotary Club of Cebu) and I (the president of the Rotary Club of Cebu West) were together, we had Rotary work to perform. The Rotary Club of Goyang, an organization of over 100 members, has an existing sister-club relationship with RC Cebu. Joe, Boni Belen (an RC Cebu past president), my dad and I joined their meeting two nights ago. It was formal. Everybody wore a suit. From 7 to 8 P.M. inside RC Goyang’s own office space, Joe sat at the presidential table and gave a speech. The Philippine anthem was played. We proudly placed our right hands on our hearts. After the serious Rotary ceremonies, it was off to dinner at a Korean establishment.

We had three types of alcohol (soju, their famous wine; another type that I couldn’t decipher; and Cass beer). We had crabs, duck, some form of octopus, plenty of kimchi, and an overdose of spicy dishes. From the seriousness of no-smiles of the Rotary meeting, the dinner was boisterous. The Koreans, no doubt — as reflected by their work ethic and status as a First World Nation — know both: they work hard and are serious, but they also relax, drink and revel in the opposite, fun-side of life.

Sports? Sadly, I can’t report much. I did see the Olympic Stadium, built when this nation hosted the 1988 Games. We also passed the FIFA World Cup Stadium. Too bad I did not get a chance to step inside both. Baseball is No.1 here. While I previously mentioned that Football was tops, I believe the game of mitts, backstops, bunts and sacrifice flies, is the top game here.

In all, the “Soul of Asia” is terrific. If only their cable TV showed the French Open, it would be near-perfect.

From the War Memorial of Korea

Former Pres. Fidel Ramos’ actual military gear that he wore during the Korean War