Thanks, Bubble

By definition, a bubble is supposed to burst. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “a globule typically hollow and light” and “something that lacks firmness, solidity.”

Not the NBA bubble. Not the barricaded confines of Walt Disney World in Florida where, for the past 87 days, ballplayers have been shuttered, their movements restricted. 

This bubble has not burst — and if not for this sealed and plugged habitat, we wouldn’t be enjoying the NBA Finals. 

The players are shut and suppressed from the outside world. They can’t see all their family members. They’re locked inside the 5-star hotel rooms of the Gran Destino Tower. They are unable to high-five fans and absorb the sweet sound of an overcrowded Staples Center.

But it works. And it’s the only way possible for sports to fully thrive. Consider this: for three months, I haven’t read a single report on a person who’s tested positive inside the Disney bubble. Last Aug. 17, for example, when most teams were still playing, a total of 342 players were tested and not one was positive. 

“If we could do everywhere what the NBA is doing in its bubble,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert, “we would get rid of the virus.”

Since the NBA resumed last July 30, we’ve been enjoying uninterrupted games. Like Aladdin’s theme song, “A Whole New World,” the NBA has adopted a new ad campaign, “It’s a Whole New Game.”

Thanks to the bubble — this confined campus where 7-footer giants roam and meander — we have forgotten about COVID-19 everytime we watch Tyler Herro throw a three-pointer or Jimmy Butler sink a 23-footer or AD slam dunk off a rebound like he did yesterday.

Why has this bubble worked?

First, the strictness and obedience. The NBA guidelines were spelled out in a 113-page health-and-safety booklet. Everyone is tested. Nobody goes out. The lockdown is so strict that every morning, players have to log-in to NBA MyHealth, an app where questions on wellness are asked. 

Second, the shortened season and fewer players.

“The NBA was already toward the end of its season when they resumed, so they were only trying to play a certain number of games, not a whole season,” says Miami Heat’s team physician, Dr. Harlan Selesnick. Per team, only 17 players were allowed with a total of 35, including staff and coaches.

The NBA bubble did not come cheap. The league will spend $170 million. Aside from feeding the players and staff and putting them to bed, there’s entertainment. Fishing was a favorite of Paul George. There’s golf at a PGA Tour-level course, plenty of video games and a pool party with a DJ.

The success of the NBA bubble is a perfect blueprint for our PBA. Now on its 45th season, the PBA plans a restart next Sunday, Oct. 11, in Clark, Pampanga. There will be one venue (Angeles University) and one hotel (Quest in Mimosa).

I believe the PBA bubble will work. They just need to follow the rules, be strict, comply with the guidelines, be obedient.

Like the NBA. Unlike Donald Trump.

Manny, money, McGregor

Conor McGregor is 32 years old and hails from Dublin, Ireland. He stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 170 lbs. 

Manny Pacquiao will turn 42 this Dec. 17. He calls Gen. Santos City home, stands 5-foot-6 and weighs no more than 145 lbs.

Conor is a mixed martial artist. He was the former UFC featherweight and lightweight champ. He employs kickboxing and a mixture of Capoeira, Karate and Taekwondo and holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Manny is a former congressman and now Philippine senator. He can’t do a triangle choke, elbow strike or submit the enemy via a kimura or guillotine choke. He is boxing’s only eight-division world champ.

Conor’s performance stage is called an Octagon. It has double the number of sides compared to the boxing ring used by Manny.

On paper, the Irishman and the Filipino have no business doing boxing business. Yet, here they are, generating buzz with talk of a mega-fight. Will this bout prosper?

First, it’s not guaranteed yet. Conor has one of the loudest mouths in all of sports and his tweet yesterday (“I’m boxing Manny Pacquaiao next in the Middle East”) is both hype and hyperbole. Negotiations are underway and he wants to jumpstart the frenzy by announcing what’s yet to be confirmed.

Second, I have to admit: this is exciting. In this year of COVID-19 (shouldn’t the name be COVID-20, so we’ll forever attach it to 2020?), this MP-CM bout provides a thrill.

The Notorious is the superstar of superstars in MMA. Of the top six highest-grossing pay-per-views in UFC history, five of those involve Conor, including the No.1: UFC 229 when he lost to Khabib Nurmagomedov. That garnered 2.4 million PPV buys. His boxing gig against Floyd Mayweather Jr. (catchweight: 154 lbs.) drew 4.3 million PPV buys — history’s second-highest.

Pacman is not to be outboxed. His 4.6 million PPV buys against Mayweather trumps McGregor’s and takes the No. 1 spot in PPV history. According to Forbes magazine, the 24 PPV bouts of Pacquiao’s career have generated 20 million buys and a mind-boggling $1.25 billion in revenue. 

Money, Manny, money. This is what this extravaganza is all about. Consider these preposterous figures. In the May 2015 event when Manny faced Money at the MGM Grand Garden Arena dubbed “Fight of the Century,” Mayweather earned $250M while Pacquiao took home (before taxes) $150M. 

Two years later in Floyd vs. Conor’s “The Money Fight,” Mayweather made $275M against the $85M for McGregor. Just on two bouts, the three fighters amassed a gross paycheck of $760M (or P38 billion).

McGregor vs. Pacquiao? Easily $50M per boxer. 

Who will win? As always, it depends who you ask.

“Manny will destroy Conor McGregor inside three rounds,” said MP’s coach Justin Fortune. “He will obliterate him too fast and too strong as an amazing fighter. McGregor is nothing.”

The betting odds agree. Since the news came out, Pacquiao is a -450 favorite. This means that to win $100, you have to bet $450 on MP. At the other side, McGregor is +325. You get $325 for a $100 bet.

Time for Thiem

In sports, when you say “Big Three,” you mean the dominance of a triumvirate. The NBA is credited with (Celtics) Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish; (Spurs) Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli; and (Cavs) LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

Tennis has Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Starting with the 2003 Wimbledon and ending with the 2020 Australian Open, Tennis’ Big 3 has won 56 of the last 67 Grand Slam singles trophies. This number is incredible considering that there are tens of millions of men’s tennis players worldwide and only three have won 83.58% of all majors in a 17-year span.

“Give chance to others” is not the motto of the trio. 

Which brings us the US Open final tomorrow: Dominic Thiem vs. Alexander Zverev. No Roger (injured), no Rafa (preparing for Paris), and no Novak (disqualified). You can say that the Austrian and German are lucky because they didn’t have to face the Big 3 en route to their first major win.

My pick: He started tennis at the age of six, resides in a small town (pop: 3,000) called Lichtenwörth, and he plays with a one-handed backhand. I first saw Thiem at the 2015 French Open. Then, he was only 21 but was already rumored to be a future star. Watching his match against Pablo Cuevas (in a side court), I stood a few meters away. His Adidas shirt got drenched in sweat as he would muscle and batter each forehand. 

In October 2019, I had another chance to watch Thiem. With my wife Jasmin and doctors Ronnie and Stevee Medalle, we watched the Shanghai Open. Thiem lost in the quarters to Matteo Berrettini (and Daniil Medvedev, whom Thiem beat in yesterday’s semis, won in Shanghai) but nobody impressed us more with hard-hitting tennis than the 6-foot-1 Austrian.

The practice court is the best place to be upclose to these players. For an hour before their match, they’d warm-up and rally. Federer was relaxed and carefree with his strokes.

Not Thiem. The 27-year-old bludgeoned the ball. His hour of practice-hitting was 60 full minutes of 100% I’ll-give-it-my-all tennis. He was Nadal-like intense — and this was just the warm-up. This ferocity and forcefulness makes Thiem the favorite in tomorrow’s final (plus, he carries a 7-2 win-loss record). 

Sascha Zverez, though, is no pushover. He has won the 2018 ATP Finals and, at 6-foot-6, his serve can exceed 140 mph. If he records a high first serve percentage, he’ll be difficult to stop. And remember this tennis adage: “He whose serve doesn’t get broken doesn’t not lose.”

SERENA. If the Big 3 are out, the Big One of women’s tennis was also booted out. After winning the first set (6-1) against Victoria Azarenka, who would have thought Serena Williams would lose?

This US Open has been peculiar and strange. No fans. No qualifying matches. No juniors. No Roger and Rafa. Six of the top 10 women opted to stay home. Djokovic throws a ball to the back and hits the line judge in the throat. A few inches off target and he — not Thiem — would be claiming the US Open trophy.

Categorized as Tennis


Although the NBA was founded in June 6, 1946, it wasn’t until October 12, 1979 that the first three-point shot was made. For 33 years, the NBA did not include three-point shots in the rulebook. Even if you lobbed the ball from half-court, it still counted as two points.

It’s been nearly 41 years since Chris Ford of the Boston Celtics was credited with that historic first trey. Today, this shot has never been more important.

Consider this fact: Three-point shooters are outscoring paint scorers in the 2020 playoffs. As of Monday, there were 4,602 points counted from beyond the arc and only 4,512 from the paint. 

Kirk Goldsberry wrote about this recently in an ESPN article, “NBA playoff success has never been so dependent on 3s.”

This trend of increasing points from 3s has been growing every year. Just six years ago during the 2014 post-season, only 27.9% of all the shots taken came from 3s. Here’s the breakdown: 30.2% (2015); 31% (2016); 34.8% (2017); 35.5% (2018); 37.9% (2019).

This 2020 playoff bubble: 43.4%. In simple terms, more than 4 out of every 10 shots taken is a three-pointer — easily the highest percentage in NBA history.

Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are to be credited for this spectacle. The 32-year-old Wardell Stephen Curry II is third in the all-time 3-point field goals made (Curry has 2,495 behind Ray Allen’s 2,973 and Reggier Miller’s 2,560). But it’s his percentage that’s mind-boggling. He converts 43.5% of all 3s that he unleashes. His teammate Klay Alexander Thompson is equally impressive with his 41.9% threes converted.

Donovan Mitchell is another standout. He recently bested the Splash Brothers when he made 33 3-pointers in one playoff series (Utaz Jazz’s loss to the Denver Nugges). That eclipsed the previous record of 32 of Curry in 2016.

James Harden is another culprit. He is not only the league’s leading scorer (34.3 PPG, regular season) but he also made the most step-back 3s this season with 195, besting Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard.

“Harden’s Rockets have been the harbingers of this whole movement. Back in 2016-17, they became the first team in history to ever take more than 40% of their shots from 3-point range,” said Goldsberry. “Everybody is the Rockets now.”

Everybody is throwing 3s. If we look back at OKC’s Game 5 loss to Houston, for example, the Thunder attempted 46 three-pointers — and converted only seven for a dismal 15% clip. That surely contributed to their embarrassing 80-114 loss to the Rockets.

Toronto won yesterday and is still in contention partly because of Fred VanVleet. For the past two playoff years, the 6-foot-1 guard has made 46% (of 3-pointers) each time they win and a measly 26% whenever the Raptors lose. 

In today’s NBA, plenty of games are decided by how well (or poorly) the team shoots from behind that line that measures (from the center of the basket) 23 feet 9 inches.

Categorized as NBA