Steph-back three

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Wardell Stephen Curry II is the hardest human being to guard on Planet Earth. Joe Biden may be the US President and he’s surrounded by the Secret Service; Vladimir Putin employs the modern-day KGB called SBP — but Steph Curry is even more unguardable. 

As soon as “30” crosses that halfcourt line, the enemy patrol guards are deployed to congregate around him. Curry springs forward, dribbles between-the-legs, skips to his right, bounces to his left. The defense swarms him. Like a snake, he slivers in and out of the 6-foot-5 enemy, galloping to hop forward before whisking two steps backward — tripping the opponent — before he unleashes the most difficult-to-guard move in the NBA: the Steph-back three. 

Swish!

The Spalding orange leather ball floats through space and slices through the net, avoiding contact with the 18-inch steel rim. Curry smiles, sways and shimmies; he pumps his chest once, then points to the ceiling with his index finger.

The NBA’s 3-point distance is between 22 to 23 feet (depending on the court position). But because Curry’s jersey number is “30,” he prefers to catapult that lob 30 feet away. To him, it’s all a shooting exhibition. Without care, he simply catapults the ball up and, magically, it always finds the hole.

Swish! 

Prior to every game against Golden State, the opposing team’s coaching staff spend the longest time analyzing how they’ll double team Mr. Curry. Nothing works. He toys with the opposition. As the defender draws near, he shuffles his feet, dances the tango and waltzes around the befuddled man. He fakes a pass as the chaperone gets fooled. Never mind the outstretched hand that’s covering his face and eyes, his barrages of long-range, 30-feet-away missiles hit the target.

Steph Curry shooting threes is like others shooting free throws. It’s that effortless and easy for this Warrior. On free throws, while chewing either the MOGO M1 or Under Armour flavored mouthguards, Curry is shooting 92% this season. His lifetime average is 90.7%.

How about his catch-and-shoot? In a millisecond, shorter than it takes for the opponent to blink, he’s able to flick that wrist as the ball is hurled high, high up in the air.. 

Eric Gay/AP Images

Swish! 

Curry’s teammates sometimes employ the “Elevator Door Screen,” a move so brilliant (two of his teammates close the opening and disallow “entry”) that it makes the NBA announcers scream and go berserk.

SC30 is now on his 12th season. The 33-year-old, two-time NBA MVP hails from Akron, Ohio. He and LeBron James were not only born in the same city but also the same hospital: Akron General Medical Center.

Curry did the unthinkable last month. He made three-point after three-point… 96 total in April. (This broke the previous record of 82 set by James Harden.) Given that GSW played 15 games last month, that’s an average of 6.4 three-pointers per game. In one five-game stretch, he shot 10-11-4-11-10 three-pointers. In April, he averaged 47.6% from beyond the arc. This, despite being as heavily guarded as Biden or Putin.

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Jittery Japan

Eighty seven days remain before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Yes, the year is 2021 and the Olympics is “2020” because the virus that started in 2019.

The Japanese are scared. In a recent survey, a whopping 72 percent are opposed to holding the Games; 39.2 percent of respondents want the Olympics cancelled and 32.8 percent want it postponed again.

Why? Isn’t the Olympics the pride and glory of the host nation? And hasn’t Japan spent a gargantuan amount to be ready for the Opening Ceremonies on July 23?

Yes and yes. The Tokyo Olympics, originally budgeted at $7.5 billion, has ballooned to $35 billion — making it the most expensive Summer Games ever.

Then why, despite the 3.77 trillion Japanese Yen that the hosts are spending, are they anxious?

COVID-19. This is the unseen opponent that’s petrified the Japanese and the IOC. It’s more devious and foxy than any rival; more cunning than any assassin the world has encountered.

Consider this: Japan has the world’s oldest population. Japan has 126 million residents and 28 percent are aged 65 or above. This means that nearly one in three Japanese are senior citizens — the most vulnerable sector in this fight against the virus.

To make matters worse, Japan has a very low vaccination rate. Despite it owning the title of “the world’s third-largest economy ,” Japan ranks at the bottom of the vaccination ladder.

Only 1.3 percent of Japanese have been vaccinated thus far. This is exactly the same percentage with the Philippines. But considering how wealthy Japan is versus our archipelago (Japan’s GDP is $5 trillion vs. our $377 billion — we are 7.5% the size of Japan’s economy), you would expect that the Pfizer, Moderna and AZ vaccines would have landed sooner in the shores of Osaka, Sapporo, Nagoya — all 47 of Japan’s prefectures.

Inexplicably, the answer is No. This has caused a major worry with the nearing of the Olympics, which run from July 23 to August 8. 

Over 11,000 athletes are expected to arrive in Japan’s capital. If you add the coaches, officials, team members and entourage, this number will enlarge. Because of the pandemic, the IOC has placed a limit: no more than 90,000 athletes, etc. will arrive in Japan. No foreign spectators are allowed. 

Here’s another complication: the athletes are not required to be vaccinated prior to their arrival. I say “complication” because this is a big gamble on IOC’s part. 

I know, I know; vaccination, anywhere around the world, is not compulsory; but this creates a huge risk for the Games.

With 90,000 incoming guests from 205 countries and airports — all arriving at the Haneda or Narita airports in Tokyo, it’s a huge possibility that some of those individuals will carry the coronavirus.

In the Athlete’s Village where they are confined in close quarters, can you imagine the scenario if a Covid-19 outbreak happens?

One super-spreader can inflict considerable damage on the Olympics. Athletes may be barred. Events postponed or canceled. Zero spectators allowed.

No wonder the Japanese are jittery.

Garganera challenge

If the Academy Awards, which unfold tomorrow in Hollywood, were to give an Oscars trophy to the category, “Best Sport this Covid-19,” the runaway winner isn’t… running.

It’s cycling. On Sundays from 6 to 9 A.M., try climbing from JY Square to Marco Polo and you’ll witness a spectacle: 

Hundreds of two-wheeled vehicles crawling upwards to Busay. Grinding, sweating, pushing one leg after another to encircle that pedal, they’re gripping that handlebar tight. Many are painted with multi-colored jerseys, all body-hugging. The bikers are wearing gloves, arm sleeves and Sidi shoes with cleats; water bottles and reflector stickers adorn the two-wheelers. Their bikes range from MTBs to Giant fat bikes to Ebikes to an S-Works Venge that costs P549,500.

Biking means freedom. It means the wind blowing in your face. It means happiness — “You can’t be sad while riding a bicycle.” It means social interaction during this anti-social time. Biking doesn’t have walls. It means exercising minus the pushing-and-elbowing of basketball and running’s foot injuries.

I love biking because, on flat asphalt, it’s effortless. On downhills, flying at 42-kph, it’s horrifying. And while your bike is pointed to the sky and you’re on your softest gear and your body is rocking side to side and you stand to deliver extra oomph to your leg-powered vehicle, it’s punishing and painful but fulfilling.

Biking during this Covid-19 year is a winner because people long for the outdoors and free space. Trapped in our homes during those ECQ days, pedaling offers immunity from isolation.

I love cycling because of the 7Fs: Friends. Freedom. Fitness. Free. Forward. Fun. Fast. 

PANDAY CHALLENGE. Biking is also for another F: Females. Although majority of riders are men, an increasing percentage are women. 

Take the “Panday Challenge” of Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera. I’ve known Cons Joel for many years now and we’ve ran countless kilometers together but one vivid memory of us together happened in a Pipti-Pipti Triathlon event in Catmon in 2009. We both swam alongside each other and started the bike leg in tandem, exiting the Bachao Beach Resort — when Joel’s bike chain suddenly broke. We stopped, tried to fix the chain (to no avail), and ended up laughing. That was a memorable experience.

With the Panday Challenge, this is like the AWUM (All Women Ultra Marathon) — also co-organized by Hon. Garganera — except that it’s biking and the distance is not 50K. It’s scheduled this April 27 (Tuesday) and is named “Kadaugan sa Sugbo Cycling Event.” The climb is from JY Square to Willy’s; it’s open to women only and it’s for free. The first 150 to reach Willy’s will be given a free jersey.

BIKE QUOTES: “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy a bike — and that’s kind of the same thing.”

Albert Einstein: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

“A bad day on a mountain bike beats a good day at the office.” 

“Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.”

The Little Merman

(Cleevan, center; photos in this post taken from Cleevan’s Facebook page)

Cleevan Kayne Alegres circumnavigated Olango Island last week. He did not walk, paddle-board or sail around Olango — he swam all of it: 25,420 meters of swimming.

“My farthest distance before the Olango swim was 14 kms.,” he told me in our 28-minute-long talk last Thursday.

Cleevan’s ultimate goal is to encircle the entire Mactan island — a 40 to 45-km. swim. — later this month to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Mactan.

With the 25-K swim in Olango, he told me, “Kalit-kalit ra to because I needed to swim a longer distance.”

Starting at 3:30 p.m. last April 4, Cleevan completed the trek by swimming for 9 hours and 59 minutes. He had to stop for two hours at the latter part of the expedition because he was separated from his accompanying pump boat.

Starting at Sta. Rosa port, he ended at the same spot at 3:30 a.m. He swam a big portion of the 25K in total darkness.

“I swam at night because of the tides,” he said. “I studied the tide chart and currents and they’re favorable at night.”

While most, if not all of us, are afraid of swimming the open seas at night, Cleevan felt relaxed when submerged in darkness.

“I’m used to spear-fishing in the evenings and night-diving,” said Cleevan, whose house sits right beside the waters of Mactan (behind J Park Resort). “I’m not scared of the dark while swimming.”

He did not wear a full-body wetsuit but opted for the barest of barest: swimming trunks. 

“Swimming for 10 hours, there were plenty of jellyfish, but I just ignored them,” said Cleevan, who  believes his achievement was 40 percent physical and 60 percent mental.

Cleevan was accompanied by a team. At portions of the route, he was joined by swimmers Jason Earl Bilangdal, Ryan Galo and Reinwald Ebora. There were three stand-up paddler teams that included his girlfriend Gillan Mae Sayson, his sister Eaa, and friends Saysay Silawan, Janjan Cañete and Tado Amit. A pumpboat glided nearby.

Cleevan did not eat during the 25-K challenge. He did not take caffeinated drinks because of a heart condition that started when he was a baby; for two months after he was born, he was in the incubator. Today, his heart palpitates if he takes coffee. 

The only nutrition that fueled him was the supplement brand Vitargo, recommended by Atty. Ingemar Macarine, the “Pinoy Aquaman.” During the swim, Cleevan took sips of the carbo-electrolytes supplement every 20 to 25 minutes. 

Swimming is a lonely sport. I asked Cleevan how he survived the mental anguish of floating at sea for 10 hours.

“I thought of my Veterinary studies,” said the fifth year junior clinician at SWU-Phinma. “While swimming, I tried to remember the lessons and kept on repeating them. I also sang, in my mind, my favorite songs. (These included the songs Inspector Mills and Superman, Five for Fighting.) 

“I counted 1 to 1,000. I thought about my future plans. I prayed to the Lord to help my tiredness. At the 20K mark, I experienced hallucination and thought that a dolphin was swimming beside me…”

Part 2 (published last April 18, 2021)

Cleevan Kayne Alegres stands 5-foot-3 and weighs 121 lbs. When asked in an interview after he completed the 25-km. Olango Island swim what he wanted to be called, he paused, thought of a nickname and said… The Little Merman!

Bright. The Little Mermaid, as know from the Disney movie, is derived from an 1837 book by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It was a fairy tale.

On April 25, it will be another fairy tale — this time, a real life tale of Cebu’s very own “Little Merman” attempting to encircle Mactan Island using only his God-given legs and arms. The around-Mactan swim is expected to cover the length of between 40 to 45 kms.

Swimming for 40+ kms. — this sounds ridiculous. If you consider that a marathon road race spans 42 kms. — I’ve done a bunch of those runs and they’re tough — how much more in a horizontal position.

OLANGO SWIM. Two weeks ago (on April 4) when Cleevan swam the 10-hour-long adventure around Olango Island, he experienced moments of hallucination. 

“A dolphin was swimming beside me,” Cleevan said. “It was past 1 A.M. and I had been swimming for over 20 kms. It was only later that I realized that they were only coconuts floating nearby.”

Cleevan’s 25K “practice swim” provided him with several lessons before his 42K “main event” on April 25.

Lesson No. 1: music helps.

“A boombox is important,” he said. “I’ll ask my companions on the paddle board and pump boat to play music during the swim. Swimming in the middle of the night and for many hours.. I need music.”

Bright head lamps so his path won’t be too dark, said Cleeven, will also help.

With the swim pacers, Cleevan plans to ask four swimmers to accompany him. But this time, instead of asking them to join him at the start, they’ll form a relay team with each pacer swimming eight kms. The ones who’ve enlisted as pacers include Reinwalk Ebora, Albert Godinez, Ryan Galo and Jaron Earl Bilangdal. 

ADVOCACY. When I spoke to Cleevan for nearly half an hour 10 days ago, he was very passionate about the reason for this exploit.

“My advocacy is to raise awareness and get rid of the garbage at sea,” said Cleevan. “I live right beside the waters; our house is very near the J Park Resort. Where I live in Maribago, I am able to collect as much as two sacks of garbage everyday.”

Cleevan will embark on his 42K marathon swim at 5 p.m. on April 25 — near the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Mactan. It’s a symbolic date. But the bigger symbol that the 25-year-old is attempting to achieve is this: We need to clean our seas and not throw plastics, junk or rubbish.

Cleevan wants to make sure that his swim will include passing along the Mactan Channel. While he previously only wore swim trunks, this time, for that stretch, he will have to wear a full suit. The reason is shocking and depressing.

“Hugaw, baho, lubog, daghan mag lutaw-lutaw bisag unsa, ang lapok itom pas black,” Cleevan said, of the Mactan Channel.

How sad.

Let’s hope that the swim of Cleevan Alegres will not only be historic but will help raise awareness to clean our seas and save the oceans.

While the world is down, it’s Game on

I’m not a gamer. Unlike my youngest brother Michael, whose favorite is Call of Duty: Warzone, my last gaming console was Atari. Ha-ha. Yes, Pong, Pac-man and Space Invaders!

Yesterday, I did a quick Google search on the sports that have thrived since the world changed 12 months ago. Not surprising, the No. 1 answer is Esports.

The “e” stands for “electronic” and it’s a sport involving multiple gamers playing video games. Before Covid-19 struck, a large stadium would be jampacked with overflowing fans watching a Jumbotron. This time, the games are happening remotely — at home. 

Gaming is a huge, huge, huge business. Of the planet’s 7.9 billion people, about 57 percent have access to the internet. And of that 4.5 billion Web users, a huge 2.81 billion play computer games. 

The global video game industry is $159 billion. How huge is that? It’s four times the box office (movie) revenues and three times the music industry market.

COVID-19 has increased the number of gamers worldwide. Told to strictly follow stay-at-home protocols, the Internet Protocol (IP) has ruled. The length of time people spend online playing games has substantially increased during this pandemic.

For Esports, this is good. It is officially a sport. During the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Manila, a total of six medals were at stake. At the end of the six-day tournament held at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan, our Filipino e-gamers collected the most hardware: We won 3 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze medals. 

The games played included Arena of Valor, Starcraft II, Dota 2, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Hearthstone and Tekken 7. The popular “NBA2k” game was planned to be one of the titles but a license was not secured before the game’s start.

Later this year in Vietnam, when our ASEAN neighbor hosts the SEA Games, they will offer 10 medals for Esports, including CrossFire and FIFA Online 4.

The Olympics is not ready yet. Esport aficionados, knowing how popular video games are in Japan, pushed to have Esports included in the Tokyo Olympics. But the IOC declined. Had the Games pushed through last year, an accompanying event (“The Intel World Open”) was to have been staged in Tokyo coinciding with the Olympics.

Here in Cebu, I remember an event I attended in September 2014. My good friend Brian Lim, an entrepreneur-triathlete, was then the chairman of the Phil. E-Sports Organization (PESO).

Brian helped organize the event, “eSports Festival: Rigs. Cosplay. Games.” that attracted over 500 participants at the Cebu Trade Hall of the SM City Cebu. 

Sven Macoy Schmid, an avid gamer, wrote this in his blog, “I was stunned by how many spectators the event drew… there was the cosplay event, the rig competition and the beautiful creatures called ‘booth babes.’”

Brain Lim explained to me the attraction of this game.

“ESports is the modern-day equivalent of Chess,” he said. “It’s a mind sport but without any physical boundaries as it can be played across the internet and across different genres or game types.”

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Categorized as Covid-19

Brooklyn vs. L.A.

The NBA Playoffs won’t commence until May 22 and the NBA Finals won’t be contested by the grappling of two squads until July 8 but, this early, we might as well erect a giant Times Square billboard and posterize the inevitable.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Los Angeles Lakers. 

The NBA is composed of 30 teams and we can debate and wrangle over the merits and handicaps of each team. But given what transpired in the last 72 hours, the obvious has become unmistakable.

Kevin Durant. James Harden. Kyrie Irving. Blake Griffin. And, early this week, the disembarkation of LaMarcus Aldridge, a 7-time NBA All-Star. This “Brooklyn Five” combine for a mouth-watering 40 total NBA All-Star appearances. 

“Life is unfair; and it’s not fair that life is unfair,” someone once commented.

Steve Nash, the Nets’ coach, besieged with questions on the unfairness of his collection of superstars, replied: “It’s not like we did anything illegal so I don’t know what we’re supposed to do, not try to add to our roster and just sit pat? The idea of this league is try to put together the best team you can put together. And that doesn’t guarantee you anything in life.”  

Steve, it guarantees you a free pass to the NBA Finals where a Hollywood cast awaits..

LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The duo merge to establish the most formidable pairing in Lakers history since Kobe and Shaq. The Lakers are the defending champs and, with a line-up this 2021 that includes Schroder, Montrezl, Kuzma, Caruso, KCP, Gasol, Matthews and THT, they were pre-installed as the title favorites.

Until LBJ and AD got injured. Until the “Brooklyn Five” was formed.

So, what counter move did Rob Pelinka, the VP of the Lakers, perform? He convinced a 6-foot-10, 279-lb. giant with a 7-foot-5 wingspan named Andre Drummond to transfer — like LeBron did — from Cleveland to L.A. 

Drummond fills a gaping hole at, literally, the center of the Lakers’ formation. He is a rebounding specialist, pulling down rebounds like a farmer would pick apples from a tree. Drummond has led the league in rebounding four times and is the league’s all-time leader in seasons with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks. The big, who was born in New York but is moving West to help Los Angeles, has achieved that four times.

“So much of the playoffs are about the paint, you know, and he’s a physical force down there,” said Orlando coach Steve Clifford, of Drummond. “He’s a great rim protector and one of the great offensive rebounders in our game. He could win one or two playoff games for you just for this physicality and size alone.”

So, in this impending brawl between Brooklyn and L.A., who’s the winner? 

First, the losers: The 28 other teams who will be left salivating at the sight of the Nets-Lakers dispute. This will surely be one of the most anticipated NBA Finals in history. This is a war between the Justice League vs. the Avengers.

The winners? You and me and all of us, basketball fanatics.

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Categorized as NBA

Netflix + Sports

Trivia: Did you know that the average Netflix subscriber — yes, that includes you, dear reader — spends as much as 3.2 hours everyday watching its movies and shows?

What started in 1997 as a DVD rental service has ballooned into the world’s largest streaming movie outfit. Netflix boasts of over 205 million subscribers; multiply that by four per household and you’ve got a billion people watching Netflix every 8:49 P.M.

During this pandemic — as we commemorate the lockdown’s one year anniversary in Cebu — Netflix has soared. Their subscriber base (worldwide) increased by 21.9%. Their 2020 gross revenue is huge: $25 billion. But look at how much they spent last year on new content: $17.3 billion. In pesos, that’s P848 billion! Talk about a boom in the film industry. 

In sports, Netflix has a deluge of sports documentaries.

“The Last Dance” is my favorite. Featuring Michael Jordan, it’s an 8-part docuseries that includes never-before-shown footages of MJ’s final season with the Chicago Bulls. The interviews on Scottie Pippen and revelations about Dennis Rodman are riveting.

“Icarus” is a must-see. The 121-minute-long film made in 2017 won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Yes, it’s that good. I immensely enjoyed this Bryan Fogel-directed story because it talks about cycling — and the prevalence of doping in this punishing sport.  

“The Dawn Wall” is another visually stunning thriller that I watched last month. It tells the story of daredevils Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson and their 2015 attempt to free-climb Yosemite’s most dangerous rock face. How captivating is this El Capitan documentary? In Rotten Tomatoes, which solicits reviews, it scored 100%.

“The Playbook” is good. The show asks coaches to share with us their lessons in life and sports. My favorites include the interviews with Serena Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou; the NBA’s Doc Rivers; and football’s Jose Mourinho.

“Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” just last week, released Season 3. The 20 episodes in the first two seasons were captivating. Warning: If you watch this inside look at the planet’s speediest machines, you will get hooked. Perfect to watch this series because the F1 season is unfolding today in Bahrain.

Football fanatic or not, you’ve got to watch “Pele.” The 108-minute-long narrative chronicles the life of Brazil’s favorite son and the soccer world’s numero uno. The solo interview of the now-80-year-old Pele is fascinating; so was the recounting of his life: playing for Santos at 15 and the national team at 16, and winning three World Cups — a feat never equalled. That’s because Pele has no equal.  

I have yet to watch “Losers” but I read good reviews about the 8-episode docuseries. While most flicks showcase the Jordans and Peles, here’s a twist: the film depicts the lives of athletes who’ve experienced defeats — and how they’ve transformed these failures into positive outcomes.

Others that I have yet watch but are on my list: Senna, Last Chance U, The Carter Effect, and The Speed Cubers.

FeDjoDal

A week ago, I wrote about how lucky we are to be witnesses to the continuing greatness of the Three Kings: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Since their 18-year dominance started in 2003, we saw them winning 58 of the 70 Grand Slam singles trophies. Their triumvirate ranks as the best not only in tennis folklore but of any sports trio in history.

But who’s better? The Spaniard, the Serb or the Swiss?

My easy answer: The real-life tennis movie is not finished yet. Their careers are not over and I foresee Roger lifting that Wimbledon crown once more and Rafa collecting 27 more French Open trophies, and the Aussies changing their “Australian Open” to “Novak Djokovic Open.”

Roger and Rafa have amassed 20 majors apiece and Novak owns 18. My prediction: At their career’s end, I see the Serbian stockpiling the most major trophies. Djokovic is at his peak today and he’s a year younger than the often-injured Nadal and six years Federer’s junior.

If Djokovic overtakes R & R, can he sit atop the throne of tennis’ Mt. Everest? Maybe. He holds win-loss records of 29-27 vs. Nadal and 27-23 vs. Federer. But we know that the unofficial “The Greatest” title is not purely about numbers. If we speak of being revered and admired, sadly, Novak ranks way, way below the universally-loved Roger and Rafa.

So, the GOAT debate lingers. But here’s an award that I’m ready to bestow to these recipients. Since tennis has three main surfaces, it’s obvious that each owns a different type of real estate.

Grass, best ever: Federer.

Hard-court, best: Djokovic.

Clay, greatest: Nadal.

The above conclusions are unquestionable. 

On top of this, allow me to construct the perfect tennis player. Instead of three gentlemen, allow me to combine forces so that they form one creature. An individual whom, if we had an interplanetary contest, I’d ask to represent Planet Earth. He would possess…

Nadal’s left-handed forehand, especially that inside-out strike and hooking topspin that curls to an opponent’s weak backhand. I’d also include Nadal’s indefatigable fighting spirit. His overhead smash is another that I’d embrace in his arsenal.

Federer? I’ll inject his first and second serves. That 120-mph slice serve or second serve twist with pinpoint accuracies. This is why RF has eight Wimbledons. And, when he glides towards the net, I’d also incorporate RF’s volleys and half-volleys. They are compact, deadly, exact. That slice backhand (“ha-it,” we Bisaya players call it) is a Federer signature.

For the backhand, nothing compares to that two-fisted cannon of Djokovic. He can smack it cross-court or score a down-the-line bomb. Return of serve? Agassi’s was good but Djokovic’s is at a different cosmos. Finally, on defensive skills, when one is pushed to the limit on either side, with outstretched arms and legs splitting, no one plays defense better than Novak.

FeDjoDal. In today’s virtual world, a three-in-one cyborg that’s molded from three tennis beings.

Roger, Rafa and Novak

Question: How many Grand Slam singles trophies have Federer, Nadal and Djokovic won from 2003 to 2021?

Answer: 58 of 70! Yes, no misprint there. Only three individuals out of the tens of millions of tennis players have collared 82.85 percent of all the major titles in the past 18 years. No trio in any sport at any time in our universe has this dominance transpired. 

Question # 2: Who is the greatest tennis player ever?

Answer: All of the above.

Yes, in deference to Don Budge, Rod Laver and Pete Sampras, the current Big 3 are history’s greatest ever to wield that Wilson, Babolat or Head stick.

Question # 3: Who among the triumvirate is the best; and thus, to be crowned the GOAT?

Answer: It’s complicated.

Is it the Swiss maestro whose 20 majors include eight Wimbledon titles? Federer has also amassed six ATP Tour Finals wins (Djokovic has five and, inexplicably, Nadal has none). The Swiss won an Olympic gold medal in doubles and the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year crown a record five times. 

Trophies aside, he has picked up the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award a whopping 13 times. This award is voted upon by the ATP players in recognition for one’s professionalism, integrity and utmost spirit of fairness. Nadal has won this four times and Djokovic has, ouch, none. Is the 6-foot-1, Rolex endorser the best-ever?

Vamos! How about Spain’s Raging Bull? Five years Federer’s junior, he has the same number of Grand Slam singles trophies (20). What’s remarkable with Nadal is his achievement in Roland Garros. He is 13 of 13 in finals in Paris and his win-loss record there is an incomprehensible 100-2.

Rafa is the King of Clay. At one point, he won 81 straight victories on that dusty surface. Another feat that only he has (among the Big 3): the career Golden Slam — a singles gold medal (in Beijing, which my wife Jasmin and I were lucky to have witnessed) plus the four major trophies.

This 2021, the next Grand Slam event is — tadang — the French Open. It’s a sure bet that Nadal win will his 21st major title there. Anticipating his lead in the Big 3, is the Spaniard the greatest?

Not so fast, says Novak. With his win in Melbourne three weeks ago — his ninth Australian Open crown — Djokovic has 18 majors. Only two major titles shy of matching R & R, he has a record that will be difficult for any man to beat: 312 weeks at the No. 1 spot. This is the all-time record as he just overtook Federer last week.

He has finished as the year-ending No. 1 a record six times (sharing Sampras’ record) and has won the Masters 1000 events a record 36 times.

At 33 years of age, Djokovic is the youngest among the trio (Nadal is a year older and Federer turns 40 this August). This means that he has more chances to win more majors.

What’s impressive with Djokovic is his head-to-head record against Federer and Nadal. He has a 29-27 win-loss record against Nadal and a 27-23 score against Federer. Because he has defeated the other two more times, does this mean he’s better and to be crowned the best?

All are Stars in this game

In the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, a total of 17,808 spectators filled the United Center to witness Team LeBron defeat Team Giannis in a thrilling 157-155 encounter.

This weekend, the All-Star Game continues. What’s the difference? Plenty. First, the people on the rafters will not exceed 1,500. Considering that the State Farm Arena has a capacity of 16,600, that’s less than 10 percent attendance.

Last year, the All-Star Weekend was held early — Feb. 16, 2020 — before the lockdown was enacted. Thus, a full capacity crowd was invited.

We’re even lucky the All-Star Game is pushing through this 2021. Originally, it was to be held in Indianapolis. Then, the league officials said that it would be cancelled. It reversed course and said that it would continue in Atlanta, Georgia. From the usual whole-weekend spectacle, it has also been reduced to one day.

The Three-Point Contest and Skills Challenge will be held before the game. Then, during halftime, instead of the sexy dancers entertaining the audience, it will be the Slam Dunk Contest. 

These are the changes. What won’t change are the words “all stars.” The planet’s best ballplayers will converge in a high-scoring, plenty-of-dunks, minimal-defense, lots-of-laughing contest that will be played (Phil. time) tomorrow at 9 A.M.

LeBron, Giannis and Steph Curry in the same team? Wow, this hasn’t happened before. Add the Slovenian 22-year-old Luka Doncic and the 26-year-old Serb Nikola Jokic and that’s a mighty Avengers-type squadron. Team LeBron is the favorite against any other team in the universe — well, except this team being assembled in Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum lead the starting five of Team Durant. I’m excited with the first All-Star game of Zion Williamson. During the Draft Pick, as soon as Kevin Durant picked the 20-year-old Pelicans star to be part of his line-up, you could hear a sigh from LeBron. He, too, wanted to play alongside the 6-foot-7, 248-lb. monster-dunk specialist.

The NBA All-Star Game dates back to 1951 when the East defeated the West in Boston Garden. For 70 years, it has been one of the sporting world’s highlights. It also produces the most number of points of possibly any basketball game in the world. The record, back in 2017, was the 192-182 win by the West. That’s a whopping 374 points scored in 48 minutes.

Tomorrow, I’m also excited with the 3-point shootout. Steph Curry, the 2015 winner, is the perennial favorite. The interesting fact this 2021: Zach LaVine and Donovan Mitchell are joining. They are former Slam Dunk champs — and no one in history has gone on to win both the dunking and 3-point events. Will tomorrow be the first?

In the Slam Dunk contest, only three are joining: Anfernee Simons, Cassius Stanley and Obi Toppin. I’ll make an admission: as I typed their names, it was the first time I’ve heard of these three. They’re young (21, 21 and 23) and hungry for that prestigious high-flying title.

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