Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry


Even Hollywood, whose calls the Los Angeles Lakers as neighbor, could not have scripted a better ending.

Sixty points! 73-9!

Kobe Bryant, starting out as a lanky 17-year-old fresh off high school, played with one and only one of the NBA’s 32 teams. He’s loyal. But beyond his 100 percent allegiance to the gold-and-purple team, he’s produced numbers that will rank him among the greatest: 5-time NBA champ, 18-time All-Star, 1997 Slam Dunk winner, and 2-time Olympic gold medalist.

How about shooting 30,699 times? Yes. It’s incredible how the statisticians have kept score but they counted each one of No. 24’s shots and that’s how many he took in 20 years.

And how about that final game last Thursday morning? He rallied LA from a 15-point deficit and converted on six 3-pointers and 10 free throws. In all of sports, I don’t think there’s an ending that can rival that ending.

Of Kobe’s goodbye, the game was so in-demand that one fan reportedly paid $27,500 (P1.26 million) for a ticket. And guess how much worth of Kobe merchandise the Staples Center sold that day? $1.2 million. That’s a single-day record for any stadium in the world (besting Led Zeppelin’s $1 million at the O2 Arena in London in 2007).

Remember those moments watching Kobe, grinning ear to ear, hugging and kissing his wife, Vanessa, and daughters, Natalia Diamante and Gianna Maria? Very touching.

That was at the Staples Center. Northward, about 370 miles farther, was a game simultaneously being played at the Oracle Arena.

Which was better to watch? Steph throwing that ball almost carelessly but always finding the net, the MVP scoring 20 and six treys in the first quarter? Or Kobe scoring 23 points in the fourth quarter?

My answer: Both. I swapped channels every other minute. (But based on the TV ratings by Nielsen, the Lakers game scored more at its peak with 5.38 million viewers compared to 4.16 million for the Warriors.)

Was this the greatest day in NBA history? I think so. There are some Game 7 cliffhangers that are more thrilling — but where can you find one night (played at the same time) when the slithery Black Mamba retires with 60 and The Baby-Faced Assasin parlays an accummulated 402 three-pointers to lead the team from Oakland/San Francisco to 73 wins?

I cannot think of a day that’s more compelling and momentous. One legend retires; one team eclipses MJ and Chicago.

Speaking of the Bulls, in their 72-10 season 20 years ago, they did one thing that the Warriors have yet to achieve: win the season’s very last game. If, for some unfortunate scenario, GSW gets upset by Houston in the first round or the Clippers in the next or gets eclipsed by LeBron and the Cavs when the finals commence starting June 2, all the hoopla disappears. As high as the season unfolded, it will be recorded as a failure. And so the pressure is on; nothing less than a back-to-back trophy is needed by cast that includes Klay, Draymond and Andre.

With Mr. Curry, the overused word “Wow” is an understatement; he’s outshining the limits of greatness. As I’ve said in the past, he should win the league’s “Most Improved Player” award. This, apart from being the first in history to be a unanimous MVP.

In one word, he’s golden. Down by a percentage point (29.9 PPG average) heading towards the last game against Memphis, he scores 46 (and sat out the entire 4th quarter). The result? It pushed his regular season average to 30.1.

His jersey number? The same. Thirty. And how about the extra “1.” That’s the sign he makes, pointing a finger to the sky to acknowledge and thank God. For as the Philippians 4:13 passage that’s enscripted in his Under Armour shoe reads: “I can do all things… (through Christ who strengthens me).”

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Kobe Bryant: I’m back

No. 24 is here! Kobe Bean Bryant returns today. On his heels, he’ll be wearing Nike’s latest footwear, “Kobe 9.” Like the man called “Black Mamba,” it’s color black stitched with plenty of neon orange and yellow. No ballplayer has more flair than Kobe. He hails from the Land of Hollywood. It’s Los Angeles, where human stars glitter. It’s the movie and entertainment capital of Earth and, among sweaty earthlings, Kobe is the Master Entertainer.

Shortly after reading this article, I’d like you to do something: On your Android or iPad, log-in to YouTube and type “Kobe Seasons of Legend.” You’ll be treated to a 2:08-minute Hollywood movie. Starring? Obviously, number “24.” The video about Kobe’s return is simple yet dramatic; it teems with bravado. Watch it. I did. And I’ll watch his return, too. After 19 missed games with the Lakers (10-9), they’re playing at home. What better homecoming for one of basketball’s all-time best?

Kobe’s not young. At 35, he’s about three months older than his fellow Nike endorser… this Pinoy boxer who’s being charged by the BIR. We don’t know how long Kobe will last. (For comparison, Michael Jordan retired at 40.) Injuries have a way of shortening careers. And this latest injury was lengthy. It started on April 12 when Kobe tore his left Achilles tendon. Days ensued. Weeks passed. Months flew. It’s taken eight months before his return on Dec. 8.

Questions arise: While Kobe’s numbers last year were impressive (27.3 PPG, 6.0 APG and 5.6 RPG), can he match those statistics this season? I doubt it. He didn’t pass through the Pre-Season; those are the games when you warm-up and hone your rusty skills. He’s coming off a long break. Can he do a Rafa Nadal, who was out due to injury for seven months and returned to win 75 of 82 matches for 2013?

To the Kobe fans, this is their Hope. To the Kobe haters (and there are plenty; those who’d prefer LeBron or despise his “buaya” style), they’d love for Superman to tumble. What’s undeniable is this: Kobe is super-competitive. No one strives harder. No one gives 1,000 percent more than KB24. No one is more experienced; he’s played in the league since 1996 and has amassed phenomenal numbers: 15-time All-Stars. The league MVP in 2008. Twice a scoring champion (2006 and 2007). Two-time NBA Finals MVP. Five-time NBA champion with Phil Jackson. Two golds at the Olympics. And, the youngest-ever NBA Slam Dunk champion at 18.

To us here in the Philippines, Kobe is one of the most popular of Americans. He’s been to Manila at least six times, the last one when he did a PR stint for Lenovo in August.

Quinito Henson, our nation’s top sports journalist, wrote an article yesterday in The Phil. Star, “Kobe moved by Pinoy spirit.” Two Sundays ago, we were with Quinito in Macau during Pacquiao’s fight. He’s now in the U.S. and recently interviewed Kobe. Quinito wrote that when Kobe was shown a photo of Typhoon Yolanda victims playing basketball in Tacloban amidst the destruction, Kobe said: “They’re playing, competing and enjoying themselves in the worst of times. Look at us, sometimes we can afford to even say we’re having a bad day. Hey, are we really having a bad day? Those kids out there are smiling, playing basketball in the absolute worst of times. I was very, very moved.”

Mr. Bryant then talked about life: “It’s not success, it’s not about being great, it’s perseverance,” he said. “It’s having a goal, you get knocked down then you get up, you get knocked down and you try again. Eventually, you will get to where you want to go but you’ve got to have the perseverance and determination to get there.”

Finally, speaking about Pinoys, he said, “I don’t know why it is (the bond with Filipinos). The first time I came over to Manila, I played in a 3-on-3 tournament in a mall. It was a great response. Every time I visit, I feel the energy and passion of the fans. They push me to continue to be better to inspire them. I’m very thankful I have that response.”

Salamat, Kobe. Welcome back.

LeBron: Hybrid MJ, Magic, Pippen, Robertson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Dream Team is better, 2012 or 1992?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, when MJ is 49 years old!

Miami will win the 2012 NBA Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Yayoy’s prognosis? It’s Miami vs. L.A.

Every year, I consult a doctor. His specialization isn’t centered on Internal Medicine, osteoporosis or Dentistry. It’s centered on Centers. On point guards, 3-point shots and the NBA Play-offs. Each year, I consult Dr. Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba. He’s a Cebu City Councilor, now on his third term. He’s the M. Lhuillier coach. He’s the most famous and successful guru on dribbling and rebounding outside Manila. To me, he’s the best — including the PBA.

He’s a doctor. He screens patients (players), analyses their defects, he corrects, supplies medicine (more weight-training?) and ensures that they’re robust. Like a true physician. Plus, he owns a degree that none of is will ever achieve: Doctorate on Basketology. (Shouldn’t UC or UV confer such a title on Dr. Alcoseba?)

The Coach with Freddie Roach

“Between the NBA’s Eastern and Western conferences, I prefer the East,” the coaching wizard explained by phone from his City Hall office yesterday morning. “The Lakers lost in Game One. Same with the Spurs. These are upset victories by the New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies. Los Angeles and San Antonio no longer have the home-court advantage. At this level of game, in the playoffs, you cannot afford to take any seed for-granted. You have to concentrate all the time. Everybody has to be 100 percent.”

The Lakers were dismal in their 109-100 defeat. “I watched that game,” said Yayoy. “They had no defense. No intensity.” Aiming for their third straight NBA crown, the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, said Alcoseba, will have difficulty winning No. 3 in a row. “The hardest thing is a three-peat,” he said. “It’s mental. I’ve been in such situations with many teams before. It’s so difficult to maintain the intensity, that level, after winning two straight titles. Sometimes, the edge is gone. It’s mental. At times, a team becomes complacent. Or overconfident, mo-kompyansa. With Game 2 against the Hornets, that’s a must-win for L.A. One more loss and they’re down 0-2.”

If that happens and the Lakers proceed to lose to New Orleans, it will be one of the biggest upsets in playoff history. “The Hornets is the No. 8 seed,” said Yayoy. “They were not even expected to be in the playoffs. They had, what, a 1-7 start to the regular season? Still, I expect Kobe and his team to defeat the Hornets.”

San Antonio Spurs? They’re the No.1 seed in the West, right? “Yes, they are,” he said. “But they lost (101-98 loss to Memphis) because Manu Ginobili, who averages nearly 20 a game, did not play Game One. I’m sure when he returns, the Spurs, who are the top-seeds, will bounce back.”

For the Western Division, the doctor predicts the two first-game losers, L.A. and San Antonio, to make it to the second round. But his prediction on the finalists? “I think the Lakers and the Oklahoma Thunder will be in the Western finals.”

In the East, Yayoy prefers Youth versus Experience. “I don’t see Boston, with their three older players — Garnett, Pierce and Allen — making it to the conference finals.” In fact, it was only minutes before we spoke that I checked the results via the internet: Boston escaped with an 87-85 victory against the New York Knicks when Ray Allen made a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.

“It’s Miami vs. Chicago in the East,” predicted Yayoy. As for Chicago, one player stands out: Derrick Rose. “He will be the MVP. He has everything. He owns double-double numbers. He scores (averaging 25 points per game) and assists (7.7 APG). He hits big shots in crucial moments. He’s a clutch player. Hands-down, he’s the NBA’s MVP.”

The Bulls or the Heat? “I’d choose Miami. The three — LeBron, Wade and Bosh — will be too strong. In the end, the Finals, it will go down to the contest that everybody wants to see: Heat vs. Lakers.”

A self-confessed Lakers fan who correctly predicted the wins of L.A. the past two seasons, does Dr. Alcoseba anticipate the same result in 2011? “The Lakers will have a hard time. As I said, a three-peat is extremely difficult. I think LeBron will prevail over Kobe.”

Kobe, cold in the Heat, shoots for more

Mr. Bryant faced Mr. James last Thursday. It was a meeting of two MVPs: Kobe had won the award in 2008 while LeBron snatched the Most Valuable Player trophy the past two seasons. On an eight-game winning streak in the city where the Wild Card Gym resides, the Lakers team was on a roll. Miami? They had lost steam. They lost five games in a row. But, when the two squads played three nights ago, it was LBJ who beat KB. The score: Miami, 94; L.A., 88.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“By snapping a five-game losing streak and completing a two-game sweep of the defending champions,” wrote one of my favorite NBA analysts, Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports, “the Heat reminded everyone — and most importantly themselves —they can compete with the elite when the Big Three get a little help from their soldiers.”

Miami did not win the NBA title. Not yet. Or, in the eyes of cynics, they won’t. Not in 2011. And, one victory doesn’t epitomize the whole season. They’re still in third place in the Eastern Conference. Against the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls (the top two), they’re a combined 0-6. Still, a win is a triumph–especially against the two-time defending champions.

“Had Miami lost Thursday night,” said Whitlock, “the Big Three were toast. There would be no reason to take them seriously the rest of the year.”

True. Last week was a Crisis Scenario. They had lost five straight. Calls for coach Erik Spoelstra to resign—again; in an echo we’ve heard many times before–resurfaced. Miami felt the heat. They were pressured. “A loss Thursday night would’ve destroyed the Heat mentally and emotionally,” added Whitlock. “It would’ve been a repeat of the Chicago game, complete with postgame tears.”

But, against LA, they responded positively. The game was close. With five minutes left to play, the score was 80-all. Then, after Kobe sank two three-pointers, it was 88-88. Two minutes were left. Then, Kobe–the NBA’s best closer–closed the door on himself. He failed miserably. Kobe attempted another 3-point shot. Wade blocked it. Down four points with 20 seconds remaining, he made another attempt. This time, 29-feet away. Again, he missed. In all, he was 8-for-21 and, in the crucial second half, was 2-for-11.

Kobe failed. But do you know how he responded? Over an hour after the Miami-L.A. game had finished, he came back on court and shot hundreds of jumpers.

“Bryant wanted the workout, wanted the chance to cleanse himself of missed shots and missed opportunities in the final minutes,” wrote Adrian Wojnarowski for Yahoo! Sports. “Mostly, he wanted James and Wade to understand the lengths they’ll need to go to take his title away. ‘This is my job,’ Bryant would say 2½ hours after the game, slumped in a chair courtside. ‘This is what you’re supposed to do …’”

Here’s the Wojnarowski narration: “All those Heat stars breathed a sigh, packed up and left American Airlines Arena. Bryant marched back onto the floor at 10:45 p.m. and started sweating again. Three Heat ball boys fed him passes, and Bryant marched to every corner of the floor and lofted his shots. Security staff and other Heat officials stood befuddled, unsure what to do. One security worker insisted he had never witnessed this in his eight years on the job. The Lakers were gone and Bryant was still dripping sweat on the Heat logo.

“Sometimes, players will do this in their own arena, but never on the road. This was a spectacle and no accident. Bryant’s still the player they’re chasing because he’s the MVP of the back-to-back NBA champions. Bryant knows these Heat will get it together and become a problem for everyone in the Eastern Conference. Wherever James and Wade had gone late Thursday, Bryant clearly wanted word to reach them: He won’t accept losing to the Heat. Not on Christmas, not on Thursday night and not in June.

“Hours later, when asked about his motivation in a text message, Bryant responded with the words of Achilles: ‘I want what all men want. I just want it more.’”

Prediction: Lakers vs. Heat in the ‘11 Finals

In a poll of eight experts, the question was asked: “Which teams will reach the NBA Finals?”

In the Western Conference, all eight critics answered in the same manner: L.A. Lakers. It’s hard to argue against their unanimous decision. The KB24-led squad from California are the two-time defending champs. Defeating the Boston Celtics last season four games to three, they captured their 16th NBA championship—on the 50th anniversary of their relocation to Los Angeles. And so, the Lakers are a sure bet to reach The Finals.

The Eastern Conference winners? One expert said “Orlando Magic” while another answered, “Boston Celtics.” But, six of the eight experts asked by NBA.com supplied the same response: Miami Heat.

Los Angeles vs. Miami. Think about it. Wow. Won’t this ending be a Wow-moment? A highlight for basketball? For the world? Imagine a Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James ending? No, make that The King named Kobe versus The Three Kings, LeBron/Wade/Bosh. In fact, just days ago, the Heat acquired Jerry Stackhouse. So make that Kobe vs. The Fab Four of Miami.

Lakers – Heat. I hope this happens. I’m sure, for excitement’s sake, plenty want to see this climax. It’s good for our heart. Our heartbeats pumping faster because of this fever and frenzy is good for our health.

How awaited is this finale? I “goggled” the words, “lakers vs heat nba final” and, guess what, a total of 6,590,000 results showed up. That’s plenty. That’s the interest in America’s two most famous ball clubs.

If this NBA conclusion happens, what a bonanza. What a golden possibility for this league to strike gold in the TV ratings: the Team In Gold versus the Team Who Wants Gold.

With the Lakers, we know what to expect. Kobe is Barack Obama. He’s the leader. He’s the man who’ll step up on the free throw line with 3.4 seconds left in Game 7 and shoot both free throws for the victory. We know that. We expect that.

The Lakers will win. The question is, Can the Heat burn and cook and scorch L.A.? And ignite their Fab Four to steal the NBA ring on their first try? We don’t know. “The Big Three of Miami are expected to dominate but can they play with chemistry?” said the story, “Lakers vs. Heat: NBA Finals Preview?” in Extrasportsnews.com. “Can they share the ball and win each game? In the previous year, the Big Three averages more than 20 shots each but here in Miami they can’t do that anymore, they have to play as a team. All of them has to sacrifice their stats. On the other hand, the Lakers are still, I believe, the favorite because they have proven that they can play ball.”

It all begins tomorrow. At 7:30 a.m., Philippine-time, the NBA season begins with the most-awaited of first games: Miami vs. Boston. Another… Wow! Last year’s Eastern Conference champion versus its strongest tormentor.

All eyes on this game—and on the entire season—will fall on LBJ. “James has absorbed more criticism over the last five months than he’d heard in his previous seven NBA years,” said Ian Thomsen of SI.com in “Countdown: 2010-11 season guide.” Thomsen added, “But how bad is all of this news in reality? Put it this way: What happens if James leads Miami to the championship this year? The answer is that the negatives all flutter away.”

True. If Miami wins, LeBron won’t be acclaimed The Hero—but his feat will be near heroic. A brand-new cast of characters win on their first attempt! The hatred towards LeBron will be forgotten. Do we still remember Kobe’s rape case? How he was castigated? That’s forgotten. But Mr. James has to win. Now. “It’s going to be easy to forgive LeBron because he has committed nothing worse than crimes of arrogance, and for those he has been roughed up and humbled. The punishment has been served, and if he wins I guarantee you he’ll have majority opinion on his side again,” added Thomsen.

The NBA’s slogan is “Where Amazing Happens.” Amazing begins in tomorrow’s Game 1 and, if we’re lucky, concludes with a Kobe vs. LeBron face-to-face.

Don’t you adore this sport? I Love This Game.

Kobe Bryant and his golden Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can New York move James to LeBronx?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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