It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s…….

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Michael Jordan? Yes. Today’s version. The way King James played two days ago reminded us of His Airness. He unleashed 3-pointers. He soared for lay-ups. He drilled 18-footers as effortlessly as free throws. The entire world’s basketball population — hundreds of millions of us, earthlings — expected the best from our planet’s best. He delivered.

It may be premature to compare MJ to LBJ — No. 23 had six NBA rings and five MVP awards compared to No. 6’s two rings and four MVPs — but the way LeBron played on the biggest game of his career was vintage Jordan.

The pressure of that winner-take-all Game VII was unbearable. LeBron had been ostracized for his transfer to Miami. He has been labeled as “Choker” for the occasions when, with seconds left on the clock, he’d rather pass than drive.

LeBron’s performance this season (26.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.3 APG), in these playoffs (25.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 6.6 APG) and especially with his Game 7’s output of 37 points (five 3-pointers) and 12 rebounds — these numbers should silence the harhest of critics.

LeBron is the world’s greatest athlete today. That’s undeniable. Nobody comes close. But as examplary as his statistics reveal, what I recently found most remarkable about the 28-year-old is this trait: He’s humble.

Yes, LeBron is a nice guy. If you listened to his post-game interviews, he didn’t call attention to himself. He thanked his teammates. He applauded San Antonio. He used the words “I’m blessed” like a priest would in a homily. LeBron is blessed. He knows it. We know it. But what’s amazing is that he doesn’t put extra focus on himself — unlike Kobe and, at times, Chicago’s No. 23.

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In line with this selfless attitude, he’s also not “buaya.” (Again, sorry to Kobe fans but this differentiates the two.) Didn’t we often complain that he looks to pass more than to score?

LeBron is like a little kid in Disneyland. This amusement park is called the American Airlines Arena. “I’m from Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here,” he says, with all gratefulness. When he was asked in the press-con what motivates him, he said that he plays the game “to inspire the youth to play basketball or to become better at what they do.” Perfect. He knows his role — to be a role model.

GAME 7. Didn’t the final game mirror the entire NBA Finals series? Every single minute was close — until the final moments. One team wouldn’t lead by more than four. It was the same in the entire series. But in the end, in James vs. Duncan, the current MVP defeated the former MVP.

James converted on his jumpers. Duncan missed two nearby attempts that could have tied the game at 90 in the final minute. The Spurs didn’t score another point. It was that close. “Probably, for me, Game 7 is always going to haunt me,” Duncan said.

What I enjoyed most about the NBA Finals — one of the most-followed in history — was because so many players emerged as heroes. Ginobili in Game 5. Wade in the fourth game. Danny Green’s record 27 3-pointers. Tony Parker’s heroic basket in Game 1. Miami’s Big 3 scoring 85 in Game 4. And, of course, the one shot that will forever be etched in our brain’s internal hard drive: Ray Allen’s 3-pointer in Game 6.

In Game 7, apart from LBJ’s 37 points (scoring nearly 40 percent of the Heat’s entire team score), the hero was Shane Battier, who made six of eight 3-pointers. “I believe in the basketball gods,” Battier said. “I felt they owed me big time.” Like I said, a different MVP for each game. (Interesting stat: among all the Miami players, only five scored last Friday; Allen, Miller, Haslem and Bosh had zero points!)

How about Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs? With Tony Parker a non-factor (him scoring only 10 points will not win the trophy for his team), it was the 21-year-old who aggressively attacked and scored a crucial 3-pointer in the dying minutes. Like Paul George of Indiana, Leonard will be a youngster to watch.

But that’s in the future. For now, there’s only one champ with the initials “MJ.”

Mr. James.

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Hoping the Spurs win so the Heat can be champs

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There’s a pattern brewing in the NBA Finals. The Spurs win Game 1, followed by the Heat’s victory. The Spurs win Game 3, then the Heat follows suit. Will San Antonio win Game 5, following the script of this win-loss, win-loss, see-saw battle?

I hope so. I’m no Spurs fan. Like the color (or shall I say, no color) of their jerseys, they’re gray — not as colorful and acrobatic as the red-hot Heat. And, unlike others who prefer the underdogs, I’ve always rooted for the MVPs. Back when MJ wore No. 23, I cheered for Chicago. Same when Magic weaved his magic with Kareem for the Lakers. And, after all the hate that LeBron’s been through after The Decision, it’s a terrific feel-good (from hate to beloved) story for Mr. James. Plus, before we forget, there’s only one Pinoy in the roster of both teams. He’s Erik.

Still, I wish for a Spurs win tomorrow. Why? Because I love Game 7s. They’re the 5th set of a Wimbledon final. They’re the sudden-death playoffs of golf’s U.S. Open. Game 7 is like a 12th round of Pacman-Marquez Part 5 — with Manny scoring a KO in the dying seconds. It’s thrilling. It’s the entire 2012-2013 NBA season coming down to 48 minutes. It’s all-eyes-on-the-TV-this-Friday-morning if this happens.

Don’t we all want a 7th game? But this perfect ending is only possible if Miami loses tomorrow. Because if they win and carry a 3-2 advantage heading towards South Beach, then it’s game over for this Texas – Florida match. There’s no chance for SA to win back-to-back in MIA. And so a Spurs victory in Game 6 is a must for their survival.

BIG 3. Even before the series began, talks centered on the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili vs. Wade-Bosh-LeBron contest. Which Big 3 will triumph?

In Game 4, we witnessed the answer. Miami’s Big 3 combined for five blocks, nine assists, 10 steals, 30 rebounds and a whopping 85 points — scoring 78% of the Heat’s entire output. This is the Miami team that everyone’s feared. This is the squad that we all expected to win — not just two but — four NBA rings.

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The question for tomorrow is this: Which player or trio or team will show up? It’s been an erratic four games.

In his first three outings, LeBron scored 18, 17 and 15 points. That’s a super-lowly 16.6 PPG average. In Game 3, he had one of the worst performances of his career in a big-game moment — 7 of 21 scoring, 1 of 5 from 3-point range and zero free throws taken. Can you believe LeBron not taking any free throws?

“As bad as I played in Game 3, I put all the pressure on me to say I can’t afford to play like that and hope for us to win. Not at this level,” James said. “So I was able to forget about it. It hurt. I watched the film. It hurt watching it. I didn’t like the way I was playing.”

Champions are graded based on how they respond. Author Sherrilyn Kenyon once said, “Sometimes things have to go wrong in order to go right.”

True. As wrong as Game 3 was, it was the right impetus for Game 4. Like Clark Kent turned mad, LeBron unleashed 33 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. From a dark, dark knight, he soared like Superman.

Same with D-Wade. Not until their team was pushed to the brink of embarrassment (no team in the Final has won from a 1-3 deficit) did he transform into his old nickname, Flash. “Yeah, I needed a game like this,” said Wade. “No, I don’t feel like it’s 2006. But it felt good.” Chris Bosh added 20 points in Game 4. It was the first time since March 15 that Miami’s Big 3 each scored 20 or more points. Shane Battier, their Miami teammate, said it best: “Tonight was a Big 3 night. It just was. We all knew it on the bench. It was their night.”

That’s all past. It’s now 2-2. It’s best-of-three. It’s also the best scenario for NBA officials — knowing that, as days prolong, more and more TV viewers from Guatemala to Guadalupe will be watching.

Go, Spurs. Win it tomorrow. Go, LeBron. Win both in Miami. Prove to us what we’ve long suspected: that underneath that No. 6 jersey resides an emblem with the letter “S.”

Spurs vs. Heat: Battle of the Big 3s

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Miami is in Florida while the city of San Antonio is in Texas. I’ve never been to either state. But, based on my little research, no two cities can be more different.

Miami is the “Cruise Capital of the World” and is located along the Atlantic coastline. We all remember the hit TV show, “Miami Vice,” right? We picture a city with blue skies hovering, red Ferraris sprinting, and green palm trees lined-up along Miami beach.

San Antonio is large. It’s the 7th most populous city in the U.S. (1.3 million) and it hosts several military bases — apart from having a rich history of cowboys. The city is named after Saint Anthony of Padua.

MIA v. SAN: Starting tomorrow morning (Phil. time), all eyes will be on both basketball squads. Plenty of questions arise: Is Miami weary and tired? The 10 days of rest between games, will that make San Antonio rusty? How will each team clamp down on Tony Parker and LeBron James? Which coach is better: our Fil-Am Erik or Gregg Popovich? Miami hosts games 1, 2, 6 and 7 — will this home-court advantage help?

I guess that — excluding Game 7 — the most crucial game in the series is Game 1. If the Spurs win that game, it sets the momentum. It transfers the home-court advantage in their favor. It adds extra pressure on the Heat to win Game 2 because if they also lose that fight, then it’s game over. If the Heat win Game 1, then all order is restored. They’re not tired after all. They’re on track to receive the trophy that’s been awarded to them even before the season started.

Another question remains: Can LeBron finally beat Tim Duncan? Six years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers faced the Spurs in the Final. They were humiliated with the 4-0 win by Duncan.

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“I think our team is more experienced, first of all,” James said after his team defeated the Indiana Pacers in Game 7. “My Cleveland team, we were very young, and we went up against a very experienced team, well-coached team. And they took advantage of everything that we did.”

Back in 2007, LeBron was only 22 years old. He did not own an MVP award yet. Today, at 28 years of age, his season includes averaging (per game) 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 7.3 assists. He made 56.5 percent of all his field goals. To top these amazing statistics, he is a four-time MVP, a six-time All-NBA first-team member and was, for five straight years, part of the All-Defensive first-team. “I’m a much better player (now),” said James. “I’m 20, 40, 50 times better than I was in the 2007 Finals.”

One more question: Which Big 3 will dominate? San Antonio has Manu Ginobili, Parker and Duncan. Miami has Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and James. (On Wade and Bosh, they’ve played sub-standard games against Indiana. Wade averaged only 14.5 points per game before scoring 21 last Tuesday. Bosh, in his last four games, was worse: making only 8 of his 34 shots.)

My pick, of course, is Miami. But plenty choose San Antonio. One of them is Ben Golliver of SI.com who picks the Spurs to win in 6. He says: “Rested, experienced, balanced, intelligent, disciplined and potent, San Antonio is a nightmare matchup for any opponent, particularly one struggling with team-wide inconsistency and, possibly, a series-altering health concern in the form of Dwyane Wade’s ailing knee.”

I asked former PBA star and UV coach Elmer “Boy” Cabahug for his assessement. Here’s what he said: “Spurs is doing great. Consistent game of Duncan, Mano and Parker are big, big factors. Plus, McGrady might be their secret weapon. If they scouted the game between Miami and Pacers, the Pacers won when their team had balanced production: Low post and outside shooting. Miami lost when Wade and Bosh were off. Miami’s outside shooting must be consistent. That is their first option (shoot outside); they don’t have a post-up man. These two teams should stay healthy; any injury will cost them the championship. It will all depend on coaches’ strategy and counter-strategy.”

The NBA: Where amazing happens tomorrow!

Miami wins 4-2? Yeah, ‘Yoy says

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Almost like a ritual, each time the NBA Playoffs gets underway, I make a phone call. It’s no ordinary Samsung-to-iPhone conversation. That’s because the person on the other end of the line is no ordinary basketball follower. He’s Raul “Yayoy” Demerry Alcoseba, the Phil Jackson of Cebu.

“Miami owns championship experience,” said Yayoy Alcoseba, moments after the Miami Heat defeated the Indiana Pacers, 90-79, last Friday. “This is the huge edge of Miami. Plus, of course, LeBron James. Wow. His third quarter was unbelievable.”

The no-holds-barred forecast of Coach Yayoy? He said: “Miami will win Game 6 (today) and win the series, 4-2.”

We talked at length about Miami’s player with the jersey number 6. “The reason why LeBron has improved so much, especially this year, is because he’s surrounded by good players,” Yayoy said. “There’s Bosh, Wade, Haslem. Unlike his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was alone. Iya tanan. Now, he not only scores but also has double figures in assists and rebounds. He’s complete.”

The winningest coach in Cebu basketball history, Coach Yayoy gave me a phone lecture on what makes a team successful. “It’s never a one man show,” he said. “Sure, there will be superstars. There will always be stars. Look at Michael Jordan. He was the star. But he would not have become great and won for Chicago all those titles if not for Pippen and the rest of the team.”

It’s the team, says Yayoy. It’s never about one player. Although what we witnessed in Game 5 — when LeBron performed a one-man demolition job; outscoring the Pacers, 16-13, in the third quarter, for example — was different, throughout the season, LeBron has relied more on this teammates than at any other point of his career. “Chemistry,” Yayoy adds, “is essential to success.”

Miami Heat has become an even better team this year, he says, because the other players have contributed more. Yayoy spoke about Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen. “They may not contribute with points but with the defense,” he says. And when LeBron penetrates to the rim, he has many options in case the defense is overwhelming. He can pass and the others will score. Look at Haslem.

This is what’s scary about Miami — scary for their opponents. Because while all the focus is on LeBron and/or The Three Kings (LeBron, Wade, Bosh), it appears that they have other weaponry available — thanks to the other teammates. “Their bench is very deep,” Yayoy adds.

What if Indiana wins today (Game 6) and upsets Miami in Tuesday’s Game 7?

Yayoy laughed. “The ratings will go down!” he said. Few want an Indiana-San Antonio NBA finale. That will be boring. The NBA is about superstars and, devoid of figures like Durant or Kobe or LBJ, that championship will have the lowest ratings in years.

How about a Miami-San Antonio final, what’s Yayoy’s prediction. “Four-two, Miami,” he said.

CEBU. Speaking of local politics, Raul Alcoseba, after three terms as Cebu City councilor, ran for Provincial Board member in the last elections. Never used to losing, he, obviously, won.

“I’ve spoken to Governor-elect Junjun Davide,” said Yayoy, “and I hope to help with sports. That’s my expertise. And not limited only to basketball but to the whole sports program of the Province of Cebu. We will help identify and develop athletes.”

Back to coaching, has he resigned? Reports have surfaced saying that he will no longer coach the Southwestern University (SWU) Cobras.

“I have to finish my contract,” he said. “I have one year to go. I just got very busy with the campaign and the elections that I had to reassess my coaching job.”

Coach Yayoy is excited about the improvements being done to the Aznar Coliseum. “SWU has spent P1.7 million for the rehabilitation of the flooring,” he said. “Plus, Michel Lhuillier, through M. Lhuillier, has spent P1 million for brand-new, NBA-caliber goals. Once reopened, this will be a great-looking gym!”

That’s in Cebu. But for now, at 8:30 A.M. (PHL time), our focus is in Indiana. Go, Pacers. I’m rooting for a Game 7.

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!

Sure shot! The A-Team to strike gold

Twenty years ago in Barcelona, a group of giants named Magic, Larry, Michael & Co. won the Olympic gold medal in basketball. Their average winning margin? An unfathomable 43.8 PPG. That was the 1992 Dream Team, acknowledged as the greatest ever cast of athletes assembled—of any sport.

Now, it’s 2012. It’s London. Will Kobe, Kevin, LeBron & Co. become today’s “Avengers” and win gold? Absolutely. As sure as basketball was invented by an American, Team USA will beat Spain, Argentina, France and Russia.

Look at the roster: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Andre Guodala, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams. These are the 12 best ballplayers of our planet’s seven billion inhabitants.

Durant? Bryant? James? Those three alone can beat the five-man squad of Tunisia.

“When I think about ’08, we were really good then. But like me, LeBron and D-Will, all of us talk about, you’ve got to think about how much better all of us are now than we were in ’08. All of us as players, we shoot the ball better. Guys are more athletic, guys are more confident. One through 12, no question we’re deeper than we were in ’08.” Who said those words? Chris Paul, the 6-footer point guard.

In Beijing, Team USA won by an average of 32.2 points in the elimination round. In the quarterfinals, they defeated Australia, 116-85. In the semis, Argentina got trounced, 101-81. And, in the finals, it was closer than expected: 118-107 versus Spain.

While 2008 was The Redeem Team, the 2004 squad was The Nightmare Team as the US (with Dwayne Wade, LeBron and Carmelo Anthony) lost to eventual gold medalists Argentina in the semis.

This 2012, the country of Barack Obama wants to ensure that they’re all-smiles during the Awarding.

One man who’ll savor his first time Olympian status is Kevin Durant who, at age 19 four years ago, was not selected. “It was almost end of the world,” said Durant, “especially seeing those guys win it—celebrating the gold in Beijing. I couldn’t stand it.”

LeBron? The 27-year-old has the opportunity to match a record that only one other human being has accomplished: Michael Jordan. In 1992, MJ earned the MVP and Finals MVP awards, the NBA ring plus an Olympic gold medal.

Kobe? He’s the “senior citizen” (oldest player) at age 33.

There are a few notable no-shows: Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and Miami teammates Wade and Chris Bosh. They’re injured.

Studying the line-up, it’s obvious what Team USA lacks: height. Of the 12, only three players stand 6’10” and taller. Spain has the Big Three: Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka—two brothers who are All-Stars plus a player who led the NBA in blocked shots (3.7/game) last season. Are the Americans concerned? Ever the confident people, they say, No way! As their one true center, 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler puts it, “we’ve got some hybrids.”

USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo answers this lack-of-big-men concern: “People keep throwing Spain in our face, ’What about the Gasols?’ And I say, ’Well, what about the Gasols? Our guys play against them every day. And matchups always go two ways. They have to be able to guard our quickness, our speed, our versatility, and so I’m not really concerned about that.” He added: “There are a lot of 6-9 and 6-10 guys who are much better than 7-footers.”

“The United States will rely on the same formula it did in winning the gold medal in Beijing when it overwhelmed every opponent with its full-court pressure and transition game—until the final, when it took scintillating shooting to hold off Spain,” wrote Fox Sports’ Billy Witz.

Athleticism. Speed. Offense. They’ll spread the court and drive to the basket to create opportunities. Added Matthew Kitchen of NBC Olympics: “You realize how stacked Team USA really is: six rings, six scoring titles, four MVPs, the reigning Sixth Man and Defensive Player of the Year.”

Dream Team Part 2? Yes. The A-Team.

Samsam Gullas: LeBron more like Magic than MJ

Last Friday, Gerald Anthony Gullas was both happy and sad. Happy because, seated beside Rep. Eduardo Gullas, his grandfather whom he fondly calls “Papa Eddie,” he made the announcement that will forever change his life: Samsam will run for Congress next year. Sad? That’s because, as big an NBA fan as he is, the scheduled press conference coincided with Miami Heat’s winning Game 6.

“I watched up to the 3rd quarter but missed the look on LeBron’s face when he finally won his first ring,” he said. Still, “CongresSam” is ecstatic. Last December when the NBA season began, I asked for Samsam’s predictions. His reply: LBJ will be the MVP and MIA will win. He’s two-for-two.

Yesterday, I interviewed Samsam again. A lifelong ballplayer—he regularly practices with the UV varsity squad (he’s the team manager plus the school’s AVP for Finance and Administration)—here’s the full commentary of the young Gullas:

MVP. “LeBron was legendary. With this championship he has put himself in the group together with the Jordans, Magics and Birds of the world. LeBron was aggressive and he showed that he wanted it more this year. The main difference was his improving post game; it was causing all kinds of problems for OKC. If LeBron didn’t score, 9 times out of 10, he would make the right pass. LeBron was just being LeBron. He made the game come to him. He assessed what defensive scheme OKC was running. He has been doing this even while we was with the Cavs but was never surrounded with two other superstars plus very good 3-point shooters.”

DOMINANCE. “Yes, I expected LeBron James to be dominant in every facet of the game. What I love about LeBron is that he can score 30 points and it would be not the best thing he did for the team. People always compare LeBron to Michael Jordan; I think he’s more of a Magic Johnson. LeBron is bigger, stronger, a better passer, a better ball handler and has more skills than MJ. But what MJ had was HEART. It is unfair to compare the two of them.”

KOBE. “I’m a Laker fan for life. But today, if I were to build a team, I would take LeBron as my franchise player. He does everything: score, rebound, pass and, most importantly, defend. Kobe will always be the better offensive player; LeBron is just the better all-around player.”

RESILIENCE. “Miami learned from last year’s loss. Erik Spoelstra said it best when he used a boxing analogy (but before that he said he was a huge Pacquiao fan), We were knocked down so many times, but each time we got up. With Boston they were down 3-2, Indiana 2-1 and OKC 1-0. Playoff basketball is more on making game-time adjustments and off-day adjustments. Credit should be given to Coach Spo, despite being a young coach he is able to adjust.”

TEAM. “LeBron became the beast we thought he would be last year. Wade said that this is LeBron’s team and he accepted the secondary role to perfection. Miami’s role players did well: Chalmers, Battier, Haslem and Miller. Lastly, credit to Coach Spo, his defensive schemes were a joy to watch. Papa Eddie voted for OKC to win but, as a former coach, he always admired the defensive schemes of Coach Spo.”

BOSH. “Bosh gives the Heat another scorer and one of the league’s best Pick and roll players. When used as a screener in the pick and roll with either Wade or James, it was a deadly combination. Bosh was also able to extend OKC’s defense because he can shoot. Perkins or Ibaka had to leave the paint making it very open for LeBron and Wade to penetrate.”

NEXT SEASON. ““I see Miami winning 1 or 2 more titles, but this year was the best chance for the Heat to win. Rose (Chicago), Ray Allen and other role players of Boston were injured. The West teams will be improving, so next season will be interesting. If OKC learns and takes this loss as the most humbling experience of their lives, they will be very dangerous next year.

“OKC will be contending again, Mavs might get an overhaul from free agency, Spurs will always be ready, and it seems like everyone is forgetting about number 24 in LA. Stay tuned!”

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.

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.