The heat is on! Welcome the Three Kings of Miami

LEBRON JAMES IS A CRIMINAL! Accused as a quitter by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, lambasted by Orlando’s Otis Smith as not much of a competitor, the five cities of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Jersey and Cleveland who lost out to Miami are furious. They’re bitter. They’re hateful for being spurned. They’re pissed at ESPN. To the millions from Cleveland, while before LeBron was basketball’s Almighty, now he’s the devil. He’s a Miami vice.

But LeBron did the right thing. If you and I were in his size-15 shoes, we’d do the same act: Sign up with best friends Chris and Dwyane to win next year’s NBA title. He had no choice. Despite winning the last two MVP awards, reaching The Finals in 2007, his Cavs owning the league’s best season record for the past 24 months—despite those winnings—LBJ was a loser.

Kobe wears five NBA rings. LeBron, staring at his giant-sized fingers that can grip the ball like a magnet, has none. LeBron’s jealous of KB. His seven years of expeditions have netted zero fish. What’s he going to do? Stay on the same boat? Not harvest any goldfish?

No more, no way. Not when you’re as impatient as LeBron who, at age 18, bypassed college and joined the NBA straight from high school. When you’re as gifted as him, you’re expected to deliver gifts codenamed NBA TROPHIES. “Change a losing game,” my dad loves to say it. And LeBron has done that: Change.

Miami? No city is hotter today than this South Florida center of 5.4 million residents. And what a coup by Pat Riley. The man called “Mr. GQ” for his gelled-back hair and stylish suits, he’s assembled this triumvirate of LeBron plus the 6-foot-10, five-time NBA All Star named Chris Bosh, plus the 2006 Sportsman of the Year, Dwyane Wade, aka “Flash”—beating the likes of Pres. Barack Obama (who lobbied for Chicago) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (New York). As to the Miami head coach, it looks to be Erik Spoelstra but can you imagine if Pat Riley makes a comeback to coach these three who, as D-Wade himself said, form “arguably the best trio to ever play basketball?”

The question everyone’s asking is: Can this threesome work as one? “James, Wade and Bosh got along splendidly when they played for the U.S. team in the 2008 Olympics, but that was easy, because that is an environment in which selfishness is considered unpatriotic,” wrote Michael Ventre in “There has to be no ‘I’ in super team” for NBCSports.com. “Throughout his entire life, LeBron has been accustomed to getting the basketball when he wants it. Throughout HIS entire life, Wade has been used to the same thing. Ditto for Bosh. Now you have three players with enormous egos suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar dynamic.”

The best comparison is Boston’s Big Three. But Ventre adds they’re different: “The model of the Boston Celtics, with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, doesn’t translate here. Allen was 32 and Garnett 31 when they joined the Celtics in 2007, and each had toiled for 12 unsatisfying NBA seasons. When they moved to Boston to join the then-30-year-old Paul Pierce, who also had suffered through nine lean seasons, they were all finished with their respective individualistic phases. They were ready to work together and win.”

With The Three Kings of Miami, they are individual superstars at their prime who now have to share the same locker room. It can work. It may not. My gut feel? It’s hard for this not to work. I believe it will. First, my brother Charlie correctly points out that D-Wade is unselfish—which means that, even though he’s Miami’s VIP, he’s willing to relinquish—or at least share—this title with LBJ. The even better reason for this triad to work: they’re best friends. In Beijing, these triplets bonded. En route to netting the Olympic goldfish, they glued and gelled, and informally promised to join forces sometime in the future.

That future is now. And like you, I can’t wait for the NBA season to start. With this troika, it’s hard for anyone not to feel hot with triple the heat.

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.

Boston, Binay spoil the wins of LBJ, Mar

The LA Lakers are 4 and 0. Same with Phoenix. Against San Antonio, the Suns scorched the Spurs. The reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Orlando Magic? With their magic wand, they metamorphosed the Atlanta Hawks to fly into oblivion. The score? Four, zero. This means, as expected, Los Angeles is in, Phoenix is in, and Dwight Howard and his Magicians are in. This was forecasted.

Like our elections of 72 hours ago. Noynoy Aquino was expected to win. He did. Bong Revilla was prophesied to top the senatorial slate. He did. Manny Pacquiao? Well, whenever he fights, he wins. And so finally, on the political arena, he won. But the win we never saw coming was the “loss” of the seemingly-unbeatable Manuel Araneta Roxas II, who led by as much as 33 survey points just months before last Monday.

Mar beaten by Robin Hood? That’s an epic upset by Jojo Binay. Much like what we saw yesterday morning: LeBron James, all but crowned by Mark Garcia and Charlie Pages as the 2010 NBA champions—they lost. But wait, this isn’t all-too-surprising. This is sports. And, like politics where surprises are common, it’s the same with basketball: the ball is round, thus it bounces one way, spins another, ricochets left, sways right, often tilting in favor of the underdog.

Not that the Boston Celtics, the winningest franchise in NBA history (yes, more than the Lakers) with 17 NBA trophies, are weaklings. Boston won the NBA crown as recently as two years ago. And, of course, they still have the Big Three: KG, Ray Allen and PP. Plus a point guard named Rajon Rondo who, in Game 4, was phenomenal with 18 rebounds, 13 assists and 29 points. Boston is Boston. They’re NBA legends.

Still, with Shaq and LBJ, everybody crowned the Cavaliers as this year’s winners. Like we all did with Roxas. Well, yesterday’s 120-88 trashing by Boston in LeBron’s home court was embarrassing. It also put Cavaliers in a 2-3 win-loss quicksand. With the coming Game 6 in Boston, if Cleveland wins, they live for one more game. If they lose those 48 minutes of ball-playing, they’re out. As in Roxas-out. Ouch.

Which makes me ask: Where was the two-time MVP? LeBron missed his first seven shots and ended with 3-out-14 shooting for 15 points—the fourth lowest-scoring total of his playoff career. When he finally left the game with 3:58 remaining, he was booed. Imagine… the MVP booed. (Contrast this to the “M.V.P.” serenade Rajon Rondo received in Boston after Game 4.) It’s obvious that if LeBron performs the same dismal way tomorrow (Game 6 is 8 a.m. RP time), it’s an early summer vacation for the 25-year-old.

Upset of upsets, right? Right. Which makes tomorrow the most important game of LeBron’s seven-year-long NBA career. Three years ago, his Cavs reached the NBA Finals. They were humiliated, 4-0, by the San Antonio Spurs. Last year, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals, beaten by Orlando. Then they hired the 7-foot-1 Shaquille O’Neal. With the stronger big man, they finished the year with the NBA regular season-best of 61 wins, 21 losses. This 2010 is Cleveland’s number. It’s LeBron’s time.

Here’s my analysis: If LBJ steals the Boston game tomorrow, they’ll fly back to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland with momentum pushing their giant-sized bodies and they’ll win Game 7. Having escaped that Boston scare, they’ll ride to avenge their Easter Conference Finals loss to Orlando last year and, once in the NBA Championships, they’ll trample the Lakers in a LeBron vs. Kobe face-to-face.

All these…. if they win tomorrow. If they don’t, well, yesterday might have been the last time LeBron wore the Cavaliers jersey in Cleveland. For the internet is abuzz with rumors that LBJ wants out of Ohio. When he becomes a free agent on July 1, the city that never sleeps, New York, will beg for his superstardom to shine there. He’ll probably wear the uniform marked “KNICKS.” But that’s speculation. For now, let’s wait and watch. It’s one fight tomorrow. Like Jojo vs. Mar. Abangan.

Kobe vs. LeBron: Who’s better?

My brother Charlie, his wife Mitzi Tan, and her entire family, are now in Los Angeles. They’re spending Christmas there. While that may be a terrific experience (earlier, they spent “White Christmas” for a few days in Winnipeg, Canada with it’s -14 degree weather), my younger brother isn’t all-too-happy. The reason: He could not get tickets to watch the most-awaited game of the entire NBA regular season.

LA vs. Cleveland. West against East. The Lakers opposite The Cavs. The 7-foot-1 Shaq standing tall versus the 7-foot-tall Pau Gasol. And, of course, LeBron James face-to-face with Kobe Bryant.

Sure, there are plenty of rivalries. Manny vs. Money (sayang!). Rafa vs. Roger. In Manila, there’s Ateneo vs. La Salle. In the past, there were these mano-a-mano fights: Ali-Frazier, Magic-Bird, Nicklaus-Palmer, Chamberlain-Russell, Yankees-Red Sox.

Today, if there’s one rivalry I’d like to see evolve it’s the one I saw yesterday morning in Sky Cable’s Channel 12 (RPN). One wore a white jersey with gold trimmings; the other had a Superman-like vest that was dark blue in color. The arena? Staples Center. The movie? “NBA Christmas Special.”

For outside the NBA Play-offs, there is no bigger game—make that “games,” because there were a total of five—than the ones held every Dec. 25th. With the LA-Cleveland hoopla that I saw on TV, what I found most interesting was Shaq against his “best friend,” Kobe. In one instance in the third quarter, KB drove down the lane and rammed straight into the leviathan. But no foul was called! And Kobe was mad. What a sight to see them both.

LeBron vs. Kobe? Mr. Bryant scored more points (35 versus James’ 26) but one man’s output is less significant than the team’s score. At the final buzzer, the Cavs upset the Lakers, 102-87. But even more upset were the LA fans (the audience included Hollywood stars like Sylvester Stallone, Danny DeVito, Snoop Dogg, Anna Kournikova) who threw yellow foam hands to the court—including one water bottle (reminds us of the Old Cebu Coliseum days, right?).

Back to the one-one-one debate: Do I favor LeBron over Kobe? Yes I do. Because while I don’t dislike both jersey numbers 23 and 24, I favor LeBron more. Maybe because he’s less “hambog.” Maybe because LBJ’s quieter and less expressive than the “It’s me! Me! Me!” Kobe.

What do the experts think? Who’s better?

Kurt Helin, in his blog Forum Blue & Gold, says, “If you love basketball, you can (and should) love them both. Kobe and LeBron are different players with different styles. LeBron is just a freak of nature, blessed like no other and he is just tapping into that. Kobe is more polished, someone who loves the work of perfecting his game… I love to watch them both for those reasons, for LeBron’s bull-like drives to the basket, for Kobe’s amazing balance on the pull-up jumper.”

Josh Tucker of the Silver Screen and Roll blog writes: “LeBron James is the MVP; Kobe Bryant is the better player. Both are lockdown defenders, fantastic passers, capable of scoring or facilitating and excellent leaders of their teams. The primary differences lie in each player’s individual offensive repertoires, and the key here is the versatility, polish, and completeness of each player’s game.

“LeBron James is a player with one primary, ultra-developed offensive skill: his ability to get to the hoop for layups and dunks… Kobe Bryant doesn’t have a single dominant skill that far outweighs all others, like LeBron does. Instead, he has the most complete, versatile, and polished skill set in the NBA… Simply put, the difference between the two boils down to unprecedented raw athleticism versus unequaled, finely honed skill.”

Henry Abbott, in TrueHoop, comments, “LeBron James’ biggest advantage over Kobe Bryant is his size. That height and weight—with that agility, speed, leadership, and skill—is a combination we have really never seen before. It is why he blows away just about every statistical analysis.”

To me, this White Christmas, I’m dreaming of an NBA final: Cavs vs Lakers.

Sunday Was A Buffet Treat Of Surprises

What do Rafael Nadal, Susan Boyle and LeBron James have in common? Plenty. They’re world-wide stars known all across the planet. They hail from different countries, namely, Spain, Scotland and the U.S.A. But more than that, these three share a common bond: Forty eight hours ago, they lost.

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They weren’t supposed to. Nadal had not been clobbered in Roland Garros ever since he swung his Babolat there. Susan Boyle, whose YouTube videos have been accessed 100 million times, was sure to win Britain’s Got Talent and meet the Queen. And Mr. James, the one who led his Cleveland Cavaliers to an 8-0 playoff start—was not supposed to be trounced.

Yet, all within 24 hours, first, Susan Boyle when I watched CNN early last Sunday morning, then LBJ as we all saw Dwight Howard pump 40 points in the Orlando Magic win before Sunday noon, and, last Sunday night from 8:30 p.m. until midnight, we all witnessed the dirtying of Nadal’s socks.

Alone, LeBron’s magic vanishes against Magic

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Would you believe that, had LeBron James not made “LeShot” in Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, the series today would have been 4-0? Yes, Four… Zero. A clean sweep by the Orlando Magic against the team who owns the regular season record, who embarrassed Detroit and Atlanta in the earlier playoffs, 8-0, and boasts of Player No. 23 who’s proclaimed as “Today’s Michael Jordan.”

Confounding? Hard-to-believe? Perplexing? Yes, yes, yes. For how did a team that was destined to reach The Finals (while Kobe and L.A. would struggle) almost got obliterated, 4-0? How?

NBA’s No.1, with 0:01 left, bangs ‘The Shot’

Call it any adjective you prefer—“Amazing,” “Incredible,” “Breathtaking”—what transpired 24 hours ago at the Quicken Loans Arena in Ohio will forever be etched in NBA history. Down 0-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, down 93-95 with the same length of time it takes to say “goodbye,” LeBron James does the unthinkable: He grabs the inbounds pass, spins around and, barely looking at the goal and with roughly 0.4 seconds left, unleashes a missile that dribbles against the rim of the basket and slides down the net.

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Swoosh! Wasn’t that stunning? It wasn’t a Steven Spielberg movie—it was better; a real-life script with turns and twists that no one could have plotted and whose ending, wow, was spectacular and unknown until after the buzzer sounded.

Best of all, wasn’t that a Michael Moment? For while LBJ had accumulated a multitude of accolades—Rookie of the Year, MVP, scoring champion, Olympic gold medalist—he’s never had that one moment like MJ.

Now, this. The LeBron Moment. “The biggest shot I’ve made in my career,” he said. Hey, it may have been the biggest shot in all of the National Basketball Association.