Valentine’s Day three months ago at the sprawling and expansive Asturias farm of Frederic Chiongbian, seated around the dining table were Chris Aldeguer, Meyrick Jacalan, Frederic and myself. We debated. The topic? Who, among the billions of earthlings who have inhabited this planet, is the greatest athlete of all time.
“Lance Armstrong!” I said. As rapid as our Pambansang Kamao’s left punch, my trio of friends—all ardent bikers and devotees of Lance—quickly shot down my proposal and, in unanimous decision, echoed with one answer: No. 23.
I soon retreated. And concurred. It’s MJ. Think about it: In the 1990s decade and the 15 years that we’ve been blessed with his soaring presence dribbling that orange ball, weren’t those weeks and months the best in sports? Don’t those mental photos—of an identifiable black object flying inside the United Center skyline—bring back joyous memories?
Remember the tongue-wagging? The shiny scalp? Those baggy shorts? The Air Jordans? The diamond earring? Those dunks that slam. The red Chicago Bulls jersey with the most famous number in sports, 23? Remember those contests between Bird and Magic? The two Olympic gold rings? Space Jam? Best of all, remember the smile?
It’s not aired on local or cable TV but it’s a must-watch. I’m referring to HBO’s documentary called “24/7,” which features Oscar de la Hoya and Manny Pacquiao. I first heard about this bio-short film from Chris Aldeguer. The youngest son of ALA, Chris is now in the U.S. preparing for two mega-events: he’ll watch the Dec. 6 blockbuster at the MGM Grand and, just hours later, at 6 a.m. the following day (Dec. 7), he’ll run the Las Vegas Marathon—the first-ever 42-K by Chris after training for over 12 months.
Back to HBO’s 24/7 film, what a story! It contrasts DLH’s training at the immaculate confines of his brand-new gym at Big Bear, California with MP sweating amidst the noise and commotion of the Wild Card Gym.
Who says the NBA isn’t shown on cable TV? Early this year, when SkyCable pulled the plug on Solar Sports and, with it, Basketball TV, Cebuanos growled and protested. For how can, to us, the world’s most popular league—whose games we’ve watched since the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird era—be stripped away?
The above slogan is the NBA’s newest. Introduced to basketball fanatics last year, it replaced the long-running and popular, “I Love This Game.” Either way, this we know: the NBA is loved and is amazing.
Take Kobe and LeBron. Teammates in the ‘Redeem Team,’ they’re opponents on the parquet floors of the Staples Center and the Quicken Loans Arena. One stands 6-foot-6, wears three NBA championship rings, was the 1997 Slam Dunk champ and, last season, was adjudged as the NBA MVP. The other is 6’8”, weighs 45 lbs. heavier than KB at 250 lbs., dons MJ’s No. 23 jersey, and, last season, was the NBA scoring leader, averaging an exact 30.0 PPG.
Of Kobe and LeBron, once again I asked my “NBA consultant” who helped me craft last Tuesday’s column—Dennis Que—on his comments and MVP picks…
Exactly one week from today, the game that’s dribbled in America but is followed by all 195 countries of the world—especially by our basketball-crazy nation—will begin. The NBA, after four months in hiatus, finally begins its 2008-09 Regular Season on Oct. 28.
I’ll make an admission: I haven’t followed the league. Ever since “the greatest athlete in world history” retired last April 16, 2003 wearing the Washington Wizards jersey, I’ve followed Federer-Nadal, running, Tiger, boxing, PacMan—but called a time-out when the topic was the NBA. And though two supermen named LeBron and Kobe are near-MJ-like, they’re still—and no one can ever replace His Airness—not Michael Jordan.
And so, to shoot an article on the NBA, I needed an assist from my good friend Dennis Que…
He has traveled to Athens and Shanghai and Las Vegas and Paris and Bangkok and Sydney, but one of the cities that one of Cebu’s top doctors reminisces the most is Boston, Massachusetts.
Dr. Ronald Eullaran, one of the top—if not the leading—rheumatologist in Cebu, recalls his visit: “I was in Boston from Nov. 6 to 11 for our meeting of the American College of Rheumatology. The topics were great but we were more excited to watch the game between the Celtics and Denver Nuggets. I have long been a fan of the Celtics since the era of Larry Bird. Visiting the Garden was one of my dreams. Well, it became true in Nov. 9. The Banknorth Garden is huge but it wasn’t difficult for me to spot the # 33 jersey among the retired numbers that hung from the roof.”
With chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” in the background, Kobe Bean Bryant finally lived up to his top billing as Hollywood’s No. 1 superstar. With 6:55 left in Game 3 and his Los Angeles Lakers trailing the Boston Celtics, 66-68, he stood at the top of the 3-point rainbow, hesitated for a split second, eyed the target, then fired. The orange Spalding ball—swirling on air at the Staples Center—swooshed into the net. Minutes later, with his team quivering on the brink of falling 0-3—an impossible task that no team in NBA history has overcome—Kobe lifted his arms to an 87-81 win. Never mind missing seven of 18 free throws, he scored 10 points in that 4th quarter to finish with 36.
Not known to many, Kobe now moves one point away from taking the fourth spot for the most postseason points in Lakers franchise history. His 3,622 postseason points is one less Elgin Baylor’s and only 79 points away from the No. 3 spot—held by Magic Johnson (3,701 points). The second spot is held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (4,070) and the No. 1 rank by Jerry West at 4,457. If the NBA Finals goes back to Boston, look for Kobe to surpass Magic.
Yayoy Alcoseba with Freddie Roach
At 1 p.m. yesterday, with the sound of rubber shoes squeaking against the parquet floor and the noise of shouts echoing and basketballs bouncing in the background, I spoke to a man as legendary to Cebu basketball as Phil Jackson is to the NBA.
He has won more titles in Cebu basketball—and possibly, nationwide—than any other coach in history. As head coach of the M. Lhuillier squad—and top honcho of other ball-clubs throughout his several-decades-long tenure—he has amassed 50, 100, 150, maybe 200 trophies. In four short words: Too Many To Count.
Since the NBA was founded in June 6, 1946, the two have met 10 times in the NBA Finals. For the first eight encounters—would you believe—the Celtics prevailed against the Lakers.
In 1959, when the teams first met and the Lakers were then called the “Minneapolis Lakers,” the Celtics clobbered their nemesis, 4-0. This domination continued for decades—including the 1984 victory at Boston Garden, 4-3, when Larry Bird bested Magic Johnson and emerged as the series MVP. That’s 8-0 for Boston.
Paco Jarque is one of the luckiest people in Cebu. Why? It’s not because he won the P138,000,000 Super Lotto jackpot or scored a hole-in-one in golf then drove home a brand-new BMW X5, it’s this: Unlike you and me and tens of thousands of others living on this island who love basketball, he gets to watch—everyday—the 2008 NBA Playoffs. Not on the internet. Not via delayed telecast. Not from listening to Y101 updates. But “live.”
“I watch almost all the games,” said Paco, when we spoke on the phone yesterday.
When I called him at around 11:40 in the morning, guess what, he was watching and updating me—in real time—the Game 4 score of the L.A. Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs.
“Nine-point lead for the Lakers,” he said. “And it’s the last three minutes of the game.”