Petron slams TNT’s Grand Slam

The Japanese poet Kenji Mijazawa once wrote: “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” Figuratively, this was true for Talk N Text as Petron “burned them with their fuel.”

What a PBA finale! The drama started in Game One. The Talk N Text Tropang Texters, winners of the first two PBA conference finals, aimed to win the third and final leg. This victory would have given them a rare ‘Grand Slam.’ In the 36-year history of the oldest professional basketball league in Asia—the PBA—only Crispa, San Miguel, and Alaska have achieved a Grand Slam.

Talk N Text attempted. In Game 1, they won—and lost! Leading by a score of 84-75 with 5:11 left, the Texters also led by one point with three seconds left. But two-time MVP Danny Ildefonso calmly sank a 12-footer to win that crucial Game 1 for Petron. Score: 89-88.

Since that game two weeks ago, the PBA Governors Cup Finals has been a yo-yo, roller-coaster-ride-like series. TNT tied the contest, 1-all. They led 2-1. They trailed 2-3. Then, they equalized at 3-all.

Last Sunday, I watched Game 7. When I switched on the TV set, Petron led at the end of the first quarter, 28-17. They would not relinquish that lead. Even with Jimmy Alapag, the league MVP, dribbling the ball as point guard, the Tropang Texters trailed all the way. Even with MVP—that’s Manny V. Pangilinan—cheering from the bleachers, it wasn’t to be. Even with Monico Puentevella, the POC chairman, seated beside Mr. Pangilinan, history was not meant to be celebrated two nights ago.

Petron, fueled by a blaze, put a brake on TNT. Petron won Game 7, 85-73.

No loss is painless but this was excruciatingly painful for Talk N Text for several reasons. One, the rare Grand Slam bid was crushed. Two, they were expected to win. In the semifinal round, reports say that TNT purposely lost in one game to avoid a Final showdown with the Barangay Ginebra Kings. “Pinagbigyan nila kami at nagkamali sila,” said Ato Agustin, Petron’s head coach. Third, Petron had plenty of injured players: Jay Washington, Lordy Tugade, Rookie of the Year Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and Joseph Yeo.

The pressure, possibly, was too much for the Texters. Trailing in the 4th quarter but with plenty of time left, they hurriedly threw 3-point desperation shots. They were jittery, intimidated, startled. They panicked. I guess this was to be expected: when a year-long Grand Slam bid trickles down to the last few minutes, one plays petrified.

Petron? Petrified? No. The Blaze Boosters were relaxed and loose. They played to win—while TNT played not to lose. Petron’s import, Anthony Grundy, was dazzling. He top-scored with 26 points (after scoring just five in Game 6). But the best player was Mark Magsumbol. I mean… Arwind Santos, who looks like Mark Magsumbol. He scored 16 points. To top that, he rebounded 16 times! Imagine… 16 rebounds in one game. With 37 seconds left in the game, he even slammed the ball with two hands. That slam extinguished the Grand Slam dreams of TNT and MVP.

Why was this Petron team no lightweight compared to the heavyweight, TNT? It’s because this team’s DNA is spelled S-A-N  M-I-G-U-E-L. Yes. Starting only this season, San Miguel Beer relinquished its name (for the first time in PBA history) and gave way to the fuel company they own.

Good move. And so, while this was a “first” for the rookie Petron, this was also the 19th championship of the team owned by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr. You can also conclude that, in a battle between sports titans (MVP v. Boss Danding), the older, more experienced sportsman won.

Ato Agustin is the happiest Filipino today. He scored one of the league’s all-time biggest upsets—and did it as a rookie PBA coach.

Above all, the biggest winners are the basketball fans. I, myself, admit to not watching closely the PBA. But with this series, I followed. It was a contrast in coaches, team owners, imports; an intriguing Grand Slam Quest versus Underdog’s Upset Try contest. In the end, between gasoline or SMS, fuel wins.

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From San Miguel Beer to Petron? Why?

Last Friday, on board Cebu Pacific and flying to Manila, there was turbulence in the air. My head shook. My face frowned. My mind trembled. It was hard to believe. No, the sky was clear and the wind did not howl–the jolt came from the Philippine Daily Inquirer article I was reading.

Ronnie Nathanielsz wrote a stellar column last Friday entitled, “Big risk – why the name change?” Born in Sri Lanka, Nathanielsz has since resided in Manila for many decades now. He’s an icon in sports media: in print, in boxing, in TV, in tennis, basketball…

“While we recognize the inherent right of San Miguel Corp. to change the name of its San Miguel Beer team in the Philippine Basketball Association to Petron, we are certainly baffled over the name change,” wrote Nathanielsz in the very first paragraph.

Starting next season, the SMB franchise has requested the PBA Board of Governors to change its name to Petron. There’ll no longer be San Miguel in the PBA. Why this perplexing move when the words “San Miguel Beermen” are not only the most famous but also the most historical?–leaves SMB loyalists baffled.

“To millions across the nation who love the sport of basketball with a passion,” Nathanielsz continued, “San Miguel Beer was—and will always remain—a team they could identify with through the years as the flagship representative of San Miguel Corp. It was inherently Filipino and carried the San Miguel Beer name with remarkable distinction. To change the name to Petron and to expect the same dedicated following is a tremendous risk that the corporation is taking.”
Ronnie has a point. Although SMB has a losing record in today’s PBA second conference (one win/four losses), this short-term negativity has nothing to do with its positive, winning name. San Miguel to Petron?

“Simply put, there is absolutely no synergy between beer and gasoline,” added Nathanielsz. (Well, Ron, there are indeed similarities: Gasoline fuels the Toyotas, Hyundais and Mazdas; Beer fuels the body.)

Studying further this issue in a few more websites, I noticed that this appears to be a purely business-driven decision. Phoenix Fuel, a Petron competitor, has purchased the Barako Bull franchise and wants to enter the PBA. This move by SMB (which owns a major stake in Petron) to change its PBA name to the oil giant will disallow Phoenix from joining the oldest professional basketball league in Asia. Why? Because the PBA rules, if I understood them well, state that no direct competitor of an existing team be allowed to join the league.

But Ronnie counters this analogy. “Surely Petron cannot consider Phoenix a competitor in the accepted sense of the word because it is basically a small player in the Visayas and Mindanao regions,” he said. “What is even more perplexing is the effort to keep out Phoenix when the firm, to its credit, has invested in the PBA by sponsoring the out-of-town games which serve as one of the major boosts to the acceptance of the pro league in the provinces.”

Truly, this is an unusual move by Danding Cojuangco, Jr., Ramon Ang and San Miguel Brewery, Inc. Digging further into history (thanks to Wikipedia), the SMB franchise has been in existence since 1975. This was when the Philippine Basketball Association started. This was 36 years ago. In all, SMB holds the record for the most number of league titles at 18. To delete “San Miguel” from the pro league is bewildering. It’s like saying the L.A. Lakers will quit the NBA or the Celtics will change its name to the Boston Green Horns. It’s implausible. San Miguel is Pinoy basketball.

“We believe that with San Miguel Corp.’s right to rename its team, it comes with the need to exercise responsibility in relation to the millions of fans of the San Miguel Beer basketball team,” said Nathanielsz. “The Beermen have a storied history and San Miguel Beer epitomizes a Filipino product of unmatched quality. We will grieve to see it removed from our cherished PBA memories.”

I’ll drink to that.

Will Michel Lhuillier finally join the PBA?

Next year, his basketball franchise will celebrate its Silver Anniversary. That’s 25 years of dribbling and scoring trophies. It will be a mega-milestone for this team labeled as “the most successful Philippine basketball squad in history”—outside of the PBA.

Will the year 2011, to celebrate its 25th birthday, be the moment when M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala sends a remittance letter to PBA Commissioner Chito Salud with the words: “Money ready. Count as in.”?

We hope so. For Michel Lhuillier is Cebuano. He represents our land. Of French descent (he’s the Honorary Consul of France), the billionaire sportsman loves one city more than any other on earth… Sugbu.

“I’ve been offered to put up a PBA team. But it’s not for my business. It’s too expensive,” he once told me. “You need P100 million to maintain a team. Now, they’re offering me P40 to P50 million for a PBA franchise. With those amounts, I have better use of my money. I’d rather have a strong enough team that can play once-in-a-while with the PBA.”

That conversation was 10 months ago. Today, has the business tycoon’s mind changed? Yes, Cebu hopes so. Because if M. Lhuillier does enter the PBA, it will be a first. A first for a Cebu-based company to battle—on the basketball floor—the big boys and multinationals of Philippine business.

The PBA currently has 10 teams. These are Air21 Express, Alaska Aces, Barako Energy Coffee Makers, Barangay Ginebra Kings, B-Meg Derby Ace Llamados, Meralco Bolts (new team), Powerade Tigers, Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, San Miguel Beermen and Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters. Add the words “M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala” to this list?

I called Yayoy Alcoseba. This was two nights ago. Ever the serious and disciplinarian maestro on court, he was light-hearted and relaxed in our talk. He has reason to smile. Last Sunday, his Kwarta Padala team won again. That’s nothing new. They always win. But this was different.

“That was the most difficult championship we’ve ever won,” said Coach Yayoy, who’s collected for the team hundreds of golden trophies. The Cebu City Councilor, now on his third and final term, explained how difficult it was winning the Tournament of the Philippines (TOP). “We had to go and fight in Cagayan de Oro… we had a thrilling Game 5… it was our most satisfying victory,” he said of the 78-76 tournament-ending win of the Cebu Niños against the MisOr Meteors at the Cebu Coliseum.

Now that you’ve won again, will it be the PBA this time? “There’s a good chance,” said Councilor Alcoseba. “More than at any other period, the timing might be right this time. We have a strong team, a ready-to-play team. And the Kwarta Padala brand nationwide is getting even stronger.” Plus, of course, the significance of the 25th anniversary…

“Are you ready to move to Manila?” I asked.

“I’ll just be team manager!” he said, laughing.

I told him, “No way will Michel ask anybody else to coach his team but you!”

That’s true. From the moment the M. Lhuillier team was formed, one man was there.

“Coach Yayoy. Councilor Yayoy. Businessman Yayoy. I don’t know what to call him anymore,” Lhuillier told me before. “He’s been with me for more than 23 years. What can I say about him? I believe in him. He’s good. He’s outstanding. He has a knack for it. He feels for it. He’s so involved in the game and some misunderstand it when he reprimands players. He loves the game. He also knows all about the NBA and the PBA. In terms of scouting, he knows what positions to shop for when the team has weaknesses.”

As to The Boss’s own formula for success? Michel Lhuillier once explained to me: “I keep on trying and trying. I’ve had defeats but, because of determination, I’ve had more victories in life. It’s by trying and trying and trying that I get to succeed.”

Sir: Time to try the PBA?

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SMB’s beer vs. Alaska’s milk: Who’s winning?

The Philippine Basketball Association is the second oldest basketball league in the world, next only to the NBA. Since its inception on April 9, 1975—coincidentally, my third birthday!—it has become the most revered of games in our basketball-crazy nation.

Last Sunday, I watched. Not at the Araneta Coliseum, nicknamed “The Big Dome”—but at home. For two hours starting at 6 p.m., two of our most famous brands played ball: the San Miguel Beermen versus the Alaska Aces. It was Game 2 of the 2010 PBA Fiesta Conference. (The league has two conferences per season; this is the one where one import is allowed per team.)

In Game One of The PBA Final played last Friday, Alaska was supposed-to-be tired and weary, having just escaped Talk ‘N Text in a seven-game semifinal. It didn’t show. They beat San Miguel, 89-83. What a shocker. And for several reasons: (1) The SMB squad are the defending champions; (2) Alaska lost to them twice during the regular season (95-89 on April 11 and 85-74 last June 26); (3) Alaska had not beaten SMB in their last six tries, dating back to 2007; (4) Alaska was on a losing streak in The Finals: six straight defeats. Yet, Alaska prevailed in round one.

Then, Game 2. Two nights ago. San Miguel Beer—an original member of the PBA since 1975 and the winningest club in history with 18 PBA titles—fought to avert a 0-2 deficit. Their coach, Siot Tanquingcen, only 37 years young, deployed Joseph Yeo and import Jay Washington to produce the numbers. They did, scoring 20 apiece. But the Beermen played catch-up all night. Alaska led in the first quarter; SMB tied the game. Alaska took the lead; again, SMB crawled back. It was the same back-and-forth, see-saw pattern.. until the last minutes when Alaska—having gulped milk instead of beer—sprinted towards the finish line first, winning, 94-90.

I enjoyed the game. LA Tenorio, only 5-foot-8, was savvy and alert. Arwind Santos banked several against the board. My favorite play was the one of the tattoo-laden Alaska import Diamon Simpson who, at the end of the third quarter, backed up against his defender then leapt for a monstrous, in-your-face slam of a dunk.

All these must have thrilled the most famous spectator at ringside: Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra, who’s in Manila to conduct basketball clinics. “I was worried earlier,” said Alaska coach Tim Cone, quoting yesterday’s Phil. Star story entitled, “Charity throws give Aces close win, 2-0 lead.” “I just felt our energy in practice yesterday was very low. But thanks to coach Eric when my players heard he’s in the stadium, their eyes grew big and said ‘wow.’ They’re motivated.”

Alaska played inspired basketball. And when the pressure intensified in the game’s dying moments, they were relaxed and composed, especially at the free throw line—making seven of eight in the last 77 seconds and, for the whole game, shooting 84 percent—an extraordinary statistic that would shame Shaq.

“We didn’t expect this,” said Cone in yesterday’s Phil. Daily Inquirer article, “Unbelievable Aces halfway through Fiesta Cup crown.” “But you know, we have played two A-plus basketball games.”

Cone, now 52 years old and the winner of 12 PBA titles for the Fred Uytengsu-owned company, is hungry for this win.

Quinito Henson of The Phil. Star, in an August 6 piece, “San Miguel’s size worries Cone,” made this excellent analysis: “(Cone)… is due for another one as Alaska has been a bridesmaid in two of the last three finals. He hasn’t captured a crown since the 2006-07 Fiesta Conference. Alaska is in its 25th finals appearance entering its 25th anniversary next season. Those numbers don’t happen to come together by accident. Are the Aces destined for a championship?”

Despite the lead, he’s not overconfident. “It’s only 2-0,” said Cone. “It takes four games to win it for a reason. I’ve lost 2-0, 3-1 and all the leads that you can think of. We have to make sure we come out and put the pressure on them… It’s definitely not over.”

Abangan ang susunod na…

PBA Finals

Thanks to the controversy last February 5, when Talk ‘N Text walked out of their game against Barangay Ginebra, my interest in the Philippine Basketball Association has intensified.

Remarkable showing by the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants. Having been down 1-2 in their best-of-seven semifinal series against San Miguel Beer, the Giants won three games in a row and, thus far in the KFC PBA Philippine Cup Finals, they’ve won another three straight. That’s 6-of-6.

Will it be Lucky 7 when Game 4 is contested tomorrow? Alaska Milk, highly-touted to have provided tough resistance to Purefoods, has faltered. In Game 2, they shouldn’t have lost. Leading by 13 points in the third quarter, they stumbled. Now they’re in a deep, dark hole. Can they win their first game? And, after that, maybe one more? To seize the momentum? Can they score four straight when no team ever in PBA history has come back from a 0-3 deficit?

Improbable. That’s as unlikely as Joshua Clottey scoring a knockout win versus our Filipino flag-bearer next Sunday.

But here’s a fact: A former University of San Jose Recoletos star player, a Cebuano named Roger Yap, has been the playoff’s best.

“‘He was really the brightest star who played with an incredible will to win,’ said Gregorio of Yap, who was named the undisputed KFC/Accel-PBA Press Corps Player of the Week for the period Feb. 15 to 21, quoting the official website PBA.com.ph.

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Talk ‘N Text walkout: Was it right?

The PBA was founded in 1975. Since then, of the thousands of games played the past 35 years, no team, except one in 1990 by Añejo Rum and Robert Jaworski, has ever walked out.

Until last Friday. Barely 11 minutes had passed in the first quarter when the Talk ‘N Text player Ranidel De Ocampo elbowed the head of a driving Ronald Tubid of Barangay Ginebra. The referee blew the whistle. In that Game 4 of the best-of-five quarterfinal series (with TnT leading 2-1), De Ocampo was charged with a Flagrant Foul-2 (which means “any hard contact above the shoulder”). He was ejected and would not play, if ever there was, a Game 5.

Chot Reyes fumed mad. The head coach of TnT could not accept the decision. He concluded that the referees were biased against his squad–not just in Game 4, but in all the previous games. After that foul was reviewed on videotape and the decision upheld by the referees, Reyes, having consulted team owner Manny V. Pangilinan, who was in attendance, collared his team and marched towards the dugout.

Negotiations ensued. The PBA commissioner, Sonny Barrios, pleaded for their return. Minutes passed. Finally, when it appeared that Chot Reyes wanted to play, it was too late. The PBA ruling states that any team that leaves the court is given only seven minutes to return; otherwise, they forfeit the game. Game over for Talk ‘N Text.

Two days later, the Tropang Texters reluctantly came back for Game 5 and, possibly feeling deflated, lost 113-110. Ginebra advanced to the semis and last night played (and lost Game 1 to) the top seed, Alaska Milk. In the other semis, it’s San Miguel Beer versus Purefoods Giants.

Why did MVP’s team walkout? They argued that De Ocampo should not have been meted a flagrant foul-2. (I reviewed the replay on YouTube and, true enough, the decision was questionable.) But more than that episode, TnT believes the overall officiating was biased. One specific complaint was Ginebra having been “awarded” too many free throw attempts (from Games 1 to 3, Brgy. Ginebra had 42 vs. 28 from TnT). Biased officiating, they protested.

But here’s the question: Was their form of protest the correct thing to do? From the viewpoint of the fans–the thousands inside the Araneta Coliseum that evening who only saw 11 minutes of game time to the tens of thousands more watching on TV–it was upsetting.

Dennis Guillermo, a top U.S.-based Filipino journalist, wrote in Examiner.com last Feb. 8: “There are a thousand ways to protest and voice out your displeasure against officiating or anything in general. Injustices are prevalent in the world, but let me ask you this: What about those fans who paid to see that game? What about that father who took out a couple of hundred pesos from his hard-earned money to take his son or his family to watch a game of exciting, spirited basketball? Did they deserve to be jiffed like that?”

Good point. Adds Bill Velasco of Philstar.com in his piece, “Notes on walking out,” last Monday: “A walkout upsets the fans… In this case, however, fans were treated to an abrupt cessation of what many consider a regular treat: an exciting PBA game. For those trying to jumpstart their weekend with a heavy dose of basketball action, it was a disappointment. As in any form of entertainment, spectators are often there to forget their problems, not to be affected by a whole new set of them. Fans paid good money to watch a basketball game, regardless of the internal conflict within the organizing group, in this case, the PBA. Some fans don’t really care that much who wins, as long as the game is thrilling.”

I agree with Dennis and Bill. The biggest losers, apart from TnT itself who, despite a 2-0 lead, lost three straight games (and were fined P1.25 million), were the PBA fans. TnT’s act was emotional. It was reactive, not objective. It was an outburst derived from their sense of outrage. They were exasperated.

But was their exit justifiable? No.

The Walkout

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZNcRy8BXwc[/youtube]

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Missing James Yap, Purefoods was unexciting

Vacationing in the paradise island of Hawaii with his wife Kris Aquino and children Baby James and Joshua, the former Most Valuable Player was absent in the PBA vs. Cebu basketball game last Monday night at the Cebu Coliseum.

James Carlos Yap, Sr.’s team, the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants, was up against the Michel Lhuillier-owned M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala-Cebu Niños. Having not watched a live PBA encounter in over a year, how did I find the ballgame?

Exciting. Unexciting.

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Tonight!

Read the story here.

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PBA Finals: an astonishing Game 7 statistic

I’ll make an admission: I don’t follow the Philippine Basketball Association like I used to. I’ve watched several out-of-Manila, here-in-Cebu games. Back in the 1980s, I adored Allan Caidic’s three-pointer and reminisce his rivalry against Samboy Lim. Even my dad’s younger brother, Rey Pages, donned the Crispa Redmanizers jersey. And so, yes, I did follow the PBA—but not anymore.

That changed a couple of nights ago when I watched the most awaited finale of the season: Game 7 of the Motolite-PBA Fiesta Cup Finals between Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer.

I missed the first half and watched starting the third quarter. The game? It was, sad to report, unexciting. After a 13-5 burst in that 3rd quarter, the Beermen—led by an import aptly-named Freeman—took a double-digit lead and never relinquished it. In the end, the former Cebu Gems star, Dondon Hontiveros, and his Men In White were champions, defeating the MVP Jayjay Helterbrand-led Men In Red, 90-79. It marked the 18th time that San Miguel were champions of the PBA.