Argentina or France?

Chad Songalia, Mike Limpag and Neil Montesclaros are three football fanatics (out of the 3.5 billion who follow the sport) whom I asked to comment on tonight’s World Cup final: 

SONGALIA: What have stood out in the World Cup in Qatar? You don’t need big name players to be successful. Look at Morocco. Who would have thought they’d reach the semis? What has stood out also is the emergence of young players: Bellingham, Gavi, Pedri, Gakpo, Musiala and Tchouameni and the strong performances of the goalkeepers (Yassine Bounou and Dominik Livakovic). 

LIMPAG: This year’s World Cup, at least for Asians, can be best remembered for the success of the continent: Japan, South Korea, Australia (in football, Australia is considered Asian). Saudi Arabia started it with that shock win against Argentina; Japan beat Germany and Spain to top their group.

MONTESCLAROS: Lower rank teams beating higher rank teams. Upsets. Last minute goals and drama that impact results. Penalty saves. Goal keeping: spectacular and critical saves. Messi’s brilliance and exceptional skills. Asian and African teams’ rising competitiveness. The game-changing VAR. Ronaldo’s fading popularity. 

SONGALIA: Whoever can slow down Messi or Mbappe have a good chance of winning. Regardless if Argentina wins or not, Messi is “one of the greatest.” The argument of who is the GOAT is subjective. Let’s not forget Maradona, Beckenbauer, Zidane, Pele and Ronaldo.

LIMPAG: France vs. Argentina will boil down to one man for each: Lionel Messi for Argentina. He hasn’t scored in previous appearances in the knockout stages in four previous World Cup appearances but has already scored in each of the knockout games this year. He has four Man of the Match awards this year, 10th overall, but I think there’s only one title he’s after. Whether he wins it or not, will depend on how their defense will cover Mbappe, who has three Man of the Match awards this year, a testament to how important he is for France.

MONTESCLAROS: Both teams have equal chances to win. I don’t see one really dominant than the other. But Messi is the game changer. He can create something out of nothing. My pick is not a matter of an estimated superior strength. I just prefer Argentina to win as a crowning glory for Messi’s unparalleled impact to the sport.

SONGALIA: Argentina or France? Hmm. This is a tough one. Argentina, so Messi can cement his legacy but my grandson River Killian was named after Mbappe so whoever wins I’ll be happy. 

LIMPAG: I don’t want to jinx my favorite team but I still remember the emotional and financial heartache of watching France beat Brazil in a girlie bar (the only place in town that showed the World Cup live) back in ‘98 so I hope Mbappe and company will have that medal they’d rather not display after Sunday’s final.

MONTESCLAROS: Even if Messi does not win the World Cup his football exploits are off the charts. Considering the great footballers as Messi’s contemporary and he out performs them, he is the greatest so far. The World Cup will just be a confirmation of what he already is.

Real Madrid

MADRID — How does it feel like to experience sitting beside 58,367 screaming fanatics of one of the world’s most famous football clubs?

Our JJJ family watched the Real Madrid C.F. vs. Girona FC game in the capital of Spain last Sunday. 

Jasmin, Jana and I arrived from Cebu to Madrid early that morning and, within hours, we were ready for the 4:15 p.m. kickoff time.

Bull horns echoed outside the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home of the Galacticos for the past 75 years. Souvenir booths were scattered around selling scarves, magnets, water bottles — items plastered with the brand “REAL MADRID,” declared by FIFA as the “most successful and best football club of the 20th century.”

When we entered and took our seats on the 2nd level (of five levels), the song “I Ain’t Worried” by OneRepublic blared over the loudspeakers. Goalkeepers danced to the Top Gun Maverick tune, warming up and stretching. Water sprinklers automatically emerged from the pitch to shower the perfectly-manicured grass.

The game took place last Sunday — meaning the audience was filled with families: dads and moms with their young girls and boys; all wearing “EMIRATES Fly Better” jerseys by Adidas with the names BENZEMA, VINI JR., and MODRIC.

The most visible jersey? Although he could not play that afternoon, it had the name BENZEMA plastered on the back. Yes, Karim Benzema was the newly-crowned Ballon d’Or winner (“the world’s best footballer”). 

GAME TIME. The Girona FC players first entered the pitch and they were greeted with howls and jeers. But when the white jersey-wearing Real Madrid players entered, pandemonium started: drums echoed as the fans stood to clap for their home team. The Madrileños screamed and whistled. (Here in Madrid, nobody wears masks anymore.)

The game started and, as expected from world-class play, the passing and goal attempts and defense were exceptional. Real Madrid, the La Liga defending champions, were clearly the better team against the 17th-ranked Girona. They had plenty of ball possession (58% of the time by game’s end).

Luka Modric, the Croatian captain, was a star. So was Toni Kroos. The first half went scoreless despite Real Madrid having plenty of goal attempts. 

Finally, in the 70th minute, Vinicius Junior scored from within a few feet from a superb pass from Federico Valverde. That’s when the bull horns erupted and the fans roared. And just when the fans thought that a 1-0 win was looming, a controversy happened on the 80th minute. The referee, Mario Lopez, who was jeered countless times by the home fans, went to the VAR and ruled that Marco Asensio’s arm touched the ball. Penalty reward for Girona. That’s when Cristhian Stuani, the 6-foot-1 Uruguay player, calmly thrust the ball to the right corner. 

One-all! You could feel the disappointment among the fans. Then, in the 89th minute, Rodrygo of Real Madrid scored! But, wait, the referee concluded that the ball was taken away from the goalkeeper’s hands and it was deemed a foul. No goal. Minutes later, the game ended in a 1-all draw. 

Looking back at the game, Real Madrid fans are some of the most passionate of any sporting fans that I’ve seen. 

Inside the Santiago Bernabeu, you feel the sense of history dating back to its inception in 1947. Real Madrid is the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Yankees of football; one of the planet’s wealthiest sporting outfits with annual revenues of $750 million and a fan base exceeding 225 million people.

You imagine the thousands of games played inside and the superstars who’ve sprinted across the field: David Beckham, Kaka, Iker Casillas, Raul, Luis Figo, Ramos, Sanchez and Zinedine Zidane. This hallowed ground was the home of Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Santiago Bernabeu is the Centre Court of the world’s most popular sport.

Thank you, Roger

John McEnroe said it best: There is no more beautiful tennis player than Roger Federer.

On this sport of tennis that I’ve been playing since 1986, no one has impacted the game more than the Swiss maestro. The profoundness of Roger’s career goes beyond the records that he’s amassed. If we speak purely of numbers, he has accumulated plenty of hardware and highlights.

World No. 1 for 237 straight weeks (310 weeks total). Eight Wimbledon trophies to go with five from the US Open, one from the French Open and six from the Australian Open.

The longevity of the Federer Express is a hallmark of his legendary career: He reached the Grand Slam finals in 21 of 28 majors from 2003 to 2009 and ended up winning a total of 20 majors. 

He pocketed over $130 million in prize money and hundreds of millions more of Euros from sponsorships that many call him the “Billion dollar athlete,” like MJ, Tiger and LeBron.

And while you’d think that his opponents would hate him for endlessly beating them, the opposite has happened. He has been presented the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award (voted upon by the ATP players on that player with the utmost fairness and integrity) a record 13 times! Roger won the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year trophy a record five times.

IN PERSON. I have had the opportunity on three occasions to see Roger Federer. The first was in 2007 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — with Michelle So and Mrs. Chinggay Utzurrum, among others — during his “Clash of Times” exhibition with Pete Sampras. I got to within a few feet away from both legends during an exclusive meet-and-greet session.

The year after in Beijing, Roger won a gold medal in Olympic men’s doubles (with Stan Wawrinka) — a match my wife and I got to witness with our bare eyes.

Then in 2018, with doctors Ronnie and Stevee Medalle, we witnessed the Shanghai Masters with the Swiss as the star attraction.

Back in 2015, my wife Jasmin, our daughter Jana, and I had the opportunity to visit “The Old Boys Club.” It’s a tennis center filled with red-clay courts in Basel, Switzerland where Federer first learned his tennis and became a top junior. 

My take on his game and having observed him up close? If Nadal is physical and Djokovic is clinical, Federer is classical. 

Tennis is an artform for RF. His Wilson racket is his fountain pen and he writes poetry while in motion.

Roger glides to his left, skating as much as sprinting, and he effortlessly feathers a slice backhand. His 125-kph serve is relaxed and easy. When he drifts to hit a forehand, he is unrushed — floating, sailing, drifting. He dances like a danseur. He strolls like a knight. 

Rushing the net to stab a volley, his stroke is fluid. His movement is painless; to the opponents, it’s painful. 

Roger is classy and fashionable. He walks with distinguished steps — like a Swiss guard gliding on a tennis rectangle. He looks dashing, off and on the court. (He was GQ’s Most Styling Man of the Decade.)

RF is a role model, much like his BFF from Spain. Well-behaved and always polite, Roger’s mantra reads, “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.”

PBA Finals: TNT vs SMB

MANILA – My wife Jasmin and I are here to attend the graduation of our daughter Jana. She “graduated” in 2020 but their ceremony then was only virtual. Good move by Ateneo to request the graduates from the past two years to return to Loyola Heights and join Class 2022 in a physical “paso” this weekend.

We arrived last Friday and decided to stay near the SM Mall of Asia. After touring the world’s largest IKEA store, we descended the escalator and were greeted by another gargantuan structure: the MOA Arena.

It was the PBA Finals, Game 3!

While Jana was off to ADMU visiting her former professors, Jasmin and I decided to watch the San Miguel Beermen versus TNT Tropang Giga.

We arrived at halftime and took our Lower Box seats (priced reasonably at P450/ticket). The stadium was 70 percent full but 100 percent for San Miguel. Ha-ha. Of course, there were TNT fans but they were outnumbered by the roaring voices of the fanatical Beermen. 

The SMB congregation wore red, screamed “SEE-JAY!” for CJ Perez, booed when RR Pogoy’s jumpshot misfired; they banged the inflatable clappers, and carried placards that read, FEAR THE BEER.

The Talk ‘N Text faithful? Despite the appearance of team owner Manny V. Pangilinan and the loud pounding of their drums — the Tropa troops were subdued.

(In between the game’s highlights, I was messaging a former SMB hotshot, Cebu’s top-notch Councilor, Dondon Hontiveros.)

The entire second half was close. SMB led by two points and this was quickly erased by a Jayson Castro jumper. Poy Erram would score a driving layup and, seconds later, Jericho Cruz equalized with a 22-footer.

When the 4th quarter started, TNT led, 76-74. This hard-fought battle ensued all the way until the dying minutes. When the clock stopped with 11.7 seconds to go, San Miguel was up, 94-93. They were poised to claim victory. But TNT held ball possession. Would you believe.. the Beermen were called for a delaying-the-game violation.. Twice! A technical violation ensued resulting to a “free” free throw which RR Pogoy calmly sank. Game tied, 94-all. 

Would Game 3 be a repeat of Game 1 when the spitfire Jayson Castro sank the buzzer beater? 

Yes, Castro dribbled, pivoted left, faked right, attacked the rim and attempted a hurried shot.. it left his hands, traveled the Manila air for a millisecond… but, no, it missed.


(An hour before that miss, when we arrived and missed the entire first half, my wife Jasmin jokingly predicted, “I don’t care who wins.. as long as the game extends to overtime.)

In OT, Robbie Herndon of SMB scored and scored and made the 5-minute extension a no-contest. When the buzzer sounded, it was 108-100, the winner was the winningest team in PBA history.

The night’s biggest star? The big man from Pinamungajan who led all scorers with 27 points. Here’s more: He grabbed a whopping 27 rebounds. We’re proud to call him Cebuano.. June Mar Fajardo.

Like Father, Like Son

(Photo by Jay LaPrete/AP)

LeBron Raymone “Bronny” James Jr. is one of the most famous sons on Planet Earth. He is the first born to the King and heir to the throne.

Bronny turned 17 last Oct. 6. Now a sophomore at Sierra Canyon School in L.A., he plays point guard and has set his sights on achieving a dream that’s never been done before: For father-and-son to play together in the NBA.

Sure, there have been plenty of fathers and sons in the league.

Before Klay Thompson, there was his dad Mychal, who helped the Lakers win two NBA crowns. Kobe Bryant’s dad Joe was a 6-foot-9 power forward who played from 1975 to 1991. His son would join the NBA five years after he retired. Bill and Luke Walton stood tall. You have Rick Barry and his sons Brent, Jon and Drew. And, of course, Dell, Stephen and Seth Curry.

But while the NBA, founded 75 years ago, has witnessed many such combos before, never has it seen one where both played at the same time.

Baseball has Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. playing together for the Seattle Mariners in 1990. But never in the NBA.

Not until LeBron and Bronny.

This may happen as early as 2023 or 2024 after Bronny graduates from high school. Two years from now, Bronny will be 19 and his dad will be 39. (Bronny, the eldest, has two other brothers and a sister.)

Will James and James don the Lakers jerseys? That’s the plan, I’m sure, according to LBJ.

“That would be an unbelievable moment not only for myself but for my family, for everybody,” said LeBron, in a 2018 interview. “That would be pretty dang cool if I were able to be on the NBA floor with my oldest son.”

What are the odds of this happening? Very, very high. 

Barring a (knock-on-wood) career-ending injury, LeBron is expected to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time leading scorer and play until he’s 40. With Bronny, it’s certain that he’ll turn pro. This early, top collegiate teams (Kentucky, UCLA) are eager to recruit him.

And wouldn’t James & James be the sporting world’s biggest story? LeBron dribbles the ball for a fast break as he throws it up for an alley-oop by Bronny!

The question is: Is Bronny really that good or is it just hype?

LeBron (age 17), left; Bronny (age 16) and his friends

Wherever Bronny plays, fans ask for his autograph. ESPN broadcasts his team’s games. Bronny has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Gyms are packed to watch the 6-foot-3 guard with the number “0.”

I’ve watched YouTube footages of Bronny and he’s quick and athletic. He made his first dunk at the age of 13! Bronny got the brawny genes of his dad.

In his freshman year in 2020, although he averaged only 4.1 points in 15 minutes of play, he did score 17 points in one game.

“He’s a great young man, he doesn’t let anybody phase him,” said his former teammate Zaire Williams. “You’d be surprised all the stuff he has to go through. It’s not fair, but he doesn’t let it faze him.”

Being LeBron’s son is both a blessing and a burden. The pressure is immense and he will always be compared to his father. 

It all depends on Bronny.

As Paulo Coelho said: Every blessing ignored becomes a curse.

Jittery Japan

Eighty seven days remain before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Yes, the year is 2021 and the Olympics is “2020” because the virus that started in 2019.

The Japanese are scared. In a recent survey, a whopping 72 percent are opposed to holding the Games; 39.2 percent of respondents want the Olympics cancelled and 32.8 percent want it postponed again.

Why? Isn’t the Olympics the pride and glory of the host nation? And hasn’t Japan spent a gargantuan amount to be ready for the Opening Ceremonies on July 23?

Yes and yes. The Tokyo Olympics, originally budgeted at $7.5 billion, has ballooned to $35 billion — making it the most expensive Summer Games ever.

Then why, despite the 3.77 trillion Japanese Yen that the hosts are spending, are they anxious?

COVID-19. This is the unseen opponent that’s petrified the Japanese and the IOC. It’s more devious and foxy than any rival; more cunning than any assassin the world has encountered.

Consider this: Japan has the world’s oldest population. Japan has 126 million residents and 28 percent are aged 65 or above. This means that nearly one in three Japanese are senior citizens — the most vulnerable sector in this fight against the virus.

To make matters worse, Japan has a very low vaccination rate. Despite it owning the title of “the world’s third-largest economy ,” Japan ranks at the bottom of the vaccination ladder.

Only 1.3 percent of Japanese have been vaccinated thus far. This is exactly the same percentage with the Philippines. But considering how wealthy Japan is versus our archipelago (Japan’s GDP is $5 trillion vs. our $377 billion — we are 7.5% the size of Japan’s economy), you would expect that the Pfizer, Moderna and AZ vaccines would have landed sooner in the shores of Osaka, Sapporo, Nagoya — all 47 of Japan’s prefectures.

Inexplicably, the answer is No. This has caused a major worry with the nearing of the Olympics, which run from July 23 to August 8. 

Over 11,000 athletes are expected to arrive in Japan’s capital. If you add the coaches, officials, team members and entourage, this number will enlarge. Because of the pandemic, the IOC has placed a limit: no more than 90,000 athletes, etc. will arrive in Japan. No foreign spectators are allowed. 

Here’s another complication: the athletes are not required to be vaccinated prior to their arrival. I say “complication” because this is a big gamble on IOC’s part. 

I know, I know; vaccination, anywhere around the world, is not compulsory; but this creates a huge risk for the Games.

With 90,000 incoming guests from 205 countries and airports — all arriving at the Haneda or Narita airports in Tokyo, it’s a huge possibility that some of those individuals will carry the coronavirus.

In the Athlete’s Village where they are confined in close quarters, can you imagine the scenario if a Covid-19 outbreak happens?

One super-spreader can inflict considerable damage on the Olympics. Athletes may be barred. Events postponed or canceled. Zero spectators allowed.

No wonder the Japanese are jittery.

Garganera challenge

If the Academy Awards, which unfold tomorrow in Hollywood, were to give an Oscars trophy to the category, “Best Sport this Covid-19,” the runaway winner isn’t… running.

It’s cycling. On Sundays from 6 to 9 A.M., try climbing from JY Square to Marco Polo and you’ll witness a spectacle: 

Hundreds of two-wheeled vehicles crawling upwards to Busay. Grinding, sweating, pushing one leg after another to encircle that pedal, they’re gripping that handlebar tight. Many are painted with multi-colored jerseys, all body-hugging. The bikers are wearing gloves, arm sleeves and Sidi shoes with cleats; water bottles and reflector stickers adorn the two-wheelers. Their bikes range from MTBs to Giant fat bikes to Ebikes to an S-Works Venge that costs P549,500.

Biking means freedom. It means the wind blowing in your face. It means happiness — “You can’t be sad while riding a bicycle.” It means social interaction during this anti-social time. Biking doesn’t have walls. It means exercising minus the pushing-and-elbowing of basketball and running’s foot injuries.

I love biking because, on flat asphalt, it’s effortless. On downhills, flying at 42-kph, it’s horrifying. And while your bike is pointed to the sky and you’re on your softest gear and your body is rocking side to side and you stand to deliver extra oomph to your leg-powered vehicle, it’s punishing and painful but fulfilling.

Biking during this Covid-19 year is a winner because people long for the outdoors and free space. Trapped in our homes during those ECQ days, pedaling offers immunity from isolation.

I love cycling because of the 7Fs: Friends. Freedom. Fitness. Free. Forward. Fun. Fast. 

PANDAY CHALLENGE. Biking is also for another F: Females. Although majority of riders are men, an increasing percentage are women. 

Take the “Panday Challenge” of Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera. I’ve known Cons Joel for many years now and we’ve ran countless kilometers together but one vivid memory of us together happened in a Pipti-Pipti Triathlon event in Catmon in 2009. We both swam alongside each other and started the bike leg in tandem, exiting the Bachao Beach Resort — when Joel’s bike chain suddenly broke. We stopped, tried to fix the chain (to no avail), and ended up laughing. That was a memorable experience.

With the Panday Challenge, this is like the AWUM (All Women Ultra Marathon) — also co-organized by Hon. Garganera — except that it’s biking and the distance is not 50K. It’s scheduled this April 27 (Tuesday) and is named “Kadaugan sa Sugbo Cycling Event.” The climb is from JY Square to Willy’s; it’s open to women only and it’s for free. The first 150 to reach Willy’s will be given a free jersey.

BIKE QUOTES: “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy a bike — and that’s kind of the same thing.”

Albert Einstein: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

“A bad day on a mountain bike beats a good day at the office.” 

“Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.”

The Little Merman

(Cleevan, center; photos in this post taken from Cleevan’s Facebook page)

Cleevan Kayne Alegres circumnavigated Olango Island last week. He did not walk, paddle-board or sail around Olango — he swam all of it: 25,420 meters of swimming.

“My farthest distance before the Olango swim was 14 kms.,” he told me in our 28-minute-long talk last Thursday.

Cleevan’s ultimate goal is to encircle the entire Mactan island — a 40 to 45-km. swim. — later this month to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Mactan.

With the 25-K swim in Olango, he told me, “Kalit-kalit ra to because I needed to swim a longer distance.”

Starting at 3:30 p.m. last April 4, Cleevan completed the trek by swimming for 9 hours and 59 minutes. He had to stop for two hours at the latter part of the expedition because he was separated from his accompanying pump boat.

Starting at Sta. Rosa port, he ended at the same spot at 3:30 a.m. He swam a big portion of the 25K in total darkness.

“I swam at night because of the tides,” he said. “I studied the tide chart and currents and they’re favorable at night.”

While most, if not all of us, are afraid of swimming the open seas at night, Cleevan felt relaxed when submerged in darkness.

“I’m used to spear-fishing in the evenings and night-diving,” said Cleevan, whose house sits right beside the waters of Mactan (behind J Park Resort). “I’m not scared of the dark while swimming.”

He did not wear a full-body wetsuit but opted for the barest of barest: swimming trunks. 

“Swimming for 10 hours, there were plenty of jellyfish, but I just ignored them,” said Cleevan, who  believes his achievement was 40 percent physical and 60 percent mental.

Cleevan was accompanied by a team. At portions of the route, he was joined by swimmers Jason Earl Bilangdal, Ryan Galo and Reinwald Ebora. There were three stand-up paddler teams that included his girlfriend Gillan Mae Sayson, his sister Eaa, and friends Saysay Silawan, Janjan Cañete and Tado Amit. A pumpboat glided nearby.

Cleevan did not eat during the 25-K challenge. He did not take caffeinated drinks because of a heart condition that started when he was a baby; for two months after he was born, he was in the incubator. Today, his heart palpitates if he takes coffee. 

The only nutrition that fueled him was the supplement brand Vitargo, recommended by Atty. Ingemar Macarine, the “Pinoy Aquaman.” During the swim, Cleevan took sips of the carbo-electrolytes supplement every 20 to 25 minutes. 

Swimming is a lonely sport. I asked Cleevan how he survived the mental anguish of floating at sea for 10 hours.

“I thought of my Veterinary studies,” said the fifth year junior clinician at SWU-Phinma. “While swimming, I tried to remember the lessons and kept on repeating them. I also sang, in my mind, my favorite songs. (These included the songs Inspector Mills and Superman, Five for Fighting.) 

“I counted 1 to 1,000. I thought about my future plans. I prayed to the Lord to help my tiredness. At the 20K mark, I experienced hallucination and thought that a dolphin was swimming beside me…”

Part 2 (published last April 18, 2021)

Cleevan Kayne Alegres stands 5-foot-3 and weighs 121 lbs. When asked in an interview after he completed the 25-km. Olango Island swim what he wanted to be called, he paused, thought of a nickname and said… The Little Merman!

Bright. The Little Mermaid, as know from the Disney movie, is derived from an 1837 book by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It was a fairy tale.

On April 25, it will be another fairy tale — this time, a real life tale of Cebu’s very own “Little Merman” attempting to encircle Mactan Island using only his God-given legs and arms. The around-Mactan swim is expected to cover the length of between 40 to 45 kms.

Swimming for 40+ kms. — this sounds ridiculous. If you consider that a marathon road race spans 42 kms. — I’ve done a bunch of those runs and they’re tough — how much more in a horizontal position.

OLANGO SWIM. Two weeks ago (on April 4) when Cleevan swam the 10-hour-long adventure around Olango Island, he experienced moments of hallucination. 

“A dolphin was swimming beside me,” Cleevan said. “It was past 1 A.M. and I had been swimming for over 20 kms. It was only later that I realized that they were only coconuts floating nearby.”

Cleevan’s 25K “practice swim” provided him with several lessons before his 42K “main event” on April 25.

Lesson No. 1: music helps.

“A boombox is important,” he said. “I’ll ask my companions on the paddle board and pump boat to play music during the swim. Swimming in the middle of the night and for many hours.. I need music.”

Bright head lamps so his path won’t be too dark, said Cleeven, will also help.

With the swim pacers, Cleevan plans to ask four swimmers to accompany him. But this time, instead of asking them to join him at the start, they’ll form a relay team with each pacer swimming eight kms. The ones who’ve enlisted as pacers include Reinwalk Ebora, Albert Godinez, Ryan Galo and Jaron Earl Bilangdal. 

ADVOCACY. When I spoke to Cleevan for nearly half an hour 10 days ago, he was very passionate about the reason for this exploit.

“My advocacy is to raise awareness and get rid of the garbage at sea,” said Cleevan. “I live right beside the waters; our house is very near the J Park Resort. Where I live in Maribago, I am able to collect as much as two sacks of garbage everyday.”

Cleevan will embark on his 42K marathon swim at 5 p.m. on April 25 — near the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Mactan. It’s a symbolic date. But the bigger symbol that the 25-year-old is attempting to achieve is this: We need to clean our seas and not throw plastics, junk or rubbish.

Cleevan wants to make sure that his swim will include passing along the Mactan Channel. While he previously only wore swim trunks, this time, for that stretch, he will have to wear a full suit. The reason is shocking and depressing.

“Hugaw, baho, lubog, daghan mag lutaw-lutaw bisag unsa, ang lapok itom pas black,” Cleevan said, of the Mactan Channel.

How sad.

Let’s hope that the swim of Cleevan Alegres will not only be historic but will help raise awareness to clean our seas and save the oceans.

40 is the new 20

A human being’s muscular strength peaks between the ages of 25 to 30. After that, no thanks to the word “aging,” our physical vigor and sinew naturally decline.

Then how, at the age of 43, do you explain a specimen named Tom Brady? For 21 years, he has accumulated an overabundance of trophies — culminating last week with his 7th Super Bowl ring.

“Tom Brady is an inspiration to me,” said Sen. Manny Pacquiao. “We are both in our forties, competing in sports that are dangerous and physically and mentally demanding.”

Pacquiao credits Brady’s lifelong dedication and conditioning.

“Tom Brady does that every day,” said Pacquiao. “He has no offseason. That takes superhuman dedication and discipline. Tom Brady is always in the back of my mind during training camp and between fights. Because Tom Brady is the gold standard.”

Manny Pacquiao is our Tom Brady. He’s 42 years old. And considering the physicality and brutality of boxing, that’s a very, very old age to be wearing boxing gloves. Back in 2019, the GenSan native became the oldest boxer to win a welterweight world crown. And Pacman’s not finished yet. He plans to engage in two more mega-fights. This 2021 against either Ryan Garcia, a fighter 20 years his junior, or the undefeated Terence Crawford. And in 2022, Pacquaio will climb the stage once more and aim to become our next Philippine president.

On tennis, two of the greatest ever to wield Wilson rackets will turn 40 this 2021. Roger Federer turns 40 this Aug. 8 and Serena Williams turns 40 on Sept. 26. 

That’s “40-love” in tennis-speak.

Both are still active and will, possibly at Wimbledon this year, win another major.

Tiger Woods is 45. His back is 85 years old but that did not deprive the injury-plagued American from winning, back in 2019, The Masters. 

Golf is nowhere near as physical as American football or boxing — and so Tiger is still competing. He’s three majors shy of equaling Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

LeBron James is NBA’s representative in this “Age doesn’t matter” contest. He’s 36 and has signed a contract near Hollywood that will extend until 2023. By then, his son Bronny will be eligible to play. When the father-and-son play alley-oops together, this means that King James will reign past the age of 40.

LBJ is a lover of fine wine. 

LeBron, like wine, gets better with time.

Donnie Nietes turns 39 this May 12. The world titlist at the 105, 108, 112 and 115-lb. divisions is still fighting. The longest-reigning Filipino boxing world champion has an event scheduled in Dubai this April. 

What’s the secret of these all-time greats?

Tom Brady Sr., the father-in-law of Gisele Bundchen, explains it best: 

“If what you’re doing is something that you really love, then why stop? …  That’s kind of what his (Tom’s) secret is. It’s not the Super Bowl, it’s the process. He loves every day working out, he loves every day eating right, he loves every day doing the TB12 method. He’s never put in minimums. He puts in maximums. He lives football.”

Thanks, Bubble

By definition, a bubble is supposed to burst. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “a globule typically hollow and light” and “something that lacks firmness, solidity.”

Not the NBA bubble. Not the barricaded confines of Walt Disney World in Florida where, for the past 87 days, ballplayers have been shuttered, their movements restricted. 

This bubble has not burst — and if not for this sealed and plugged habitat, we wouldn’t be enjoying the NBA Finals. 

The players are shut and suppressed from the outside world. They can’t see all their family members. They’re locked inside the 5-star hotel rooms of the Gran Destino Tower. They are unable to high-five fans and absorb the sweet sound of an overcrowded Staples Center.

But it works. And it’s the only way possible for sports to fully thrive. Consider this: for three months, I haven’t read a single report on a person who’s tested positive inside the Disney bubble. Last Aug. 17, for example, when most teams were still playing, a total of 342 players were tested and not one was positive. 

“If we could do everywhere what the NBA is doing in its bubble,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert, “we would get rid of the virus.”

Since the NBA resumed last July 30, we’ve been enjoying uninterrupted games. Like Aladdin’s theme song, “A Whole New World,” the NBA has adopted a new ad campaign, “It’s a Whole New Game.”

Thanks to the bubble — this confined campus where 7-footer giants roam and meander — we have forgotten about COVID-19 everytime we watch Tyler Herro throw a three-pointer or Jimmy Butler sink a 23-footer or AD slam dunk off a rebound like he did yesterday.

Why has this bubble worked?

First, the strictness and obedience. The NBA guidelines were spelled out in a 113-page health-and-safety booklet. Everyone is tested. Nobody goes out. The lockdown is so strict that every morning, players have to log-in to NBA MyHealth, an app where questions on wellness are asked. 

Second, the shortened season and fewer players.

“The NBA was already toward the end of its season when they resumed, so they were only trying to play a certain number of games, not a whole season,” says Miami Heat’s team physician, Dr. Harlan Selesnick. Per team, only 17 players were allowed with a total of 35, including staff and coaches.

The NBA bubble did not come cheap. The league will spend $170 million. Aside from feeding the players and staff and putting them to bed, there’s entertainment. Fishing was a favorite of Paul George. There’s golf at a PGA Tour-level course, plenty of video games and a pool party with a DJ.

The success of the NBA bubble is a perfect blueprint for our PBA. Now on its 45th season, the PBA plans a restart next Sunday, Oct. 11, in Clark, Pampanga. There will be one venue (Angeles University) and one hotel (Quest in Mimosa).

I believe the PBA bubble will work. They just need to follow the rules, be strict, comply with the guidelines, be obedient.

Like the NBA. Unlike Donald Trump.