Black Mamba, Durantula, D-Rose, and CP3. No, they are not a bunch of computer virus or villains of any Marvel superhero that you will watch in the big screen. They are nicknames of NBA players who visited Manila a few days ago. And they are not just NBA players, they are NBA Superstars. It happened because Smart Gilas, our national basketball team, needed to play more games before they play the upcoming FIBA Asia tournament in China this September. Initially, they planned to go to abroad but due to injuries they aborted the plan. Then came the NBA lockout. Due to the NBA owners and players did not reconcile their CBA, the players have now an unforeseen future. The best option for them now is overseas. Then out of the blue, one brought the idea of assembling a collection of present NBA stars to play a tuneup game against Gilas. Chot Reyes, the coach of Talk N Text bought the idea and told it to Manny Pangilinan. And the rest as they say is history.
I knew they were coming almost a month before the event. I was eager to see them in person. Kobe was a late addition to the list but he was the main crowd drawer of the event. He is worth the 400,000 USD, reportedly paid to him for the two games. One of my bucket list is to watch an NBA game but it probably will not happen in this lifetime but this game is close to that so I grabbed this once of a lifetime opportunity and to witness these incredible ball players show their skills. And no matter what I will show up in the arena. (Earlier that day I lost my wallet and so I have no money. Fortunately, I bought the ticket a week earlier and placed it in a safe place. I guess there is no stopping me to see my idols in person.)
Araneta Coliseum is most popularly known as the Big Dome. Every big event in the country happened in this venue. This was the sight of Thrilla in Manila where Ali fought galiantly to defeat Frazier. Kylie Minogue, Taylor Swift and Incubus held their concert there. The Binibinig Pilipinas annualy staged its event in the Big Dome. Fittingly, it should hold the Smart Ultimate All-Star Weekend.
I arrived in the Smart Araneta Coiliseum (contrary to beliefs, it was not bought by MVP, it was just leased for five years) at exactly noon. I took a spot in the General Admission section when I noticed one guy taking shots one at a time at the court while the players of Smart Gilas were on the other side. That guy wore number two and his name is Derek. I wish he was the Derek Jeter, who sports the number 2 and plays shortstop from the Yankees but clearly he wasn't. He is Derek Fisher and plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. By the way he has five NBA rings, which is two more than Larry Bird. And here he was shooting balls from all spots of the court for an exhibition game and it is not their turn to shoot around. He showed me the value of work ethic and I appreciated it by applauding him. Here I was just happy to see them play but I got more than I bargained for. No wonder he made a shot 0.4 seconds against the San Antonio Spurs in '04. No wonder why he buried a clutch three pointer against the Orlando Magic in Game four of the 2009 NBA Finals. No wonder he is one of my favorite Lakers.
Almost an hour later, the rest of the Smart All-Stars showed up for their shootaround. One by one they sprinted to the court. Javale Mcgee came out. Derrick Williams. Derrick Rose. Chris Paul. Tyreke Evans. James Harden. And then Kevin Durant. I still think surreal. It was unbelievable. I thought it was just I dream but here I was seeing the guys I idolize in the same court where Robert Jaworski, et al frequently plays. I want to pinch myself to wake up from this dream but it is real. I was really seeing Derrick Rose shooting threes. I was really seeing Durant shooting balls while wearing a bag pack. This is really the greatest day of my life but it was not yet complete. There is Kobe Bryant to come and perhaps Manny Pacquiao to watch the game.
Then the lights began to dim. It was the signal the event everyone waiting is about to begin. The cheer dancers were the first one to come out. Wearing skirts and sports bras and held pom-poms. Every male probably staring at them. Then the Smart Gilas players were called. Oddly, they were collectively called not individually like the PBA All-Stars the night earlier and finally the Smart All-Stars. Due to the lock out the players are prohibited to carry the NBA's name. Williams was the first one introduced being the rookie, then, Mcgee, their only true center in the line-up. Evans followed suit. Harden was next, then Fisher. Then CP3 was called. Durant followed him. Rose, the reigning MVP, was announced next. And lastly, arguably the best player in the line-up according to me made his entrance. All hell broke loose. Flashes from cameras were everywhere. Cheers were hard to decipher. Kobe Bryant is really the man.
After some photo-ops with the personalities watching there, the game I went to watch finally started. To tell you frankly, I came to as well our National Team. Why? Because i will be their number one critic come September and I have to be fair and see them live at least once. If there is a game they will convince me they good as they claim, this game against the best players in the world will be it. The visiting team won the tip-off. Kobe Bryant, who else, made the first attempt. Little bit short. It's Gilas turn now. Mark Barroca was the starting point guard (I don't like it but Alapag, probably one of the best point guards in Asia, does not regularly practice with the team so Rajko Toroman had to trust his instinct). Barroca initiated the play that ended with Marcus Douthit making the first basket. First blood for Gilas. Durant made a follow up dunk to tie the game. It was Gilas turn to run the open court and Japeth Aguilar made a roaring slam in front of Durant. Gilas 4- Smart 2. The crowd went wild. Funny thing was we are all cheering both sides. It is odd thing in basketball that you are rooting for both teams.
After a couple of defensive stops from each sides, Bryant dictated the game by scoring seven points, including a cold blooded three in the first quarter. The Gilas players did not know what hit them trailing 7 points after the first quarter. I have been in too many basketball games here in this coliseum but nothing can be compared to this. All walks of life were there, from kids to teenagers to grownups up to elder ones. Imagine I was in the same venue with Senator Trillanes, Manny Pangilinan, Willie Revillame, Aga Muhlach, and other notable personalities. Then there were the signs or posters. It will always be around. From CP3 signs to MVP Rose posters to Marry my wife Kobe proposal. The best sign probably would be the "We want Scalabrine" post. All laughed at that one. MVP was even flattered when he saw a sign that says "It was a SMART move to bring the NBA players here. Thank you MVP."
The game was inches from going to a blowout like the other night with James Harden from the OKC Thunder leading the way for the All-Stars. On the other side, the Filipinos keep missing their shots beyond the three point arc. Coach Toroman kept on shuffling his boys to keep the game close but it did not work. Next thing you know, Gilas trails by 19 at and of the first half. Sure, it's a huge lead but there were no frustration or disappointment from me. I am getting the best of both world in this game so there is no point complaining. Indeed, the basketball fan in me was stronger than the basketball junkie that I am. At least, I was impressed on Toroman's system but I was overwhelmed by the NBA Stars showing their stuff in front of me. And I guess, I am not the only one with that kind of emotions. Most likely all of us (20,000 strong) felt the same way I did.
At this stage, I thought I was not watching a basket ball game; it was more of watching a concert. Kobe being the playing coach acted as the musical conductor. Chris Paul orchestrates the plays. Rose and Harden played with the ball calmly to blend in. Kevin Durant executes the rhythm of the team. I was really amazed by all of these.
I did not move from the place I was watching because I do not have any companion to reserve my place. Guilt was over me because I did not brought along my father. This kind of game is a Father and Son bonding time. I saw a lot of them there. There was a dad with his child, a grown-up with his dad, etc. A moment for fathers and sons who love the game of basketball like the way me and my dad like it. It was really a shame; I did not have my dad with me in that special occasion. Nonetheless, I already had that chance a couple of years ago when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar together with past NBA players played an exhibition game here.
Fifteen minutes. The time before the second half resumes. To kill time, the organizers honored Brian Villoria for his recent triumph in the boxing ring. Also, Willie's dancers engaged in a steamy performance to satisfy the huge crowd. A few minutes later, the players returned to their respective bench.
In fairness to the Gilas guys, they were challenging the NBA guys to make this really a game to be serious. And so, Kobe being himself guarded the best players Gilas can offer. First it was Chris Tiu and then Dondon Hontiveros. All gave their best against Bryant because they knew he was the best. It was really a joy to see. Gilas made mini-rallies at the third to cut the huge deficit. However, how much the guys tried, the superstars were superior to them. But I still appreciated their efforts. Defending superb players is a tough act for our players.
Meanwhile, fans are screaming loudly but not in disappointment but admiration to all players. Something that not happens regularly in basketball games. They cheer all players flashed in the big screen. When MVP was shown in the Game Cube, the screen in the scoreboard above the Big Dome, the crowd applauded but when the guy seated next to him was flashed, the crowd booed. It was Revilliame. I do not hate the guy but I do not pity him because he probably deserved it.
Final 12 minutes. Last chance for Gilas to come back in the game. Last chance for the fans to see these NBA heroes play in front of their eyes. Last chance for me to experience this once of a lifetime moment that likely will never happen again. And so, every time a player had the ball, the crowd chant his name. MVP! MVP when Rose had the ball. CP3! CP3 when Chris Paul holding the ball.
Erstwhile, as Kobe was making a play, the crowd was shouting. Funny thing the name they shouted was not one of the players. A certain representative from Saranggani was making his way in the courtside seats. It was Manny Pacquiao, the pound for pound boxing champion of the world. When Chris Paul made a pass in the backboard to Durant, who dunked the ball in the rim, Gilas called for time. Hurriedly, Kobe approached Manny and greeted each other like childhood friends rekindle their past. Extraordinary. MVP of the hardcourt together with the MVP of the boxing ring. Manny was asked to visit the huddle of the players. In an instant, the stars became fans. They admire Manny. Chris Paul even mimic Pacquiao's boxing stance as if they want to box each other in the basketball court.
After that short interruption, the basketball gods were generous to us. The guys in our backcourt were hitting from rainbow country. Alas, Gilas made their comeback. As a result, suddenly we renew our allegiance to the Philippines and whenever the Smart All-Stars had the ball shouts of Defense! Defense! were heard in all corners of the venue. They cut the lead up to seven but they ran out of time. Harden, Evans, and Mcgee, with the final shot which was a thundering slam dunk, shut the door at us. Final score was 98-89.
Some fans were shouting overtime when Gilas made their rally but I wanted to yell them that there is no overtime in exhibition games. But I did not waste my time with guys like that because they are fans. As for me, the hoops junkie, I just savored every minute before the final buzzer is sounded. Like everyone in the stadium, I did not move. The game ended but we were still there. As a reward to the fans, the players gave their jerseys and shoes to lucky fans. We honored them and they honored as in return. Simple as that. Basketball should be like that. We play for fun but we also play for honor. It was nice those stars reminded me that principle.
July 24, 2011 will always be the date I lost my wallet. However, July 24, 2011 will be remembered as the date I saw Kobe Bryant doing his trade mark jump shot. July 24, 2011 will be remembered as the date I watch Derrick Rose his signature move of driving towards to the basket for a layup even though it missed. July 24, 2011 will be remembered as the date I saw Kevin Durant revealed his tattoos in his whole body. July 24, 2011 will be remembered as the date I witness Derek Fisher's admirable work ethic. July 24, 2011 will be remembered as the date I saw Chris Paul classic crossover. July 24, 2011 will be remembered as the date I laid my eyes on Harden's beard. Indeed, Araneta Coliseum served as the venue where I have seen my Most Unforgettable Basketball Game.