Written and photographed
By Jude Thaddeus L. Bautista
When a childhood dream comes true what else can you say but ‘thank you’? As early as I could remember at a tender age of 8 or even younger, like many Filipino boys, for me basketball players were like gods. Names like Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Francis Arnaiz, Abe King were revered or reviled whether you’re a Toyota or a Crispa fan. Atoy Co, Philip Cesar, Bogs Adornado were the heroes of Crispa fans. Araneta Coliseum was no less than the original Coliseum in ancient Rome when gladiators fought to the death.
Before I get into the details on why the SMART Ultimate All-Star Weekend is such a big deal to me I’d like to thank the people who made it all happen. Just like any dream there were quite a few people who helped at least in letting me witness the game: PLDT Global Head for Business and Product development, marketing and sales Ricardo P. Isla for providing tickets for me, my nephews Alfonso Bautista and Dave Cenido. The seats were the best I’ve ever had in the Big Dome, now christened the SMART Araneta Coliseum unveiled in a ceremony before the game.
The following day when the SMART All Stars were pitted against the Smart Gilas team I was invited by my cousin Christopher Lizo who is the Chief Financial Officer of Metro Pacific Tollways. It was special to be there with Chris because we grew up together with a shared passion and love for basketball. None of us as kids would’ve guessed in our wildest dreams that we’d get to see this many high level NBA All Stars play here. Although there have been a number of NBA All Star exhibitions in the past none of them were as entertaining as this one, in my opinion. Now that we’ve grown up we no longer spend as much time together so seeing each other again because of the game is something to be remembered.
Although not in a personal sense, I feel those who saw the game and will see the game telecast on Activ Sports TV / IBC owe a debt of gratitude to Manny V. Pangilinan. He has transcended being the head of one of the biggest corporations in the country in PLDT, SMART and Metropacific. MVP had the vision, will and love for basketball to bring the best players in the world for Filipinos to watch, cheer and learn from. To everyone involved who made the event happen: one big thank you. I’m sure the approximately 40,000 people who saw the games live in two days total and the millions of Filipinos who will get to see it on TV are eternally grateful.
The PBA All Stars, in my mind gave a good account of themselves. In fact Arwind Santos scored the first two points of the game with a solid two handed dunk. There was no escaping the inevitable; Kobe Bryant made his unstoppable jumpers from mid range. Kevin Durant and OKC team mate James Harden were generous with their dunks. Javale McGee of the Wizards was just fantastic to watch. He’s a solid 7’1” guy who ran the court almost like a point guard. It was as if he wanted a slam every time down the court. Chris Paul being the true point guard that he is concentrated on distributing the ball and creating the alley-oop dunk passes. Derrick Williams the no.2 overall pick in this year’s draft also showed a lot of athleticism with his dunks. The Smart NBA All stars won over the PBA all stars 131-105.
The game was something truly special. It duplicates the “Thrilla in Manila” when Mohammed Ali defeated Joe Frasier. The Ali Mall was born in commemoration of that historic boxing match in 1975. It was only fitting that we also have a historic NBA vs PBA duel to unveil the renaming of the venue to SMART Araneta Coliseum. The Activ Sports Network was also announced as an all-sports channel on public TV. It’s another project by Pangilinan in cooperation with IBC 13. The two games will be aired in the new channel so watch out for schedules.
The historical significance of both the NBA weekend here and the sports channel was not lost to all basketball fans especially those who have watched the sport since the 1970’s. To all the young folk out there, I’m sorry if I keep on repeating myself but it was just so totally different. Back then, if you didn’t watch the PBA live you’d see it on TV or listen to play by play annotations on the radio. So as kids in between play dates we would voraciously read newspapers and magazines that would specialize in basketball or sports. There were quite a few ‘Sports Weekly’ etc. my brother Noel would use his allowance for the imported ‘Basketball Digest.’ My favorite Filipino NBA writers then were Quinito Henson and Henry Liao. Henry wrote nothing but about the NBA. But we were only able to really watch PBA games live on TV.
Betamax tapes of NBA Playoff games, finals and slam dunk competitions were like gold. We’d probably seen the 1980 Sixers L.A. finals game half dozen or more times til the tape itself was worn out. Then in the late eighties Manila residents were able to receive live games from the Far East Network. This was the U.S.military telecast to Subic and Clark bases in Pampanga. Companies sprouted that would install extended TV antennas and a box to try and get the signal. And it was awful. If we were able to watch anything at all, the images would be snowy and come in and out.
By the early nineties when Michael Jordan won his first championship, the finals were broadcast in public television. I remember it was by GMA 7 but I could be wrong. And a little later on the 2000’s there was a more prevalent cable television service that showed NBA games. Growing up, just watching the NBA on TV was a luxury, if it was technically possible at all. Eventually as an adult I’ve been very fortunate to watch 2 NBA regular season games live in the U.S.
Quinito Henson actually has a detailed history of NBA players who have visited the country to play in his column entitled “Starry Starry Weekend.” The closest thing to the number of NBA all stars playing here according to him “was in 1974. Nine players showed up to play against the Philippine national team bound for the World Championships in Puerto Rico. Among the players were legend Elgin Baylor, Eddie (The Man with the Golden Arm) Miles, Elvin (The Big E) Hayes, Gail Goodrich, Geoff Petrie and Calvin Murphy. A year later, Walt Frazier brought over a cast of 32 players for a summer tour that had the visitors coming and going for at total of 12 games. The players included Tiny Archibald, Scott Wedman, Mike Bantom, Hank Bibby, Lucius Allen, Charlie Scott, Jim Cleamons, George McGinnis, Randy Smith, Bob Love, Ron Behagen, John Drew and Lucius Allen. Two NBA referees Richie Powers and Jake O’Donnell even accompanied the guests.”
There were also some NBA legends back in 1984 like Phil Jackson and Earl Monroe. Quinito’s column is an indispensable record of NBA players who competed here. For me the SMART Ultimate All Star weekend is better and more memorable than all of them, not just with the number of All Star players but because they played against our PBA stars and SMART Gilas. KD, Harden and Derrick Rose in particular came from bitterly fought play off games that showed their true talent less than two months back. These are the stars at their athletic prime. Quinito also reported in that column that Kobe went to shake coach Toroman’s hand to say that “You have a good team here.” This was after a game where Gilas even led 53-46 at halftime. For me and millions of Pinoy Basketball addicts it was historically significant, immensely fun to watch and fulfilled a dream that we’ve collectively had for decades.