It's been more than a month since the NBA superstars gave the Filipino basketball fans an experience of a lifetime. Until today, random people would go up to me asking how it felt to play against Kobe, D-Rose, Durant, CP3 and the rest of the gang. They were super excited to hear what it was like guarding Kobe and them so I promised to blog about it. As a matter of fact, the sports editors of a major daily were too excited and mistakenly placed my name as an author of a reflection wrote by my brother, Charles, about the Smart-NBA experience that was published after the game. I think they forgot that he is a member of our coaching staff that's why he wrote his experience using the first person point of view. Anyway, my memory of that day is still very vivid and I'm sure the same goes for those who caught the game. Hope this blog isn't too late.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
For those who were able to watch the game live, no doubt it was an unbelievable experience!! For me, and I can speak for most if not all of my teammates, it was a surreal experience! It was a like a dream come true of a dream we never even dreamt of! Am i making sense? It was like bringing over the starting 5 of the US national team. That night after the game, I was checking out the photos of the game over the internet and just sitting in my bed thinking 'did this really happen??'.
Some might not understand how big a deal it is for us basketball players. If you were a fan of pop music, it was like performing on stage or jamming alongside your pop idols Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. If you were a soccer fan, it was like playing against David Beckham, Christiano Ronaldo or Messi. You get the point.
I first heard about this game when they informed us, the Gilas team, that our mini Europe pocket tournament in July will not push through due to injuries and lack of players in our team. But instead, they are arranging a game with a selection of NBA stars in Manila to prepare for the Fiba Asia. I thought it was a long shot! Initially, we heard rumors that Kobe wasn't coming, then Durant wasn't coming, Blake Griffin was coming, this and that. Eventually, the lineup was final. Kobe, D-Rose, Durant, CP3, Tyreke Evans, McGee, Derek Fisher, James Harden, Derek Williams. Wow! Friends who never followed basketball in their lifetime suddenly would be texting me asking for tickets. It became THE event to be in.
In the locker room of the newly inaugurated Smart Araneta Coliseum, Coach Rajko reminded us that no one is allowed to bring phones, cameras nor pentel pens to the court. No picture taking, no autograph signing… NO RESPECT until after the game! He emphasized that this is not an 'all-star game' but rather it was a tune-up game for Gilas as part of our preparation for FIBA Asia. He wanted the sold-out Araneta crowd, who paid thousands of pesos per ticket, to enjoy seeing their NBA idols but at the same time, appreciate a competitive and serious game.
Coach Rajko then assigns the match ups like he normally does before a game. "Mark (Barroca), get Chris Paul. Chris Tiu, you take Derek Rose. Chris Lutz, Kevin Durant. Marcus, take McGee. Japeth, guard Kobe." Honestly, when I heard that, I wasn't sure if i was dreaming. Did I hear right? Never in my lifetime did I think of guarding D-Rose, the reigning MVP.
During the game, luckily, I had the chance to guard everyone because of the switches in matchup. Most of the time, I was guarding Kobe. I didn't mind at all since I liked the challenge but mostly because I knew I would have a lot of souvenir photos after the game. He is just so big, strong and heavy, and yet he had the quickness, precision and creativity to beat you using one of his million moves. D-rose and Cp3 are extremely quick and shifty but I just kept in mind what one of our coaches tipped me when guarding them, "don't go for the fake, just stay in front and make them shoot over you" .
Durant has unbelievable handles for a 6'11 guy. McGee is soooo long plus he got the "hops". In fact, I was 'posterized' in the dying minutes, with his statue of liberty dunk from close to the free throw line.
We lost the game by 8 points. It wasn't a bad result for us. Before the game, I already conditioned myself to think that I was not going to get any autograph nor photo with the NBA guys due to strict security measures. I usually do that so i don't get disappointed. But by good fortune, we had a great opportunity to mingle with them briefly inside the court after the game. Since I wasn't prepared, I took off my only piece of clothing that was dry, my Adizero Crazy-light shoe and had each of the big 4 sign it on each side.
And to cap it off, I got a photo with Kobe , thanks to kuya Marcus (Douthit), who happened to be his former teammate with the Lakers. In exchange, I got Pacman (who happened to be with us at ringside) to sign his jersey. He was ecstatic!
The NBA All-stars led by as many as 20 points during the game. From the very start of the game, the jam-packed Araneta crowd would erupt in excitement and enthusiasm every time their idols would score or make a highlight play.They were like playing at home. Gilas felt like the away team. But unexpectedly during the 4th quarter, there was a sudden shift in emotion. This was the moment that touched and moved me the most. When we cut their lead down to single digits, suddenly the 20,000+ people in the stadium were chanting "defense, defense!" when they had possession. And each time Gilas would score, there was a roaring cheer! I got goosebumps. Until that time, I never felt that kind of support and loyalty towards the national team in years. In our PBA stint, we even got boo-ed occasionally. At least vs the NBA guys, we got cheers! It really made me feel proud to be a member of the
Hats off to MVP and the people behind the MVP foundation for making this happen! This event brought basketball entertainment to another level for the Pinoy fans. Hopefully it will inspire more Filipinos to follow and appreciate the sport, both locally and internationally. For me personally, I'm very grateful to the Lord for making this once in a lifetime opportunity happen. If I had not been a member of Gilas at the right place and time, this would have not happened for me. It will be a story I can indeed share to my kids and my grandkids.
To the young kids out there, make sure to dream big and work towards that dream! Be the best that you can be in your field. You will never know when that big break or once in a lifetime opportunity will pass you by, and you got to be ready when that happens! Just enjoy what you do and keep working hard for God's glory. You can't go wrong. All the best!
P.S. Thank you to Tito Philip Sison for the photos
Posted by chris at 9:30 PM