Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ice Queen

Miki Ando finished third in the Japan National Figure Skating Championships last Sunday but previous to that in the Grand Prix that she won, she secured a spot for the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Mao Asada and Yukari Nakano finished first and second respectively in the Women's Short Program. Go, Miki!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rejection Part 6

"Gotcha!" Joakim Noah blocks Brandon Rush in today's match between the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers. The Bulls arrested another meltdown when they surrendered a 17 point lead but prevailed 104-95.

Jettisoning TMac

It’s a disturbing trend – former franchise players being tossed and jettisoned by their respective clubs after they can no longer produce wins, points, or people in the stands. You can even call it revenge of the club owners who at times are at the mercy of their players. Except for the purgatory that is the Los Angeles Clippers where it’s a one-way ticket to sucky town.

We’ve seen it with Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson and the flavor of the month Tracy McGrady. If I were you Yao Ming, I would pay attention to this loaded statement by Houston Rockets coach Rick Adelman: “He’s been hurt for over a year. The thing that people want to write about is who he was two years ago and he isn’t that right now."

I hope you remember that Adelman because after your teams start to suck you get jettisoned too. Surely, you must remember Portland and Sacramento.

Yes, McGrady might not have the sunniest disposition around town but the Rockets should have handled his return better. He after all, has given the club some plenty good moments despite his inability to get the Rockets past the first round.

But the end is clearly near for McGrady, the 12-year vet who is a seven-time NBA All-Star, two-time scoring champ, and two-time All-NBA first teamer who has been slowed down by an assortment of back and knee injuries. Prior to his six appearances this season (averaging 7.7 minutes and 3.2 points), he has averaged 22.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists, and 1.3 steals in 784 matches. He increased those numbers in the playoffs with 28.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.1 blocks in 38 matches – all in the first round with Toronto, Orlando, and Houston.

Like Iverson with the Memphis Grizzlies, McGrady has been allowed to go on leave indefinitely as the club will seek options to deal him. But it isn’t easy especially with a bad economy. So is it possible that we’ve seen the last of T-Mac? And for sure, this will affect his contract with adidas.

On another note, some players tend to overestimate their worth such as Latrell Sprewell who spurned offers from Minnesota and two other clubs saying he was insulted with their offers as he had a family to feed(?). He never received another offer and is out of the NBA with all sorts of financial problems.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An excerpt from Top of the World by Peter May -- ubuntu

There are 33 members of the Board of Trustees at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution in Milwaukee. Included in that group is one Glenn "Doc" Rivers, Class of 1985, who earned a degree in political science.

Board of Trustee meetings can be lengthy and boring and can cover a number of topics. In the fall of 2007, the meeting was in its second day when members took a break after a long discussion about public safety at the school. Rivers remained seated and pulled out some of his coaching notes for training camp which would be sta
rting in a few weeks.

Stephanie Russell, the school's executive director for mission and identity, who was attending the meeting, tapping him on the shoulder. Previously, she had heard Rivers talk about Marquette's student work-study program in Africa and his desire to go there with his family.

She had a question for him: had he ever heard of the word ubuntu? Rivers shook his head. Russell explained that Bishop Desmond Tutu had used the word in a speech at the Marquette campus a few years earlier and it had made a big impression on her. She went on to explain that ubuntu roughly means "I am because we are" or "I am because of you." An African variation of "all for one and one for all."

"It can be a lot deeper than that, she added. "It can be a way of life."

"Oh my God!" Rivers said. "That's my team. I've got to get my team to see that."

Hey, Jim! What's that lump in your throat? (photo by Andy Lyon)

The fallout from the Indianapolis Colts' "losing" their match to the New York Jets continues as fans in Indiana are asking for ticket refunds to turning in their Colts vanity license plates for regular state ones. The burning of effigies will have to wait for a weeks pending the outcome of the playoffs.

Indy Coach Jim Caldwell lifted QB Peyton Manning and other starters in the 3rd Quarter with their team up 15-10. The Jets rallied for a 29-15 victory and a chance to make the post-season. Watching the game, the fans didn't react to the substitutions until a few plays after when it seemed that the starters were done for the game and the Jets were moving downfield. They were serenaded with boos and cuss words even long after they had gone to the locker rooms.

Caldwell said that the focus was to win the Super Bowl. Team owner Bill Polian backed up his coach by saying that perfection was never the goal. "Once you make a decision, you have to live with it. You certainly weigh all the options before. You take a look at all the things that could occur. But once that decision is done, you keep moving."

I agree with Caldwell but they should have said that before the game so that people could adjust their expectations.

Except hold that thought... this is the NFL. Not some pre-season match with nothing at stake. It would have been one thing if your team were 12-2 prior to the match; 9-4 even but at 14-0 with a chance to go 19-0? You have got to be kidding me, the state of Indiana, and sports fans anywhere.

I agree that the Colts should refund the fans. The game was a farce. Every time you step on that field you are expected to win. Otherwise advertise it as the-game-we're-going-to-experiment-and-lose-because-it's-not-important-to-us-in-the-long-run. If you tried that with a real storied club, you'd be out of there like shit from a goose.

Sorry Coach, now the pressure really is on you to win the Super Bowl. If you don't then you understand that you can be fired after that shitty stunt where you tried to be bigger than the game. And if it is unfortunate that the Colts' lose, then you might want to paraphrase the Old Perfesser, "I'll never make the mistake of not trying to win again."

Les Goners
If you're looking for another fella with another excuse, it's Olympique Lyon manager Claude Puel who admitted that he is just after second place in the French Ligue 1 with seven-time champs at sixth place in the standings and 13 points behind leaders Bordeaux. Then after that quotable quote by the gaffer, team adviser Bernard Lacombe informed club President Jean-Michel Aulas that Les Gones, as OL is nicknamed, are Les Goners yet and will try and win an eighth title.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Top of the World

Not soon after Kevin Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics, one person emailed the Boston Globe and said, "The Celtics ought to retire Kevin McHale's number again." McHale had just traded to Boston the greatest player in Minnesota history and one of the greatest in NBA history. Wrote Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (in Minnesota), "The sun will come up again tomorrow. Unless, of course, Kevin McHale is somehow put in charge of the solar system. In which case the sun will implode and we... will all die."

The Black Hole of Boston should be given his fourth championship ring.

Three Champs Up. Three Champs Down.


And retired.

Bleachers' Brew #189 A Mayweather Exhibit

A Mayweather Exhibit

by rick olivares

It is possibly the richest mega-fight in boxing history. And the Mayweathers, even before ink has been applied on paper have fired the opening salvo and are making the fight all about themselves. They’ve set up tent ahead of everyone and Team Pacquiao, promoter Bob Arum, and fight fans have paid the price of admission.

It’s all part of a calculated pre-fight attack on the Champ. And everyone has fallen for the bait hook, jab, and insinuations that Manny Pacquiao is using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). They learned of Pacquiao’s fear of needles and have needled him into a testy issue. He is innocent until proven guilty, right? So let’s not even speculate at this point and celebrate his achievements.

It’s a classic Mayweather tactic to piss off his opponents so when they take the ring, they blunder into blind aggression. There is a method to the madness. Exhibit A: Mayweather Junior before his match with Oscar de la Hoya: “It’s not a distraction. Our family being wild and crazy is exciting to us – we don’t mind.” After getting suckered into the war of words, the Golden Boy lost in a split decision. Incidentally, Junior won his fifth title in as many weight classes in that match.

I smell Mayweather Senior’s voice in all this. After Pretty Boy beat the Hitman, he said that Hatton played no defense in his loss to Junior. Then after Hatton’s inglorious loss to Pacquiao where he showed no D against the power-punching Filipino, Senior, who supposedly taught the Hitman defense, failed to even console the Briton and even tried to cast doubt on the Filipino’s triumph with his rap on PEDs.

Now he’s at it again because he can smell the opportunity and the money. After all why gravitate back to his son? He has nowhere to go after Hatton. At least Billy Graham showed Hitman that he did care about the fighter. Senior can and will say what he wants to say.

Exhibit B: Senior asked Oscar de la Hoya for $2 million to train him before right?

Exhibit C: When Junior was a year old, Senior got into an altercation his wife’s brother who pulled out a gun. Senior held up Junior and said, “If you’re going to kill me then you’ll have to kill him too.” The brother-in-law shot him in the leg.

Senior will say what he needs or wants to say. It’s his way of calling attention to himself.

Exhibit D: Instead of training in England, he had Hatton decamp to Las Vegas, where Senior lives, for a training camp a full month ahead of the Pacquiao fight. The Englishman would arrive early every time out to the gym but Senior was always late. So much for setting an example.

Three weeks before Pacquiao’s bout with Hatton, Floyd Sr. waxed poetic albeit with stinging words:

“Manny, come May the second,

You’ll be uncrowned

With head hanging down.

And pain and distress left to confess

That the Hitman is the best.

Let’s make it simple and plain –

After this fight you’ll never be the same.”

I think it was Hatton – God bless the nice bloke that he is -- who has not been the same. With his career stalled at the moment, the only knockout that he scored was a scripted one when he knocked out pro wrestler Chavo Guerrero when World Wrestling Entertainment took its RAW program to England.

Senior, loud and irrepressible as he is, even got on Freddie Roach’s nerves prompting Pacman’s trainer to answer through clenched teeth that they’ll do their talking in the ring. With the latest in a series of reconciliations between father and son, you know where this is coming from. No doubt to discredit the Champ and cast doubt on his achievements. With the recent troubles of Tiger Woods and pre-World Series champion Alex Rodriguez, everyone has taken a long hard look at their sports idols.

For sure, Pacquiao has his shortcomings and pitfalls but that is not the issue here. And if he does use it – then that’s something we’ll all have to deal with later and not speculate.

There is nothing sweet about the Sweet Science. It is legalized brutality and it’s only the characters behind the fights who make them juicier. Exhibit B – Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard. And there is the Greatest and Iron Mike. None of them were graceful as a ballerina. But the poet in Muhammad Ali’s corner, Bundini Brown of which Mayweather Sr. is an heir, made the fights memorable as well with his gift for verse.

Boxing has had its share of troubles with a spate of controversial decisions that hurt the sport. And there have been characters like Antonio Margarito, who was caught using illegal tape in a fight and has been suspended for it, and referee Marlon B. Wright, who in a Tim Donaghy moment, took 20 seconds to count out his fellow Canadian Lucian Bute who was knocked down by Mexican-American Librandro Andrade. But survived the long count and when he stood up the bell sounded for the end of the match.

It is certainly possible that PEDs have found their way into the sport and stronger drug testing should be made mandatory. The subject of drug testing has become even more pronounced with the startling revelations in major sports (in the Olympics it has long been an issue). And I’m sure that common ground can be found for the Pacquiao-Mayweather mega-fight. The fight is so tempting and one for the ages that to not have it happen would be a shame. But clearly, the Mayweathers have Pacquiao on the defensive with this drug-testing issue.

Once that is done, business is going to be settled in the ring.

Maybe, the best exhibit of the whole thing next to the 24/7 feature (that will inevitably be a part of the package) and the fight itself, is that they should include a provision to also test the trainer and non-trainer.

There must be a reason why their mouths motor on.

When it rains, it pours for Lyon

Tough tough loss by Lyon to Montpellier 1-0. After starting the season strong, the seven-time French Ligue 1 champion hit the wall with only one win in eight matches (including an error by goal keeper Hugo Lloris in a previous match with AS Monaco that ended in a draw) . Now they are at sixth place and 13 league points behind leader Bordeaux. This team is clearly missing Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Michael Essien (Chelsea), and Juninho (al-Gharafa in Qatar); the stars who led them in their stirring run of seven consecutive championships. Although I'm a fan of Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom, he has not produced the way team officials expected. And to think they have some pretty good players in national team players Sidney Govou, Lloris, Jeremy Toulalan, and Jean Alain Boumsong. To make things worse for the team, after getting new kit sponsor BetClic, the French online gambling agency, Ligue 1 officials sternly warned the club not to use it or be deducted points. French law states that gambling cannot be promoted, as a result the team plays its domestic matches with a sponsor free kit while they are free to use the BetClic jersey outside France (that's me to the left wearing my Olympique Lyon jersey).

Sunday, December 27, 2009

From Prime Time to Part-time

We’ve seen this drama unfold many times over in the last few years – Stephon Marbury with the Knicks (you can throw in Nate Robinson into the mix now), Allen Iverson with the Detroit Pistons, and now Tracy McGrady with the Houston Rockets. All have chafed with their reduced roles on the team despite a once fearsome reputation for being big time players. Despite being celebrated for their gaudy numbers, all three have not exactly been upstanding athletes in their respective communities. If ever, they have been disruptive forces. No longer considered as franchise players but journeymen, clearly, they are on their last legs.

The way the worm has turned for them is revealing – you’re only good as long as you can put people on the seats, Ws on the standings, and buckets into points. Management will even look the other way to accommodate a player before they are jettisoned for their fat contracts and team-killing ways. They may have made some money but they’d still love to play and be recognized. Not all the money in the world can salvage their rep. If you’re a winner, people are willing to forgive and forget but it doesn’t work all the time.

TMac has been given permission to go home to Houston as he will sit out the Rockets' next two matches. That sends a message to McGrady that he is no longer in the Rockets' plans and it smacks of total disrespect for him. Whatever TMac's shortcomings as a player, he does not deserve to be treated that way (as commendable as Rick Adelman has done for the franchise this year, he has always had issues with his players everywhere he's gone).

The problem with many of these players is that they grew up poor and without the benefit of proper rearing by adults so when the money comes in it changes them. The NBA has seminars for rookies where they are taught how to handle money, the media and other matters. In this matter, schools (and the players’ families) should step in and look at the young men they are raising. Sports has gotten way out of hand to the point where it’s a breeding ground for corruption and questionable values.

Even locally, high school kids even have managers! There ought to be a law against these parasites who don’t even have an ounce of talent in them except to sweet talk people into deals. If that is considered a skill then we are truly in deep shit.

So can they dance? Or should they just stick to hoops?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Manny Pacquiao is Sports Illustrated's Boxer of the Year

Chris Mannix

As far as I know, the technology of the flux capacitor is still embedded in the fictional mind of Dr. Emmett Brown. Which is too bad, really: because so many of us desperately want to put it in the hands ofManny Pacquiao.

We want to take Doc Brown's mythical time machine and transport Pacquiao back to the 1970's and see how he would fare against the likes of Salvador Sanchez and Alexis Arguello. We want to deposit him in the 1980's and see how he would stand up an assault from Sugar Ray Leonard or Tommy Hearns. We want to warp him back to the mid-1990's and see if Pacquiao's speed can match that of a youngOscar De La Hoya or Julio Cesar Chavez. We want this because of what we already know: that Pacquiao,'s 2009 Fighter of the Year, is the best boxer ofthisera.

We grew accustomed to Pacquiao's brilliance a long time ago. We watched in awe as the southpaw rose through the ranks outdueling the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. But in 2009 we were witnesses to something we really didn't see much of until now: stunning displays of raw power.

Last May, Pacquiao was matched up with Ricky Hatton, a physical equal (at least on paper) to Pacquiao and a man who had long dominated a 140-pound division that Pacquiao was debuting in. It was supposed to be an evenly matched fight.

It wasn't.

Hatton was target practice from the opening bell, getting dropped to the canvas twice in the first round before eating a crushing right hand that could be felt from London to General Santos City.

Six months later Pacquiao was back in the ring and once again he was matched against an opponent, welterweight champion Miguel Cotto, who was considered by most to be physically superior. Yet in a stunning display of power and speed in a weight class he had little experience in -- if one fight can be called experience -- Pacquiao systematically dismantled one of the top fighters in the division. Cotto, a fearless warrior who had previously gone toe-to-toe with Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito, was no match for the little Filipino, absorbing a stomach-churning amount of punishment before being mercifully saved from an even more savage beating by a benevolent referee who had seen quite enough.

"Manny Pacquiao," his promoter, Bob Arum, claimed after the fight, "is the greatest fighter I have ever seen."

That he may be, though we'll never really know. What we do know is that Pacquiao is the best in his generation. Better (for the moment) than Floyd Mayweather, better than Mosley, Bernard Hopkins and Margarito. That's not a knock on any of them; right now, Pacquiao is simply in a class by himself.

He has a thudding left hand and a cast-iron jaw. He throws punches from almost geometrically impossible angles and looks tireless doing it. He's personable, in a quiet, next-door-neighbor kind of way and is more philanthropic than a suburban church. Honestly: How many athletes do you know whose appearances are enough to have a cease-fire declared in wars.

Manny Pacquiao has become boxing's emissary to the world. He also happens to be its best fighter. What a perfect combination.

On Freddie Roach:

Going long. The Indianapolis Colts go for two things: a perfect season and title #3

They are at 14-0. The last unbeaten team in the NFL this season. They have two more matches versus the New York Jets (7-7) and the Buffalo Bills (5-9). They have their eye on the prize and that is a Super Bowl title to add to the one that they won in 2006 (Superbowl XLI). Yes, they did win in Superbowl V but that was when they were in Baltimore and not in Indiana. Ironically, even as they snuck by the Jacksonville Jaguars, they weren't even seeded as the number one team in the NFL's Power Rankings. Okay, maybe that's because they average 28.1 points per game while giving up 17.7. At least you know that their matches are exciting and they have to pull out all the genius in Peyton Manning and his corps of WRs and RBs (and the defense that is ranked 5th) to get the Ws. That's what it's all about now ain't it? But previously, the top spot belonged to the New Orleans Saints who eventually lost to the Dallas Cowboys that same week. Now how about some respect for those Colts.

What a job by Jim Caldwell to step into the shoes of Saint Tony Dungy and to lead the team to it's first ever 14-0 record. And Peyton Manning's gotta love him because Caldwell, who ironically was a defensive back for Iowa in his college days, is a QB coach and has worked at that capacity over at Penn State with Saint Joe Paterno and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And I am sick and tired of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Go break their record. I'm just so glad that the New England Patriots didn't (take that Boston). An undefeated season -- is a bonus for the Colts and everyone is sure that they are thinking about it now.

Tony Parker, Eva Longoria Parker Star In 'Grease' -- NBA FanHouse

Tony Parker, Eva Longoria Parker Star In 'Grease' -- NBA FanHouse

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wilder runs wild

James Wilder Jr, a wide receiver for Tampa Plant High in Florida knocks down three defenders from Manatee for a 42-yard TD-run to lead his school to a 21-14 win. Incredible!


While rummaging through my old closet at my parents' home to pick out what's left of my CD collection, I was elated to find this album by Bob James titled "Touchdown."

It was his breakout album (and sixth release and get this sixth album = six points which what a touchdown is worth) way back in 1978 and my pop used to play it on the old turntable. He knew I was also an American Football fan and he knew I'd like it as well.

If you're a fan of NFL films, you'll love this cool throwback. Plus it also had the theme song from the old television show "Taxi" starring Tony Danza. Titled "Angela" it's a nice and low key way to open the album.

I bought this in Washington DC several years ago.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Halladay Message

It isn't everyday that you find athletes who know the value of the fans. Former Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay spend the bulk of his career with Toronto until he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies several days ago. And before he left, he took out a full page ad in a Toronto newspaper to thank the fans and the city. I took this picture from a Blue Jays fan. Real cool.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Absolute Rejection Part 5

What the fuck, Chicago? No pride at all. You're like Liverpool. One good year and you think everyone will roll over for you. To lose after leading by 35 points!!! Fire Vinny Del Negro this early. At 10-16 that is totally unacceptable. Nice to see Tyreke Evans show up Derrick Rose. From one Memphis Tiger to another. And John Salmons finds the basket shut down to him by Sacramento's Omri Casspi. Omri Casspi! WTF! Some one bring back Andres Nocioni.

Homecoming in Red

David Beckham will be playing against his former team when AC Milan meets up with Manchester United in the UCL. Can you say, "explosive?" Mark it red, I dare say! The year 2010 will be one of match-ups for Goldenballs. If he cracks the line-up of England, he will face his Los Angeles Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan in Group Play when the Three Lions go up against the USA in their first assignment in South Africa.

SBP Christmas Party '09

The Christmas Party of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas was held Monday night at the Country Side Place along Katipunan Extension (between Kopi Rotti and Freska). That's Assistant Coach Allan Gregorio waving from the balcony. It was also announced that Bernie Atienza is now Deputy Executive Director of the SBP.
Pato Gregorio, Vic Ycasiano (Coach of the STI Olympians), Eric Altamirano, and Joel Lopa. Not in the picture are Chot Reyes and Binky Favis.
With JV Casio, Rey Guevarra and Dylan Ababou at the party. These are the guys I usually hang with when I'm with the team along with Jason Ballesteros and Mark Barroca. Japeth Aguilar was down with a stomach virus while Greg Slaughter and Jamal Sampson went to the US for the holidays.
All the national teams and departments of the SBP had to prepare a number for the party. The Discovery Women's National Team did an okay dance number.
Smart Gilas danced to the Boyfriends' "Sumayaw Sumunod" and were led by Dylan and JV.
The referees won the best presentation with a well-prepped number that included both singing and dancing. The best hirit of the night was by Mac Baracael who yelled during the refs' number: "Ayusin niyo tawag niyo!" Man, that brought the house down. Both Mac and Rabeh Al-Hussaini kept people in stitches with their one-liners.

With Mac Baracael and Jason Ballesteros. Jace won the top raffle prize of a television set flat screen!
With Doc Albert, Magi Sison, Al Ramos, and JR Cawaling.
With a couple of refs and Nardy Madrasto who helps out with his mania for research and info.
Dylan: Ano yung trabaho na sa lalaki lang meron (at wala sa babae)?
Crowd: Ano?
Dylan: Boy.

More pics in my Facebook photo album.

Monday, December 21, 2009

New uses for your iPod

Got this from ESPN's Dale Johnson:

In 2009 when Manchester United goalkeeper Ben Foster enlisted the help of an iPod in the Carling Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur.

After the game went to penalties, Foster spent some time viewing Spurs players taking them on an iPod to be better prepared for the ensuing shootout. Jamie O'Hara stepped up to take the first penalty and Foster went the right way to make the save, and United went on to lift the trophy.

We love ya, Steve Jobs!

In the dirt

The Dallas Cowboys stopped Drew Bees and the New Orleans Saints in their final drive to preserve a 24-17 upset. The loss leaves the Indianapolis Colts the sole remaining undefeated team at 14-0 thus far with two games to play before the play-offs. While a Super Bowl berth is the most important goal (as is to win it all), Saints Coach Sean Payton has to make sure his team rebounds from this because they are at a crucial stage of the year. The match was one of the more exciting ones this NFL season as the Cowboys played great with QBs Tony Romo (Dallas) and Bees (NO) leading their teams to some splendid drives. I was rooting for the Saints but credit Dallas with a great game. And how about Cowboys Linebacker DeMarcus Ware who stripped Bees of the ball -- pictured above -- in the final drive that stunned everyone (myself included). Ware has a great story after coming back from a neck injury that nearly ended his career.

So march on, Saints.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bleachers' Brew #188 Black Star Rising

Black Star Rising

words and pics by rick olivares

Ayi Nii Aryee grew up in Accra, Ghana dreaming of becoming a football star like his countryman Michael Essien, who has been a mainstay in the midfield of the Black Stars (as the country’s team is called) and with Chelsea FC for quite some time now. His path to stardom and Europe first went through Asia, Singapore in particular, where he was brought by an agent. Except that the contract and working papers were non-existent.

To cut a long story short, he flew out to Manila to link up with an uncle living in Cavite for assistance but while in transit, his passport expired forcing him to live in the Terminal of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at the Clark Special Economic Zone in Pampanga for almost four months. It was like the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal had come to town for a reality series.

I heard about his plight through Peter Amores, a friend in the local football community whose local club Union FC was helping him out. I was working with Solar Sports at that time and not only saw a possible story but also a way to help. I brought it out in our sports news show Sports Desk and in a series of articles in Business Mirror. He was also featured in the British football magazine Four Four Two. In that process, we became friends and I would occasionally make the trip to Pampanga to bring him food and keep him company.

It was never easy living first in the terminal then at a room in the airport’s fire department. It was a daily battle against boredom, forced solitude, and dashed hopes and he tried to keep sane by reading, jogging, and kicking the ball around by his lonesome as both firemen and police kept him under close surveillance (how he can be a threat to national security I have no idea).

Union FC chipped in to help send him home after a couple of false starts, Aryee was able to go back home.

Except that it didn’t end there. He was falsely informed that he had a slot in the Ateneo Men’s Football Team. And knowing enough that it wasn’t true I tried to dissuade him but someone once more paid for his trip. I wondered how lightning could strike twice under the same circumstances. Unlike last time where he was stranded at the airport this time he came in with the correct papers except that he didn’t have a football team to play for. But he did have a place to stay as Dr. Rafael Rodriguez, himself a former football player took him in while his status was sorted out.

Football is a popular sport here in the Philippines yet unlike basketball the scene, it is fragmented and it doesn’t look like much. If there’s a barometer of a sport’s viability here in the country it is the existence of a professional league. And there are none save for basketball. Football here is the national team and weekend warrior leagues that pay PhP500 per game that everyone has to keep their day job. Grassroots programs are a joke because they only train at the low level when there isn’t anything to move up to after college.

Ayi did train with Ateneo on a couple of separate occasions but the coaching staff feared that the two-year residency period would disinterest him and that his papers would not be fixed in time. I did advise him to go to La Salle where nothing turned up. From there, he was steered to the University of the Philippines under former coach Vanni Tolentino who took him in.

It wasn’t easy to sit out two years while playing on UP’s Team B and non-UAAP tournaments. It was in Ang Liga and the Uni-Games where he gave a glimpse of his talent.

In an Ang Liga game versus Ateneo, he blasted home a shot from just a little past midfield that made a wicked curve past keeper Tyrone Caballes, now a teammate at UP, who thought the ball was going out of bounds. He scored a hat trick in an incredible shootout that saw that match end at 5-5. He repeated another of those devastating long bombs later this year when Aryee sent another screaming volley from close to the touch line while going out of bounds that found the back of the net. Those are world-class goals that not many players here can do.

As promising he was on the pitch, he felt a certain desperation that he was thousands of miles from where his dreams lay. Someone offered to get him a tryout in France while another opportunity to suit up for a club in Macau presented itself. The latter seemed the best opportunity to play pro ball but his mother threatened and cajoled him into getting a college degree at UP. She believed that there was a reason why his journey had taken him to the Philippines and that he should find his way through here. After that stern dressing down, he decided to stay, get a degree in UP and play college football. For now.

He remains dogged in his pursuit of a career in Europe or even Asia. At night, he goes with his African friends to watch games in bars. On weekends, when he doesn’t suit up for Union, he gives clinics for kids. He knows his way around Manila now and no longer gets fooled by unscrupulous cab drivers who try to overcharge him (they drop their demands when they find out that he can speak and understand Filipino). He’s gone to Bacolod, Dumaguete, Iloilo, and Boracay. He counts adobo and sinigang na baboy as some of his favorite dishes. He is at home now in UP and no longer feels the sting of racism. He enjoys the company of his teammates and school life.

With the UAAP football tournament slated to start January 17, 2010, there was one last hurdle to overcome. Two schools, Ateneo and La Salle questioned Ayi’s eligibility to suit up for UP, the defending champions. I found it particularly surprising if not in bad taste more so since they had the opportunity to get him to suit up. A friend even wondered why back then I even advised him to go to La Salle something that raised my eyebrows – this is a life of a person we are talking about and it goes far beyond school loyalties.

Personally, I look forward to him playing and scoring those incredible goals of his. While most play for school glory, Ayi Nii Aryee is playing not just to defend his school’s title but also to keep a dream alive and who am I to stand in his way.

Check out some stuff I wrote about Ayi before:

Rejection Part 4

No Yao Ming. No Tracy McGrady. No Carl Landry. And soon after Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder blocked Chase Budinger's shot, he sprained his ankle. But the resilient and surprising Houston Rockets survived the visiting Thunder 95-90 for their 13th straight victory. And the Rockets are at 16-11.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Seattle Hope

This picture was on the final homestand of the Seattle Mariners two years ago (2008) when local girl and US Women's Team goalkeeper Hope Solo threw the ceremonial opening pitch.

And yes, there is hope for the Mariners as they made some great off-season moves by acquiring pitcher Cliff Lee from the Philadelphia Phillies, outfielder Milton Bradley from the Chicago Cubs, and Chone Figgins from the Los Angeles Angels who will play third base.

Seattle finished third in the Western Division of the American League at 85-77; 12 games behind Division champ the Angels.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Pacquiao-Cotto 24/7

I only watched the Pacquiao-Cotto 24/7 today. Like the previous HBO four-part series with Pacman and Oscar de la Hoya and Ricky Hatton, I immensely enjoyed the reality mini-series. I am not one to read fora for comments and opinions by those without the balls to use their real names but I did see the comments of some who thought that it didn’t do a good job of hyping the fight or that it was all bad acting.

If one equates hype with pre-fight trash talking then they probably never realized that it’s best to do your talking in fields of play.

The 24/7 series offers a unique and revealing look into both fighters and their motivations without taking sides. And if there is name calling and taunting, you realize at the end of the series that they are not much different save they have more money than most of us.

I knew that Manny being up in Baguio during Typhoon Ondoy would tell on his training but what really transpired including the disagreements between Pacman and Freddie Roach were telling. I hated the cameos of PGMA and that doofus Manny Villar who should have known better than to interrupt training. The cameras were able to catch Pacquiao with that I’m-in-a-world-of-my-own-so-I-can-do-what-I-want look. And if only for the adversity in Manny’s camp, this was the most interesting portrayal to date (and Jinky was conspicuously absent in the feature; not even a mention).

And Manny is getting better at expressing himself in English. He seems more sure now of his way outside the rings as he is inside of it. While some may chalk that up to arrogance, I say it depends on how people perceive it.

Years ago, when tasked to write a piece about Manny for a Hong Kong newspaper, I was asked by my editor to sift through the disenchantment: whether he was difficult to talk to, whether he was a womanizer, and whether people liked him or not among others. I hotly contested the direction: what does that have to do with boxing? If I were Manny, why would I want to talk to people when everyone only wanted the money? Where were all these people when he was down on his luck? I decided not to take the assignment. It was a pointless and moronic direction. One need not go through that personal stuff to make a story interesting.

Cotto on the other hand, I felt for. I thought the inside story was just as fascinating maybe because I knew so little about him. The footage said more about him than any printed piece will all ever do for him.

But that’s why these documentaries are welcome and top notch. I previously said that of all the sports documentaries I’ve watched, the most compelling ones I’ve seen was that of the 1998 Chicago Bulls, the 2008 Redeem Team, and the 2003 film on Liverpool FC No Heart As Big. The 24/7 series works better on boxers because it allows for greater exploration and depth. And having said that, I’d love to see them do a 24/7 series on the UFC. But only something on the MMA’s biggest stars like Georges St. Pierre, BJ Penn, Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva, or Randy Couture to name a few.

Back to Pacquiao-Cotto 24/7, the DVD is out locally for PhP 450 and it features the four-part HBO series and the fight itself. The running time of the series is just under two hours and it’s better than many movies out in theaters today. This would just look so cool in IMAX.

Dinner @ Outback, Libis 12/17/09

Friday zingers

Johnny Damon says that if the Yankees don't match his previous salary of $13 million a year then they shouldn't bother calling.
Hmm. I know it's New York, but with the recession, I'd be happy to even get a million bucks not unless you're used to an extravagant lifestyle.

Elin Woods is seeking a divorce from Tiger.
It's going to be a painful one -- albeit it will hurt the wallet -- as Michael Jordan found out. As for his sponsors jumping off Wood's golf cart -- Accenture and Gillette, it is their right. But Nike standing by Woods is the right thing. What's this -- tee off on Woods Month? As with Kobe Bryant, you can see that not only did he survive his transgressions but is even more popular than before.

The Philippines is at 5th in the medal standings of the SEA Games. We should not use our hosting it a few years ago as a barometer because we had home advantage. If we churned the same amount of medals every time out then we can safely say that we rule. But of great note is how Vietnam is battling Thailand for the overall championship. The country had war for three decades far worse than anything we've seen outside World War II and only recently began to turn things around for themselves. Look at their booming economy while we are still looking for someone to lead us out of the rut we're in.

Pat Riley is playing a dangerous game in the media with Dwyane Wade's alleged lack of pre-season conditioning. That was something better left on talk between the two. Can you say goodbye Heat after this season? I don't mind seeing him back in Chicago. The hometown kid leading the Bulls. Whooo!

The University of Maryland is turning out a number of very good football (not soccer) players. Am writing something about that. The ghost of Len Bias is out of the building.

BJ Penn, I know you cleaned out your lightweight division in the UFC but be careful for what you wish for -- a third bout with Georges St. Pierre in the welterweight division.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An excerpt from the intro

An excerpt:

Introduction: What’s the Story (Old Glory)?

At the east end of the Blue Eagle Gym proudly fly 13 championship banners won by the Ateneo de Manila collegiate basketball teams. The men’s basketball squad contributed eleven of those banners while the other two came by way of the women’s teams.

The Lady Eagles added their names in Ateneo sports history with their first-ever national collegiate title in 2005 while adding another two years later in 2007.

On the western side of the court are 15 banners won by the Junior’s squads. The fact that the two are almost a hundred feet apart shows the disparity between collegiate and secondary school hoops. The ultimate bragging rights for any school, after all, are the number of Seniors’ titles one has won.

If one were to look closely, one would notice that all the banners hanging from the rafters of the venerable hoop house along Katipunan Avenue were won from the time that the Jesuit institution moved from the crowded confines of Padre Faura in Manila to the sprawling lawn of Loyola Heights in Quezon City.

The banners were commissioned by the University Athletics Office in 1999 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Loyola Center now known as the Blue Eagle Gym. No one knew it at that time but it heralded a new era for Ateneo basketball.

The Nineties was a bleak, if not utterly forgetful, decade for Ateneo basketball; -- it was the first decade where the school failed to bag a seniors’ championship.

If in the National Colleges Athletic Association (NCAA), Ateneo was the roundball king, in the rival Universities Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP), the Blue Eagles had to pay its dues first as the league doormat before they scaled the summit. But the years on top were fleeting as Ateneo slid into more than a decade of mediocrity.

From Fr. Nebres' foreword:

"When Rick Olivares asked me a couple of months ago to read the draft of The 18th Banner, the story of the 2008 UAAP Senior Men’s Basketball championship drive, I readily did so and very much enjoyed the experience. As he says in the book, these championships do not come easily or often to us at the Ateneo and so we savor them all the more. Moreover, while all champion teams attain legendary status in the school’s collective memory, every team has its own uniqueness and we thank Rick for giving us this legacy of memory of the champion team of 2008."

Rejection Part 3

James Johnson blocks a driving Ron Artest. But the Los Angeles Lakers deal the Chicago Bulls their 11th loss in 13 games.

When the Game was Ours

A most excellent book (with the Boston Globe's Jackie MacMullan):

The intertwined basketball journey of Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry "Joe" Bird had officially begun — as teammates.

Johnson had never met Bird before the tournament. He was stunned at how well the forward passed the ball, and when Bird fed him the no-look pass, Magic told himself, "I'm not going to let this guy upstage me."

"It was an incredible three seconds of basketball," Magic said. "It was boom, boom, boom! I'm thinking, 'Man, I love playing with this guy!' And believe me, the crowd loved it too."

Doc is in Phillies' House, Kate breaks up with A-Rod and other winter baseball dealings

Roy Halladay goes to the Phillies. Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners. The Boston Red Sox get Mike Cameron and John Lackey. Hideki Matsui went to the California Angels.

There's a lot of wheeling and dealing this early and winter hasn't really set in. The Yankees did pick up Curtis Granderson and that means that Nick Swisher will see more time at right field. Sooo... where's Johnny (Damon)? Word is the Yankees are looking to sign Bosox miscast Jason Bay to patrol left field. Honestly, I know Bay can hit but can he play defense? Damon might not be that great anymore but he is still plenty good. Adding Bay gives them youth but I'd still get Johnny and if anything Bay for insurance. After all, they need a DH now that Godzilla is now on the West Coast. But I don't recall Godzilla (the monster not the man) ever destroying the West Coast? So were the Yanks right in not signing him?

Pitching-wise, word is they're interested in getting Justin Duchscherer and Ben Sheets. Fannation reports that both are coming off arm surgery. I'm not sure if this is a good idea but Yankees GM Brian Cashman would know. Guess people are nervous that they could be the second coming of Carl Pavano. With all this talk about pitching, I wonder how Chien Ming-Wang is doing? He was the ace for two years running until one injury kept him on the shelf.

And the New York Post reported that Alex Rodriguez and Kate Hudson broke up. Jeez. Must be a slow news day.

At the Simbang Gabi '09 @ Gesu

With good friend Mike Yu, my colleague in Rebound and AR. Discussing stuff about the mag and the 18th Banner (the stuff that didn't make it and why).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Looking back and forward: Where to Ateneo basketball?

Looking back and forward

Where to Ateneo basketball?

words and pictures by rick olivares

If one would take a look at Ateneo basketball history, the Blue Eagles have a tendency to win everything in bunches before dipping to reload for another run.

It would be somewhat wrong to look at the champion teams of yesteryear as the times are different in terms of skill level, recruitment, the size of players, and the quality of competition. So it is best just to keep it to the past decade when the current program was installed. But even that is somewhat inaccurate because in the program’s first five years, the blue and white had three head coaches in Joe Lipa, Joel Banal, and Sandy Arespacochaga; a sorry reminder of Ateneo basketball since it joined the UAAP in 1978.

It also does not exactly reveal how the rabid alumni base is not the authority in who should be coaching the Blue Eagles. After all, if these noisy alumni (who do not even contribute money to the program save for hanging out at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center every chance they get) had their way, Norman Black would not be coaching.

And speaking of the current American mentor of Ateneo, it is amazing to see how his system has taken root in the Blue Eagles’ brand of hoops.

That became obvious in 2006 when an unheralded Ateneo team came within a lay-up of winning the title. There was no star on that squad and the funny thing is prior to that campaign no one expected much from the team. As they began to soundly beat their foes that was when the so-called experts reason out that they had JC Intal, Macky Escalona, and Doug Kramer. What they didn’t realize was how they lost four players prior to that – LA Tenorio, Magnum Membrere, Bajjie Del Rosario and Japeth Aguilar. Of the four, it was Aguilar who was building up into the next dominant big man but he left in the off-season for a US Division 1 school.

The following year, without Intal, Escalona, and Kramer, there were more doubts about who would lead the Blue Eagles. And lo and behold, the team found a solid low-post presence in the previously under-achieving Ford Arao whose development made it easier for the other players to find their space to contribute.

When Arao graduated, who would have known that Rabeh Al-Hussaini would become the most unlikely MVP in league history?

Yet in spite of new players stepping into the breach, the strength of the system lies in the team play as players adapt themselves into the system. On any other college team, Ryan Buenafe would be scoring a double-double, but on Black’s five stick, he is a playmaker par excellence who is still not getting props for his fantastic defense.

After blocking Paul Sanga's last minute attempt, Chris Sumalinog races upcourt for a possible outlet.

And there’s the matter of Oping Sumalinog who was once known as a gunner but is showing a tantalizing display of all-around game. If Nonoy Baclao were to play one more year then think of the possibilities of having two similar players on the same squad? The search for a clone has turned up players like JP Erram who is touted to be the next Baclao. But if anyone saw the former West Negros Mustang play before, he had excellent range. We keep searching when that player in right on the bench. He can drive, post-up, and stroke it from the outside. If you think that’s all he can do, his wingspan allows his to disrupt a foe’s shot and even block his shot. He’s got the hops and can rebound some.

And that’s just Buenafe and Sumalinog. There are others waiting to explode.

Many wondered how the team would compensate for the loss of Chris Tiu but the answer was a three-headed option in Nonoy Baclao-Rabeh Al-Hussaini-Jai Reyes. Reyes in particular has been the deadeye shooter that Ateneo teams have been known for in the mold of Membrere, Larry Fonacier, Tiu, Rainier Sison, Junie Rentosa, Richie Ticzon, Vince Hizon, and Jet Nieto to name a few.

The program is in place as the three Ateneo units from the grade school to the high school all the way to college are in perfect congruence. And in Black and the school’s name and reputation, we have two huge and compelling reasons for one to don the blue and white.

So as the Blue Eagles loss three vital cogs (the single biggest loss in the starting unit since Intal, Kramer, and Escalona), wonder not on our fate for the season to come because in Norman… we trust.