by rick olivares
The Americans are still the best in the world in the game of basketball but whereas before, that was a cast-iron guarantee, today, they have to go get it.
When the Americans came to town over a week ago to kick-off the week-long activities that came as a part of the 2010 NBA Asia Challenge, NBA legends Gary Payton, Mitch Richmond, Glen Rice, and Chris Webber displayed wonder, curiosity, and refreshing candidness and graciousness when meeting their Filipino hosts.
At the press conference at the Dusit Thani Manila, the four set the tone with their contagious enthusiasm and quotable quotes.
“We heard about the man they call ‘Trigger(man),’” said Rice about Allan Caidic. Caidic provided a memorable shooting display in last year’s inaugural NBA Asia Challenge when he nailed five triples in succession in the first quarter.
Rice admitted to knowing little about Filipino hoops but he did confess to playing the Smart Gilas Pilipinas National Team in a scrimmage in Los Angeles and where he and his teammates needed like six halftimes to beat their foes.
After the exhibition game that was a delight to watch, Payton, who was seated next to Caidic hung the ultimate compliment: “He is the Truth!”
Alaska Aces head coach Tim Cone has won 13 PBA titles. If you ever kick back your shoes and catch him off-season, you’d be pleasantly surprised to know that he remains a fan first and foremost and he can talk about the game all day long. The only thing that would make the day complete is to bring out those old Skybox and Fleer basketball cards.
Cone’s been walking on Cloud 9 in the last two weeks – a PBA title to cap the season and now this, a opportunity to coach NBA and PBA legends for one game. “I have a very simple play, “ he said over a quick lunch at Taco Bell with longtime assistant Joel Banal. “Plant Gary (Payton) at the top of the arc and let him do his thing. Then put Glen Rice and Allan Caidic on either side of the court and let them shoot the daylights out of the Araneta Coliseum. I’ll be a genius for that,” he laughed.
Three and a half hours later, Cone can add “clairvoyance” to his resume as his Red Team won the game 177-167. Caidic provided another chapter to his legend by scoring 54 points including 14 triples. Rice, was an amused spectator to Caidic’s prowess as he repeatedly passed the ball and set up screens for the Triggerman including quite a few illegal picks that the referees were all to willing to overlook in the spirit of fun.
Rice, one of the great gunners in roundball in any time and anyplace, scored a measly 19 including five trifectas. “We’ve got this saying – you go with the hot hand and he was H-O-T!”
Caidic’s predecessor, Atoy Co, was far from his deadly form during his heyday, but at 59, he showed that he could still be a crowd pleaser and a ham as he played along to his missed and made shots. Look out, Benjie Paras. You’re might have some competition in showbiz!
Co missed his first seven attempts before finding the bottom of the net. His futility forced one long time fan to get off his seat and yell, “Kaya hirap na hirap tayo sa Toyota, eh!”
Webber was more profuse in his report card: “When we’re 59, I don’t know if we could still do it like him.”
The “Fortune Cookie,” as Co was known by during his playing career, wasn’t the only one making a comeback. Webber, hasn’t worn his size 15 kicks in a game in two years and though an exhibition game only, he was happy to know that he could still play some ball. Webber scored 24 points to co-lead his White Team alongside former PBA import Richie Frahm. C-Webb also added 11 boards and 6 assists.
For Frahm, making the trip to Manila was coming full circle. After a stellar career with the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the West Coast Conference in the US NCAA, he played his first professional game with the Mobiline Cellulars in the PBA under coach Bill Bayno. And now after several stint with NBA and European teams, he’s comeback right where it all started for him to play one last game. “It won’t hit me (that the exhibition game was his final game before hanging up his sneakers) until I’m on my way home. But it’s been a good run.” said Frahm who will soon be taking up coaching.
In spite of the relative strictness with NBA guidelines on fan interaction (read: photo ops and signing autographs), Payton, from Day One, let his and his teammates’ intention be known: “I’m here to meet the fans. To go to crowds and high five them. Talk to them. Pose for them. Even if the Filipino fans were thousands of miles away they helped make us who we are.”
During the game, Payton temporarily relieved a courtside cameraman of his duties by filming the action. During an intermission number where Miami Heat mascot Burnie engaged some children in a contest where they had to put on their shoes that were scattered on one side of the court then race to the other end and try to score a basket, Payton tossed his size 12 Nikes into the heap. And when someone raced away with the shoe, Payton went to the middle of the court and with an exaggerated motion, said, “Dude, my shoe?”
It took a while for the crowd to get going as they were perhaps aghast at the lack of defense. But as the first half wound up, D-Leaguer Mark Tyndale, Arwind Santos and Ronald Tubid took the game to the stratosphere, Caidic was in a zone, Payton was talking, and Co was laying bricks, the crowd came to life. The game was evolving into something special.
Although the scoring somewhat tapered off in the second half, the players on either squad made sure to leave the crowd and themselves with plenty of highlights.
“We have the two oldest leagues (the NBA and the PBA) in the world and that says something about the Filipino’s talent for the game,” noted Webber who serves as an analyst for NBA-TV.
When asked given what they know and what they’ve seen of Filipino’s after the exhibition game, Payton believed that it is only a matter of time when a homegrown player suits up in the NBA. “The NBA does a good job of scouting so believe me that they know. It’s going to happen soon.”
“Better keep that number on hold,” said Rice to Caidic who was massaging his aching legs but was nonetheless grateful for the American’s praise. “Some team is gonna dial you up come playoff time.”
Other local players who were mentioned by the NBA greats were “Spider-Man” Ronald Tubid, LA Tenorio, Santos, and Magsanoc.
Carlo Singson, Senior Manager for Business Development for NBA Asia said post-game, “We are lucky that we got four NBA players who had the right personalities to make this work. Their personalities made the whole week even more special.”
As the NBA contingent boarded their shuttle back to their hotel, Webber, the 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year, had one last thing to say, “This is more than I bargained for. I’ll tell you, this has been a wonderful experience.”
You can say, it wasn’t only Webber who felt that way.