Source : Charles Tiu Philippine Star
|Kobe vs. Tiu|
MANILA, Philippines - “Marcus get McGee, Japeth take Kobe, Chris Lutz guard Durant because he plays more outside and Kobe plays inside, Chris Tiu get Rose, Mark get Paul” – those were the final instructions of coach Rajko Toroman at the dugout before the big game.
Those words left us telling ourselves if we were really hearing this! Were they really playing their idols – the best players in the world?
But despite this, the Smart Gilas guys were all business during the game. During practices leading up to the All-Star game, the players all talked about not showing them any respect or being star struck. They wanted to take the game seriously, bring out the best in the NBA guys, push them to the limit and earn their respect.
After seeing how the game between the PBA All-Stars and the NBA All-Stars went the night before – a lot of joking around in the game, no defense, a lot of picture taking and autograph signing during the warm-ups and halftime – coach Rajko made an agreement with the players before the game that there would be none of that. He told them that it didn’t matter if we would lose by 40, as long as we take it seriously and run our system. The team was supposed to go to Europe to play in two small tournaments but since it didn’t push thru this exhibition game was the only game the team would play before the William Jones Cup starting Aug. 6-14. It also was the first time for the team to play with Jimmy Alapag and Kelly Williams.
Fast-forward to the game – Japeth Aguilar dunks the ball on Kevin Durant, we see Mark Barroca putting a lot of pressure and getting under the skin of Chris Paul. We also see Marcio Lassiter and Asi Taulava both fouling Durant hard, Marcus Douthit giving a hard foul to McGee, too. Coach Chot Reyes told us before the game that the NBA guys knew that the game against Gilas would be a more serious one but they probably didn’t expect it to be that way. Derek Fisher and Chris Paul both started yelling at the referees, the NBA team started making their own defensive adjustments, Kevin Durant was hitting Kelly Williams on the post. Basically, they were taking it seriously.
Sometime during the second half of the game, a certain congressman walked in and heard his name being chanted. We all suddenly saw a reversal of roles. From being the idols of thousands of Filipino fans, these NBA superstars suddenly became fans. Kobe Bryant quickly ran over to greet Manny Pacquiao, and the stars all started joking around with him after he walked to their bench.
After being down big during the halftime, the National Team responded by outscoring the NBA stars in the second half. They finished the game losing by a score of 98-89 although it could have very well been only a seven-point loss. Sure the NBA stars probably weren’t playing at a 100 percent but to make it a respectable game must be considered a victory. Coach Raijko believed that the team could have played better. We made a lot of turnovers in the first half and couldn’t make our shots, but despite that we played hard and ran the system until the very end.
After a hard-fought game, the Smart Gilas players quickly became fans again. Dondon Hontiveros got Kobe Bryant’s jersey, the players all got autographs on their jerseys and pictures with the different players. Interestingly, the only person Marcus Douthit wanted to meet was Manny Pacquiao.
He made a deal to introduce him and get him a picture with Manny, and in return he would get me a picture with Kobe Bryant.
Everything worked out fine for both of them. Chad his shoes signed by Kobe, Chris Paul, Durant and Derrick Rose while Chris Lutz had his brand new D-Rose shoes signed by the man himself. Those shoes are never going to be used again.
But while everybody was mobbing the players, they were trying to work their way to get to Manny. Derrick Rose was asking everybody for a pen, and upon finding one, he acts like a giddy kid, goes to Manny and asks for an autograph and a picture. Same with James Harden and Chris Paul, and in only a matter of minutes, their pictures with Manny were all over twitter. As for me, I’m happy enough with my Pilipinas Jersey signed by all the players at the back and Manny Pacuqiao in front. It gives us a sense of pride knowing that the stars we idolize also idolize our very own hero.
The weekend with the NBA stars could very well go down as a shining moment in Philippine basketball history. Everybody was a winner in this event, which was brought to all of us by Mr. Manny V. Pangilinan. There were so many memorable things that went on but the one that really stands out for the Smart Gilas team was winning the respect of the crowd. A lot of different countries have been speaking highly of this national team but it is different when you have your own country fully rooting behind you.
A few months ago, the Gilas team experienced being booed in a game by the fans of Ginebra and that really was a low point for the team. But midway thru the fourth quarter of this game, the fans totally forgot about cheering for the NBA stars and started chanting defense for Gilas. It seemed as if finally the National Team had won over some fans and gained the respect of the Filipinos. That in itself puts the icing on this whole NBA experience.