Showing posts with label sports. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sports. Show all posts

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Historic moment in Philippine basketball

I take a timeout from the usual posts on travel, transport and food to feature an important moment in the history of basketball in the Philippines. Last night, despite very tough opposition in a strong team from Korea, the Philippines national basketball team emerged victorious and qualified for the FIBA World Championships to be held in Spain next year 2014. The last time the country qualified for the World Championships was in the middle of the 1980's when a team that included the cream of the crop then plus a few naturalized players was able to top Asia for the last time.

Until that time, the country had a fierce rivalry with Korea for the top place in Asia. Afterwards saw the rise of China as a basketball power in Asia. Later, during the last decade, saw the emergence of teams from the Middle East and the former Soviet Republics in Asia, who had the size and eventually the skills to dominate teams from East Asia. These teams have been lording it over the competition and have become even stronger with players competing professionally in Europe and the NBA. Meanwhile, the Philippines, which prides itself as the only Asian country to medal in the FIBA World Championships (a bronze in 1954) and whose national past time has been basketball has not had a player in Europe or the NBA; the last being a dream for many.

The victory last night against Korea was especially sweet given the historic rivalry between the countries. That history has included a lot of heartbreaking losses to Korean teams including close ones in the 1970's. The last major victory of a Philippine team over Korea was probably in 1967 for the gold medal if that year's FIBA Asian championships. That team, which fielded among other popular players one Robert Jaworski, defeated another Korean team that also featured some superstars particularly one Shin Dong Pa, who was a sharpshooter who was so good he could probably beat teams by himself. There are so many stories about the match between the teams that I will just leave it for the reader to research these online.

Of course, the game last night was just the semi-finals of a tournament that featured a major upset in China not making the final four for the first time in more than two decades. It was sort of an irony that the Chinese team was beaten by an inspired team from Chinese Taipei or Taiwan. The Philippine team dropped a game to Chinese Taipei during the tournament's first round but that proved to be a blessing as it avoided meeting Korea or Iran early in the knock-out phase of the tourney. And so the Philippine team now faces Iran in the finals after Korea took the last qualifying spot by beating Chinese Taipei in the bronze medal game. Win or lose, the Philippines has already qualified for the 2014 World Championships but it would definitely be great if we were to win it all and on our home court.
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Starstruck

Filipinos were treated to two friendly matches between NBA players and our very own PBA selection and national team, the game with the nationals is still on as of this writing. The NBA players were no pushovers as most were All-Stars and A-listers in as far as basketball is concerned. The visiting team is led by 5-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose, and recent Team USA leader and gold medalist Kevin Durant. Also, starting for that team was All-Star point guard Chris Paul and slam dunking/shotblocking center Javalee McGee. Other players include Bryant's backcourt mate at the Los Angeles Lakers, Derek Fisher, bearded James Harden, Tyreke Evans and this year's No. 2 in the draft pick Derrick Williams. Some people were saying that perhaps, if there was no lockout in the NBA the sponsors could have brought in Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra to be coach of the visiting team.

The first game was more exhibition considering how starstruck the Filipino players were and how conscious they were with their game. It was mostly open court basketball with lots of fastbreak points and alley-hoop dunks for the NBA stars. I found it a little irritating that those interviewing the NBA players were just too eager and too excited (masyadong kilig). Of course, who can blame them considering this rare opportunity.

Today's game was more serious with a more physical game and more organized ball movement from the national team. I guess the nationals just want to also show that they could play with the best and that they would be no pushovers. The game, after all, can be used as a tune-up for future matches as the Philippines prepares for the Olympic qualifiers in Asia. For the visitors, I guess they could treat this game as a good workout, a competitive one where they could sweat it out while also promoting the game in a country where basketball is tops. Below is one of the more memorable moments where Kobe Bryant passes to Derrick Rose for a slam.



Perhaps the MVP group, the sponsors for these games, could also lend a hand to Philippine football by bringing in a very good team to play a friendly against the Azkals. Perhaps that team should be one with which the Philippines share a little bit of history. After all, there's one team in Europe where a Filipino, Paulino Alcantara, holds the record for scoring - reigning European Champions FC Barcelona. Who knows, this might just be one of those tipping point moments that will give our football program a push.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Football

The recent success of the Philippine football team, fondly called Azkals (asong kalye or mongrels), have sparked interest in the sport. It is supposed to be the most popular sport in the world and yet in the Philippines it is far behind basketball despite the latter giving not so encouraging results in major competitions notwithstanding our sending teams comprised of professional players. Perhaps we now have the opportunity to promote football to the level that our neighbors have embraced the sport and focus on the development of players to come up with competitive teams at present and in the future.

I've played football or, as we call it here, soccer since I learned the sport in Physical Education (PE) classes in grade school. At my school, the academic year was divided into quarters and each quarter, our PE focused on a particular sport. From grade school to high school the basic sports that we rotated among each quarter were basketball, volleyball, football and swimming. These were graded according to our knowledge of the rules (theoretical) and our performance (practical). I did quite well in all considering that I was usually playing with other kids who were more my level. The good ones played their own games and were usually the ones who got more attention from the coaches who were also trying to spot potential players for the varsity. Of course, our classes usually had core teams for the intramurals.

In 1999, I was still in Japan and had just recently successfully defended my dissertation behind closed doors in front of a panel of five that included 3 senior professors at my university. At the time, the eliminations were being held for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the group matches were hosted by Hongkong. The group included the Philippines and heavy favorite Japan, who along with South Korea had the best teams in Asia thanks to their local leagues and the emergence of several excellent players competing in Europe particularly in the English Premier League and Italy's Serie A. As usual, the football fans among my labmates tuned in to the live game and I joined them joking that Japan would surely beat the Philippine team considering the recent performance and Japan's campaign to host the next World Cup in 2002. The outcome was never in doubt and below is a link from YouTube showing how bad we were back then. I must admit I wasn't at all embarrassed knowing in advance how we would be performing. My labmates and I just laughed it off like a comedy show.





In the recent AFF Suzuki Cup, the Azkals finally showed their new found mettle and despite bowing out to favored Indonesia in the semi-finals, clearly surprised her Southeast Asian neighbors with their performance. It was a clear message that we would no longer be the whipping boys in this part of the world. The performance also showed our potential to improve more and perhaps become a decent enough team to compete for a spot in the World Cup Final. Partida pa nga as they say considering that this team received no support at all from the Philippine Football Federation, something that's about to change with FIFA's orders for an audit on the PFF's operations that was heavily subsidized by FIFA to the tune of 250,000 USD per year. Reports mention that since 2010 was a World Cup year, the assistance would actually total 500,000 USD for the development of football in this country. One can only hope that the money will be spent wisely in the near future and that the team, shown below against defending AFF champion Vietnam, would eventually establish itself as an Asian power in the sport.



I will look forward to a 2011 where Philippine football will have a most productive campaign. who knows? We might also just get the stadium needed to allow us to host football matches and cheer our own team as passionately as in other countries.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lakers vs Celtics

I've always enjoyed watching NBA games ever since my first glimpse in the early 80's. I remember watching the Lakers, Celtics, Sixers, Sonics and Spurs battle it out in regular season and playoff games when the stars included Jack Sikma, Moses Malone, George Gervin, Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. At the time, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird was just beginning a professional rivarly that was to spread to what was also a revival of the classic rivalry between their teams - the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.

I have always been a Lakers fan and have read enough about their history to know that they started out in Minneapolis. The "lake" root in the team's name actually comes from the Great Lakes in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. When they moved to Los Angeles, they retained the name of the franchise and it seemed just appropriate given that LA was beside the biggest "lake" of then all - the Pacific Ocean. I also read about the storied rivalry between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Boston has so far emerged the more successful team with 17 NBA titles to the Lakers' 15. Most of the Celtics' titles were at the expense of the Lakers including 6 during the 1960's when Bill Russell and company were the best team in the league (they won 8 straight titles).

I was sad when the Lakers were swept the Sixers in the first Finals series I watched on TV. I was even more disappointed to see the Lakers lose the following year to the Celtics in a winner take all Game 7. So when the Lakers won in 1985 and back-to-back in 87-88 I was ecstatic and thought they would finally string up more titles to finally overtake the Celtics in the tally. Lo and behold, the Pistons came and so did Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

In the 90's, I remained a Lakers fan while also supporting (from afar) the Bulls and the Rockets. I particularly admired Hakeem Olajuwon who in 1986 led the Twin Towers to an upset of the Lakers but lost to Boston in the Finals. I also admired the tandem of Karl Malone and John Stockton whom I believed brought the basics back to the game. MJ was, of course, terrific. Through those 90's the Lakers teams were decent enough and even made what were surprising drafts at the time including one Kobe Bryant who was to become the franchise player of the team after the turn of the century.

I think the Lakers organization was the better one compared to the Celtics in the 90's and for most of the past decade. It is already a fact that they maintained a competitiveness that eventually led to a three-peat in 2000-2002. Boston didn;t have a chance until in the preseason of 2008 when they finally came up with a Big Three revival in Garnett, Pierce and Allen. I was pleasantly surprised when the Lakers responded in kind by pulling off the trade of that year when they acquired Pau Gasol for virtually nothing before the deadline. Sadly again, the Lakers lost to a superior team, not having the toughness and enough big men to compete with the Celtics.

2009 was different with the Lakers finally hitting their stride and the Celtics meeting a roadblock in the form of more powerful opponents in the Eastern Conference. I was expecting the Lebron James led Cavaliers to meet the Lakers in the Finals but it was the Orlando Magic that emerged after beating both Celtics and Cavs in the playoffs. The Dwight Howard led Magic truly represented the best in the East but was outclassed by a Lakers team that I believed had the toughness and the finesse they needed in the previous year.

At this time, the Lakers and the Celtics seemed at it again and fated to meet in another classic. I was relieved when the Lakers pounded the Suns in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. I hope they get to exorcise playoff losses to the Suns in 2006 and 2007. I was also rooting for the Celtics in the east despite having thoughts of wanting to see the Celtics lose, too, and maybe see their chances at NBA glory fade away with the aging line-up. But I wanted to see the Lakers and Celtics meet again in the Finals, at full strength and with no excuses to offer. Maybe the Lakers can finally pull it off and Kobe can include beating the Celtics in the Finals in his impressive Hall of fame credentials. Or maybe the Celtics can win it again and frustrate LA. Whoever wins will definitely deserve it and I will be happy with the result.

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PS I'm envious that the Clairvoyant will be in Boston for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The atmosphere is sure to be electric as it is a potential series ender should the Celtics win again in Game 3. =)