Playing for the crowd

"White Chocolate" Jason Williams put on a show for the crowd. (NPPA Images)

Taking the day off from my usual Wednesday PBA coverage, I had planned to watch the two crucial PBA games set last night on television.  By late afternoon, however, I was the recipient of two tickets to the 2012 PLDT All-Star Challenge from one of my officemates, and immediately proceeded to the SM Mall of Asia Arena to catch the action between the Philippine All-Stars (Jerry Codiñera, Marlou Aquino, EJ Feihl, Noli Locsin, Bong Hawkins, Nelson Asaytono, Kenneth Duremdes, Jojo Lastimosa, Vince Hizon, and Bal David) and the American All-Stars, composed of some former NBA stars (Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Mitch Richmond, Cliff Robinson, and Jason Williams) teaming with some younger American talents, coached by one of the greatest of all-time, Oscar Robertson.  I asked friends to update me about the PBA semifinal games while I took in this probably once in a lifetime experience.

The game was scheduled to start at 7pm, but got underway past 8, as the good-sized Filipino crowd, in typical fashion, slowly trickled into the Arena.  Anthony Suntay played master of ceremonies and conducted games (three point shootouts for men, free throw shooting contests for women, and trivia questions for anyone willing to come forward and answer) for the fans at courtside, and the champion UP Pep Squad performed just before tip-off.

Rodman had come out early to shoot around by himself, as the crowd cheered him on, but he was the last player to step on the court just prior to the introduction of the lineups for both teams.  The loudest cheers to that point were for him and his former Chicago Bull running mate, Pippen, who was all smiles and interacting with the fans and game officials.  The Philippine All-Stars also received a loud ovation, with the crowd excited to see the former PBA greats.  US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas made the ceremonial toss at center court.

The game was entertaining, for sure, and the Americans made full use of their height advantage, making it very difficult for the Filipinos to score inside.  Aquino, called "The Skyscraper", was blocked by Pippen on his first attempt, and Locsin and Hawkins, who loved backing down their opponents in the post in their heyday, could barely move the American big men and had to pass the ball out or settle for outside jumpers.  Every now and then, our countrymen got some easy points in the paint, but their lack of size was evident throughout the game.

The man who garnered the most oohs and aahs from the crowd was Williams, nicknamed White Chocolate.  Only recently retired from the NBA, Williams showed he is still in great shape, showcasing his great ball handling skills and deft outside touch, and made some extraordinary passes look routine, en route to a team-high 26 points for the Americans.  Duremdes was the main scoring option for the Filipinos and surely impressed the American team with his drives to the hoop and outside shooting as well.  He finished with 29 points to lead all scorers.

Vince Hizon looks for a teammate as Dennis Rodman, Cliff Robinson and Williams look on. (NPPA Images)

Rodman and Pippen turned on their games in the second half.  Rodman entertained the crowd with a pair of outside shots and good defense, and after one of his teammates, Chris Campbell, missed a dunk attempt, he pulled Campbell to an empty courtside seat and sat him down, to the fans' delight.  Campbell redeemed himself later on, cramming one in on an all-alone fastbreak.  Pippen had a couple of dunks, one an alley-oop off a Williams pass and, while Pippen cannot jump like he used to, the fans still appreciated his showmanship.  Richmond and Robinson, who tasted a Locsin elbow late in the game, but laughed it off, hit some outside jumpers.  Grant horsed around with the local big men and had his own dribbling exhibition late in fourth quarter.

Obviously, the former NBA stars love being in front of a big crowd.  Williams not only entertained the crowd with his A-game, but also started signing autographs and posing for pictures with the referees and other game officials at halftime.  Gone was the serious persona of Pippen from the day before, during the press conference held at the same venue.  He was all smiles, thanked the crowd profusely over the microphone at halftime and near the end of the game, and even autographed some basketballs together with his teammates, which the American squad threw to the crowd as souvenirs.  Pippen even obliged the Philippine All-Stars when they asked him to autograph their shoes or jerseys, and his teammates all followed suit.  They again threw some autographed basketballs for the fans after the game ended.

With exactly sixteen seconds left in the game, Rodman took the microphone from Suntay to address the crowd.  He pointed to his father, Philander Rodman, who was watching the game, and informed everyone that his dad was in the house.  Rodman's dad abandoned him and his family when he was very young and they had not gotten together since then.  The elder Rodman has been living in the Philippines for a long time.  Father and son would later meet and shake hands postgame.

Former NBA player and 1988 US Olympian (together with Richmond) Charles Smith, who led the American delegation for the event, also addressed the crowd to talk about the Professional Basketball Alumni Association (PBAA), of which he is the Chief Executive.  He mentioned that all former PBA players are part of the PBAA and hoped that they could all work together to pursue the objectives of the association.

The American All-Stars won the game handily, 112-93, but the score did not really matter.  The affair was an opportunity for the fans to see their NBA and PBA idols together on the same court, and the loud cheers on each play merely punctuated what was already a successful event from the get-go.

Marlou Aquino has his jersey autographed by Horace Grant. (NPPA Images)

All in all, the fans were treated to an entertaining basketball game in a first-class basketball venue.  In front of the big crowd, under the bright lights, the former NBA stars shined brightest and, yes, at least for a select few, they signed autographs last night.

(You can catch the game on Monday, 23 July 2012, at 8pm, on AKTV on IBC 13.)

Follow Charlie on Twitter: @CharlieC

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.