Questions and photos, but no autographs

Former NBA and PBA greats pose for the cameras. (NPPA Images)

I had the privilege of being invited to the press conference for the 2012 PLDT All-Star Challenge, which was held courtside yesterday, 17 July 2012, at the Mall of Asia Arena.  The featured event, to be held tonight at 7pm, will showcase a team of former NBA standouts, with a few more youthful players from the USA, playing against a group of former PBA stars and a couple of former PBA role players.

The members of the media present eagerly anticipated the arrival of the former NBA standouts, even as former PBA superstars Jerry Codiñera (who will be the playing coach of the local squad), Jojo Lastimosa, Bong Hawkins, and Vince Hizon were already in attendance.  No disrespect to our own PBA greats, but, to put it simply, it was the NBA guys that everyone came to see, and each person present, including Codiñera, et al., was a fan just wanting to get a glimpse of the visiting team.

Finally, they arrived.  One by one, they walked in — Horace Grant, who visited Manila last year, Jason "White Chocolate" Williams, Clifford Robinson, Mitch Richmond, who was here two years ago, Scottie Pippen, their coach, Oscar "The Big O" Robertson, and the other members of the team.  After they settled down, in came Dennis Rodman, in a bright pink shirt, opting not to wear the grey t-shirt the rest of his team had on.  Then, the press conference was to begin.  The emcee summoned the players of note from both teams to the front, reading the cue cards given him, which contained the accomplishments of each player called forth.  The sound system suffered several glitches, delaying the introductions.  Grant (4), Richmond (1), Pippen (6), Robertson (1), Rodman (5), and Williams (1) all have championship rings.  A glaring omission from those called forward was Robinson, who did not win a championship ring, but played 18 productive seasons in the NBA and was an All-Star in 1994, a two-time All-Defensive Team member, and a Sixth Man of the Year winner in 1993.  In the group, it is Williams that was never an All-Star.

Perhaps initially star-struck, the usually inquisitive members of the press were unable to propound many questions to the panel.  Robertson said that "you guys have to have some questions for us," which seemed to get the crowd going.  Various media men threw queries about the Olympics, the Dream Team, and the thoughts of the visitors on the state of Philippine basketball.  Pippen remarked that the current US Olympic men's basketball team has to win the gold medal this year first, before anyone on it can even say they can beat the 1992 Dream Team.  He also mentioned that the grassroots basketball program in our country has to be established if we ever want to become relevant again in the international basketball scene, particularly in the Olympics.

Rodman received more personal questions, specifically pertaining to his father, who has been living in the Philippines for many years and with whom he has had little contact.  He informed everyone that he does not hate his father for leaving his family and that he was surprised his father did not show up at the press conference.  He openly admitted that he was not a good father himself, since he is always away and is hardly ever around his own children.  When asked how he thinks the Philippines has changed since his last trip here, Rodman jokingly said everything looks the same, especially the people.  He also glanced over at our local team and, smiling, said they were "fat and out of shape", but that was okay since so were he and his teammates.

Richmond joked that they prepared for a month for tonight's game, that they ran in the hills and had two-a-day practices.  He recalled that Allan Caidic scored "50-something" the last time Richmond was in town (with Chris Webber, Glen Rice, Gary Payton, among others).  Grant said that the current NBA player he thinks is most like him is Serge Ibaka of the OKC Thunder.

My colleague Quinito Henson asked Robertson why he never coached in the NBA, and he tersely answered that it was because "blacks" were not allowed to coach in the NBA in his time.  I was not at all surprised at his answer.  I was able to meet Robertson in 2003 when he launched his autobiography, "The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game" at the NBA Store in New York City, and held a book-signing.  Thereafter, Bruce Beck of ESPN interviewed him in front of the NBA Store patrons, and it was clear in that interview, and from his book, that the racism that prevailed when he was a young player at Crispus Attucks High School in Indiana, his university days in Cincinnati, and his earlier days in the NBA, struck him deeply.  He conveniently forgot that Bill Russell had coached the Celtics during "his time", Al Attles led the Golden State Warriors to an NBA crown shortly after that, and Lenny Wilkens was coach of the Seattle Supersonics a few years later.  His one line reply to Quinito spoke volumes.

For the local side, Codiñera, was asked how he and his squad prepared for the game.  With his usual sheepish grin, he mentioned that they had only one practice session, and that not even all members of the team attended.  While he was not sure of the conditioning of his players, he graciously said that he and his teammates were just thankful for the opportunity to compete against their esteemed opponents and that they just want to give the fans a good show and to entertain them.

The emcee then halted the question and answer portion and allowed us to interview them individually for, as announced, about ten minutes.  It was at this point that Pippen spoke with his baritone into the microphone and made it clear to all present that there would be "NO AUTOGRAPHS!"  The manner in which Pippen made the announcement surprised us all.  It struck of arrogance.  It was unexpected from a group of players that, we presumed, were in town for goodwill and primarily to reach out to the NBA-loving Filipinos.  We were never able to confirm, however, whether Pippen was speaking only for himself, or for everyone else, too.  I doubt anyone asked for an autograph anyway, after he made the announcement the way he did.

Given the limited time, however, the press people approached the players to interact with them.  To everyone's disappointment though, barely two minutes had gone by when the players were all summoned to center court to pose for a photograph.  After that, they lingered shortly, and then marched out of the venue, straight to their bus waiting outside.

During this short and slightly disorganized event, I got to speak with Robinson, apologizing to him that his NBA achievements were not recognized by the emcee.  He was very accommodating, even agreeing to have a photo taken with me.  I was able to shake Robertson's hand, telling him that I had met him before.  He replied, "Is that so?  Nice to see you again," smiling at me as he feigned recollection of our past encounter.  I called to Williams, "Hey, White Chocolate!", and he replied, "Yo, what's up, man?", as he raced out the door.

Just like that, it all ended.  Robinson informed me that their group had just come from Malaysia and that after tonight's game, they would be flying out early tomorrow morning, on to their next destination, Taiwan.  Surely, they will entertain the crowd.  They will most probably play good basketball and to a certain extent interact with their adoring fans.  They will answer questions, even if the questions have been asked them over and over wherever they go.  They will hold basketball clinics, as they are supposed to have held one this morning.  They will get paid for doing this.  Note, however, that they, or at least six-time NBA champion and Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer, Scottie Pippen, will not sign autographs.

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.