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Monday / April 15 / 2013
Betamax and Basketball
Posted by meg de guia in Blog

 (AP Photo)

When I was growing up in Tacloban, Leyte, we had a Sony TV and a Sony Betamax. While Tacloban in the 80s did not offer much by way of entertainment (only RPN-9 and maybe 2 moviehouses which didn’t have aircon or popcorn), it did have an enterprising video shop owner who not only rented out movies to us (in Betamax format), he also had a treasure trove of: (1)  NBA games which came about a week or so after the games are played in the US, and (2) copies of the TV shows of the then newly re-launched ABS-CBN channel (yes, that would be Palibhasa Lalake, Abangan ang Susunod na Kabanata and various variety shows) .

Considering that there was no such thing as BTV or NBA Premium then (or no cable channels for that matter), and the NBA wasn’t being shown on the local channels in Manila (RPN-9, ABS-CBN, IBC-13, GMA-7), I’m almost sure that those Betamax tapes of NBA games were recorded at the US Bases in Olongapo.

Intellectual property rights issues aside, it would be great to know the logistics of recording a particular NBA game in Olongapo, making multiple copies and sending these out to Tacloban. Remember, we’re talking about a time when the only airline was PAL, when people had no cellular phones or DVDs, when people actually used post offices to send what is now known as “slow mail”, when people send telegrams for urgent matters instead of e-mails and when people send money to relatives through RCPI instead of banks, GCash or Lhuillier.

Heck, I don’t even know if we had LBC then. Come to think of it, how did those tapes reach Tacloban – I would bet either by sea or land transport. Or maybe my favourite video shop owner had a satellite dish in Tacloban which picked up the signals from Olongapo.  No matter how it did, the NBA games reached my hometown and my dad’s consciousness, and I ended up watching the games with him.

The 80s were the heydays of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry. My dad loved the Celtics and Larry Bird so naturally; I gravitated toward Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers. Every weekend or so, we would go to the video shop to rent the latest available games.  And that’s how I was introduced to the rest of the NBA – Doug Moe’s Nuggets, Don Nelson’s Warriors, Dr. J and the Sixers, the Houston Rockets’ Twin Towers of Hakeem and Ralph Sampson.

I also got my NBA fix from another source, a writer called Henry Liao. To my recollection, he wrote in a paper called “Sports Flash”.  I don’t even remember if that paper was a daily or a weekly paper or how I got my hands on each issue.  Henry Liao was into statistics. One time, I remember writing to him and he wrote me back, with photocopies of Lakers-related and general NBA statistics.  I couldn’t believe it! I was so inspired that he bothered to respond that I got a small notebook and started keeping track of the players stats in the games I’d watch e.g. how many rebounds Kurt Rambis (and later, AC Green) got, how many assists Magic gave, how many points James Worthy and the Captain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, scored.( Yep, I was an NBA nerd even then.)  Since my mom is a hoarder, I wouldn’t be surprised to find one of my notebooks still in storage. And maybe even that letter from Mr. Liao.

Years later, I am still and probably an even bigger, NBA and Lakers fan. I withstood the dark days after Magic retired (with Sedale Threatt and Cedric Ceballos), and survived the Smush Parker era Lakers. I celebrated the 80s-Lakers original repeat, the Shaq-Kobe three-peat and the Kobe-Pau-PJ repeat.  Like the Robert de Niro character in Silver Linings Playbook, my mood, on game days, is entirely dependent on how the Lakers fare. A win and I am walking on cloud nine. A loss and I will be devastated, and morose, if not rude.

Unlike in the past, when I had to rely on Betamax tapes from my favourite video shop to watch Lakers games, I now subscribe to the NBA Premium and NBA League Pass so I don’t miss any game.  I no longer read Mr. Liao’s NBA notes, as there are a good number of Lakers-related sites, blogs and forums easily accessible from the internet. And instead of waiting for the next day’s papers to read about what happens during a game, I follow on Twitter all the beat writers who cover the Lakers so I get real time updates.

As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It does not help that I am working with friends  who love the Lakers like I do, and who, like me, not only subscribe to NBA Premium but have League Pass as well (just so we don’t miss any game at all).

My name is Meg de Guia and yes,  I’m a Lakers-holic J. This is my manifesto.

(Note 1: Google reveals that Mr. Liao does exist, did write for Sports Flash and many other publications back in the days, and still writes about basketball today.)

(Note 2: I only learned that Betamax lost the format war to VHS when I arrived in Manila in the late ‘80s. Which leads me to believe that manufacturers may have dumped all the Betamax players they could no longer sell in Japan or the US with us, unsuspecting probinsyanos, knowing that it would take a few months, nay, years, before we’d catch up with the truth. Nonetheless, I remain indebted to Betamax and the enterprising video shop owner who gave us the NBA.)

Wednesday / March 20 / 2013
Last Hurrah
Posted by meg de guia in Blog

"Welcome to Hollywood! What's your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't; but keep on dreaming. This is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreaming."  - closing lines from the movie Pretty Woman

Meet Antawn Jamison, all-around good guy. Player of the year in college, good pro.

For the first 14 years of his career in the NBA, Antawn earned almost $140 million. But he only made the playoffs in six of those years, and got past the firstround, twice. In fact, in his 14 years in the league, he played only 42 games in the postseason. Let’s just say he wasn’t on good teams much.

On 24 July 2012, Jamison signed for the veteran’s minimum, approximately $1.352 million, to play for the Los Angeles Lakers for one year. In doing so, he turned down more lucrative offers, including a reported three years/$11 million deal from the Charlotte Bobcats.

He could afford to turn his back on the extra $9-10 million, but not the chance to win a championship with the Lakers, a franchise rich in playoff success.

In his press conference, Jamison said that it was great to be in an organization “where the only thing you work towards for is winning championships.” He promised to brush up on defense, something he had never been known for in his career - "I understand the importance of not being that weak link…I'll tell you one thing. I'm gonna work hard and I'm gonna give you my all. You won't be able to say he's the weak link to this defensive team or to this puzzle. Whether it's offensively, defensively or in the locker room, I always found a way to get it done and I expect the same thing when this season gets started as well." He also stated that in his 14 years (going on 15) in the league, “I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for a season to get started”.  That was before the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard.

And then the season started.

Their back-up point guard, Steve Blake, stepped on a spike strip on a parking lot during training camp. The Lakers lost all their preseason games. The four All-Stars – Kobe, Nash, Pau and Dwight – parts who Kobe pronounced as a “great fit”, looked horrible playing together. On their secondregular season game, they lost Steve Nash to a freak calf injury.  Five games into the season, their coach, Mike Brown was fired. Steve Blake, continuing his run of the most confounding Lakers injuries ever, suffered an abdominal strain that required surgery causing him to miss games until January. Jordan Hill was lost for the season after a hip injury. Dwight Howard suffered a torn labrum. At various times this season, Pau Gasol has been diagnosed with tendinitis, a concussion and most recently, a tear of the plantar fascia in his right foot. He has not played a game since February 6.

Antawn, who sacrificed money and minutes to play for the Lakers, even received a few DNPs along the way, something he never experienced his entire career.

Since the All-Star break, however, the Lakers have turned things around. And while their record is still sub-par against the elite teams, they are now beating all the teams they ought to beat. In this period, Antawn has flourished in his role off the bench, and was even instrumental in the Lakers’ recent, Kobe-less win against the Pacers.

Will Antawn’s dream have a happy ending?

A check with recent Lakers history says no. In 2003, Karl Malone, then at the twilight of his great career, also came to Hollywood to try and win a championship. Like Antawn, Malone got pittance, $1.5 million, for the opportunity not only to get a ring but also help Shaq, Kobe and Phil redeem themselves and win their fourthchampionship together.

It didn’t end well. Assault charges were filed against Kobe even before the season started. Shaq feuded with Kobe and Dr. Jerry Buss, who he thought was not offering him enough money for his contract extension. Gary Payton couldn’t figure out what the triangle offense was. And in the regular season and playoffs, Malone himself got injured, basically putting an end to the Lakers’ championship hopes.

So Antawn shouldn’t feel too bad. There’s a long list of great players who have never won a championship – Malone, his partner John Stockton, Barkley, Tracy McGrady, Dominique Wilkins, Chris Webber and yes, Antawn’s current teammate, Steve Nash.

But who knows, there still games left in the regular season. The Lakers can still turn things around. Heck, Ron Artest, one of the NBA’s poster boys for misbehaviour, won his first (and so far, only) ring with the Lakers. Antawn’s dream can still happen. This is Hollywood after all.

Photo: Los Angeles Lakers forward Antawn Jamison celebrates a 3-point shot against the Indiana Pacers late in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Friday, March 15, 2013. The Lakers defeated the Pacers 99-93. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Tuesday / February 26 / 2013
Sliding Doors
Posted by meg de guia in Blog

In an alternate universe, James White won this year’s Dunk Contest.  In fact, in that world, he’d be champion three times over.

In this world, he is an NBA Champion. Not bad for someone who has played only 44 regular season games in three years spent with three teams.  Sadly, however, for those who followed his exploits over the years, he is not a Slam Dunk Champion.

A review of his bio at NBA.com reveals that White is a McDonald’s All-American who never quite reached his potential in college. He was drafted with the 31st pick by the Portland Trailblazers in 2006 but was immediately traded to the Indiana Pacers who proceeded to waive him even before the 2006 season started.

He then got picked up by the San Antonio Spurs for the 2006-2007 season but played only six games with them. While he did not play a single game in the playoffs, he did get a ring, as the Spurs won the NBA championship for 2007.

White did not play in the NBA during the 2007-2008 season, but re-surfaced again in 2008-2009 with the Houston Rockets where he played a grand total of 4 games. After 3 years away from the League, he won a spot with the New York Knicks this season, and has now played 34 games.  Seven years after his debut in the biggest stage, he was finally picked to be a participant in the dunk contest.

As numerous YouTube clips will show you, White isn’t called “Flight” for nothing.  His specialties: (a) running the length of the court, taking off from the free throw line, and dunking the ball with two hands; and (b) running the length of the court, and doing a between the legs dunk also from the free throw line.  So everyone, and their mother, picked him to win this year.

There were a few nagging doubts. Some said, what’s new? Jordan already dunked from the free throw line and Dr. J before him. Heck, even Brent Barry did that in 1996.  More importantly, because he did not enjoy much success in his first stints in the NBA. White joined this year’s dunk contest at 30 years old, and yes, he was the oldest participant ever.

But you see, there is an itty-bitty difference between the dunks made famous by MJ and Dr. J, and the one Mr. White did as his first dunk. Dr. J dunked from the free throw line with one hand. MJ took off from the free throw line but did a double clutch before dunking with one hand. James White showed up with 10 stewardesses, took off from the free throw line and dunked with both hands. Perhaps because he missed the first time, the achievement was lost on the judges and White only got a score of 45. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that dunking with two hands per se requires a higher vertical leap and a higher degree of difficulty.  Doing his two handed jam while taking off from at (or close to) the free throw line is worth at least 50 points in my book, more so if you consider that a contestant gets 30 points for missing every attempt. In an interview after the event, he admitted that he had the between the legs dunk ready if he made it to the finals, and that for his other dunk, he planned to take off “from the top of the key”.  But he didn’t get the chance.

And so, down the drain it went, Mr. White’s dream of winning the dunk contest. And with it, perhaps his one chance to truly make it in the NBA and get that nice contract, like that other former Slam Dunk champion Gerald Green, who recently parlayed his success as the NBA Slam Dunk Champion into a 3-year $10 Million contract. White had, to paraphrase Whitney; his one moment in time, and the ball (and all opportunities) just kept slipping from his hands.

The reality is for every Gerald Green, there are countless James Whites.  The NBA has 30 teams, which can keep a maximum of 15 players on their roster. That’s 450 players total, and every year 60 more players get drafted and even more try out for these 450 roster spots.  White, at 30, is a journeyman, one of those players on the fringes of a team’s roster, the first to be let go when new blood comes in. He is under contract only for this season, and he has played less than 7 minutes per game on the average.  Worse, his performance at the dunk contest has been called a flop.

But take comfort, for as someone on Twitter said “[o]nly getting to watch James White in a dunk contest at 30 is akin to only getting to see Sabonis finally at 31 in the NBA.” So, whatever happens, Flight, we’ll always have YouTube.

Photo: James White of the New York Knicks makes an attempt at the dunk contest during NBA All-Star Saturday Night basketball in Houston on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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