HOUSTON – United Airlines Flight No. 161 left Chicago at 8:56 a.m. Friday morning. It was a two-hour, 20-minute trip that quickly flew by because my seatmate at aisle 25B, a registered nurse from South Dakota named Michelle, was easy to talk to and even easier on the eyes.
After landing at the George W. Bush international airport, I met Los Angeles-based NBA.com Philippines colleague Nicholai Rhiz Roska outside the baggage claim area and caught a shuttle to the Double-Tree Hilton, where the third member of our coverage team – Alberto Montefalcon Jr. of Sacramento – was lying in wait.
We collected our media credentials at the George R. Brown Convention Center and then proceeded to the Jam Session court to cover the exploits of Filipinos John Paul Calvo and GenMar Bragais in the Sprite Uncontainable Game. The Filipino media were in full force for that event and we met up with T.J. Manotoc, who is here under the Studio 23 banner.
Besides LeBron and Kobe, who coached the competing teams in the Sprite Game, we saw OKC Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors center Andrea Barnagni and old-timer Daryl Dawkins, better known as Chocolate Thunder.
Upon the Sprite Game's conclusion, we visited the NBA TV booth and got acquainted with analysts Brent Barry and Dennis Scoot, both retired NBA greats who have successfully made the jump to the broadcast booth. And the next stop was the media dining room for an orgy of salads, sausages and chicken breasts.
NBA.com Philippines' Nicholai Rhiz Roska and Alberto Montefalcon Jr. with NBA legends Charles Barkley and Karl Malone
The free flowing nature of the Rising Stars Challenge was beautiful to watch, but the highlight of the evening was our encounter with Hall-of-Famers Charles Barkley and Karl Malone. Although I've already met both legends during my other NBA travels, Nick and Abet haven't so I decided to hook them up.
As usual, Barkley was immensely friendly and willingly posed for pictures.
"I might just have to do that," Barkley said when I told him about his undying popularity in the Philippines.
"Are you Filipino?" Malone asked eagerly. "We know your wife's Filipina," we shot back. "Yes, and here are our daughters," Malone told us while gesturing both his hands to two beautiful young ladies a few feet away from him.
Our next and final stop was the media hospitality at ICON Hotel, where we had a few beers to kill the jet lag.
We called it quits at 2 a.m. Sure was a long a day, but we've only just began.