Posts Tagged ‘yao ming’

If Wins Matter, Is Kevin Love Still An All-Star Slam Dunk?


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks about dealing with tough stretches on ‘Inside Stuff’

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – This post might embolden a pitch-forked mob to burn my basketball-writing credentials at the stake, but here goes: Don’t chalk up Kevin Love as an automatic Western Conference All-Star reserve just yet. Not as long as the West coaches who will select those reserves stick to the notion that winning matters.

NBA All-Star 2014Here’s Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle three years ago when asked if Tim Duncan deserved to be selected despite averaging career lows in points and rebounds in the first half of the 2010-11 season: “Those guys are 37-4 or something. You’ve got to take a strong look at that. That’s meaningful, that Duncan is on a team that’s winning every game. That’s a big deal, and it should be.”

Duncan made the squad at the expense of statistically better options that included Love (later picked as an injury replacement for Yao Ming), LaMarcus Aldridge and Zach Randolph. Coaches will again have to take a strong look at Duncan, 37, when they cast their votes (selections will be announced on Jan. 30).

Duncan’s stats — 14.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg and 1.97 bpg in 29.0 mpg — again pale next to those of his younger counterparts even though he’s essential to the Spurs sitting atop the West at 31-8.

The West’s frontcourt field is stacked. The starters, as voted by the fans (voting ends Monday), appear set: Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin (although Love was only about 17,000 votes behind Griffin for the third starting spot after last week’s third returns; Love being voted in would render this conversation moot). Coaches will select four frontcourt reserves from a deep pool that as of now includes Love, Duncan, Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and David Lee among a few others worthy of consideration (Nicolas BatumAndre Iguodala, Randolph?).

There will be quality snubs.

Love’s statistical credentials are spotless: 25.6 ppg (fourth in the league), 13.0 rpg (second), 4.0 apg (tied for first among power forwards) and 39.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc (10th overall) in 36.2 mpg. His presence, at least offensively, is essential: Minnesota’s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) soars to 109.3 with him on the floor; without him it plummets to 93.0.

Love’s team, however, the thought-to-be playoff-ready Timberwolves, is a disheartening and seemingly unraveling group. At 18-20 they sit 11th in the West, four games out of the final playoff spot behind Nowitzki’s Mavericks. After a recent debacle of a home loss to Phoenix, Love publicly called out a pair of sulking teammates, a move that has been met with both praise and criticism.

Speaking of Nowitzki, how difficult will it be for coaches to pass on the NBA’s 13th leading all-time scorer who is averaging 21.4 ppg, is flirting with a 50-40-90 season and has his team playing mostly above expectations? Nowitzki’s 11-year All-Star run ended last season following preseason knee surgery. Aldridge and Batum have helped make the Blazers the NBA’s surprise team of the first half. An All-Star last year, Lee is averaging 19.2 ppg — shooting 52.8 percent — and 9.9 rpg on a top-five squad.

Like Love’s Wolves, Cousins’ Kings are on the wrong side of the win-loss coin, but the enigmatic center with the bad rep is having a monstrous season (one quite comparable to Love’s) — 23.4 ppg (49.6 FG%), 11.6 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.1 bpg in 32.4 mpg. Sacramento (14-23) got off to an awful start, but has played better of late, winning six of its last 10, including wins over Miami and Portland, and have just three more losses than the Wolves.

The Kings closed that gap Wednesday with a 111-108 win at Minnesota. Cousins had 20 and 11 with five turnovers. Love had 27 and 11 with five assists. Cousins got the W.

Another intriguing point regarding Cousins’ chances for a first All-Star appearance: Last year the NBA altered the ballot, scrapping the traditional positional breakdown of guard, forward and center to simply backcourt and frontcourt to reflect the lack of true centers in today’s game. Under the old format, would not Cousins be a shoo-in as the backup center?

Love’s statistics scream All-Star. His team has been a dud. In a season in which the player field is so competitive, and if team wins are truly weighted as significant, the West coaches will be faced not with a slam dunk vote for Love, but rather embroiled in a most difficult process of elimination.

Nash Documentary Seeks Final Kickstart

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VIDEO: A clip from the “Nash” documentary.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – With any luck, by spring Steve Nash won’t have to visit a Canadian movie house to remember how good it felt to be healthy, relatively speaking, and playing in pressure-packed postseason basketball games.

“Nash,” the movie, is a documentary film that delves into the two-time MVP’s life on and off the court through rare, behind-the-scenes access. It gives fans a backstage pass into his home and private life that few have entered. It captures the Phoenix Suns’ unexpected March to the 2010 Western Conference finals against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, and all the way through the stunning trade in the summer of 2012 that put Nash in purple-and-gold (in fact, production was halted to re-make the ending after the trade).

“People will see that he’s just the guy next door, just a humble guy and never complacent,” director and producer Michael Hamilton said during a phone interview from his home in Vancouver. “I think, for me, I’ve known Steve, I know his story in and out and followed him along the way. But making this film, that’s one of the biggest things I pulled from the film, that all the stuff that this guy’s accomplished — and I’m not saying he’s done — he’s never complacent.

“He’s got a lot of money, he’s got a great career, etc., but he’s never complacent — he always strives for more. That’s what I hope people will take from this. He’s almost an anomaly for the pro athlete with the kind of things he believes in and how’s a normal guy trying to navigate through pro sports.”

The plan is for the Canadian premiere to be in either Vancouver or Toronto in mid-April, just as the NBA playoffs are set to begin. Hamilton, a longtime acquaintance of Nash, hopes to then deliver the film south of the border to art houses in the NBA’s largest markets, starting in Los Angeles.

And that’s where this project truly gets interesting. Much like Nash’s career, the film will only reach the goal of gaining widespread exposure through a determined grassroots effort. The marketing and distribution of it depends greatly on securing enough “backers” who make financial pledges through the arts-funding website Kickstater.com.

Hamilton recently launched a campaign to raise $30,000 (Canadian, about $28,000 U.S). The fundraising lasts through Jan. 10 and currently has 44 backers contributing $4,565 (Canadian). As with all Kickstarter.com campaigns, the final stages of the project will only be funded if the pledge goal is reached. In September 2013, the Nash project started a Kickstart campaign that ultimately met the its goal of raising $110,000 in funding.

A portion of the contributions, Hamilton says, will go to the Steve Nash Foundation.

The film features some of Nash’s closest friends and rivals in the NBA, plus wide-ranging celebrities sharing their unique viewpoint into what makes Nash tick. The list includes pal Dirk Nowitzki, a very candid Bryant, Yao Ming, Tony Parker and international soccer star David Beckham. Others include Snoop Dog, Oscar-winning director and producer Ron Howard, illusionist David Blaine and actor Owen Wilson. Oh, and some kind words from President Obama.

“It’s kind of a funny name,” Wilson says in the film’s trailer. “I’m just saying, Steve Nash — it’s a little bit like an action hero. It’s a cool-sounding name.

“Steve Nash.”

With a little luck, Nash’s unique skills will soon be back on the court. And with a bit more backing, come spring his unique journey will be coming to a big screen near you.

Yao’s Ties To Rockets, NBA Still Grow

 

Less than a week ago, after standing near mid-court chatting with some friends from Houston while the Rockets took part in a Special Olympics clinic, Yao Ming bent down to pick up a ball that had rolled toward him, straightened up and let fly with a 3-pointer.

It missed badly, coming nowhere close to the rim or even the backboard inside the Taipei Arena.

“You didn’t see that, did you?” Yao asked, chuckling. “I guess that’s the end of the comeback.”

At 33, Yao’s playing days are at least two seasons into the rear view mirror, the result of so many broken bones in his feet. Yet he continues to have an impact on the game in his country.

Yao and NBA China announced a partnership to develop and operate the first-ever NBA Yao School in Beijing. Launching in February 2014, it will provide after-school basketball training and fitness programs for boys and girls up to age 16 at all skill levels. The school aims to teach the importance of teamwork, leadership and communication in a fun basketball environment.

“It has always been my dream to positively impact the lives of youth through sports participation,” Yao said. “Basketball fans in China are passionate and eager to participate in high-standard basketball training programs. I look forward to working with the NBA to establish the NBA Yao School as a trusted destination for basketball training.”

At 7-foot-6, even out of uniform, Yao, of course, stands out in any crowd. Which is why it strikes one as a natural gift the way that he handles the constant reaching, pawing, leaning up against him to take photos with a natural aplomb.

“I am never without this,” he says, motioning at the furor his presence creates in any room. “What is also always with me are my feelings for Houston. Not just the team. Not just the games or the basketball. But all of Houston, the friendships that I made.”

He has often told the story of how the first NBA game he ever watched on live TV was the Rockets vs. the Knicks in the 1994 NBA Finals. All of his Chinese teammates were pulling for the Knicks, so Yao went the other way and adopted the Rockets as his team. And eight years later, they made him the No. 1 pick in the draft.

“I believe it is fate,” Yao said. “I believe that something put me together with Houston and tied us together.”

The ties have him still referring to the Rockets as “we.” Those ties still reach to Jeremy Lin, the American-born guard of Taiwanese parents, who has dealt with a similar mania on both sides of the Pacific.

“I think it’s harder for Jeremy,” Yao said. “I really do. He understands all of the pressure that he is under. I did not. I just tried to keep everything with a small focus and played the game.”

Yao is now a businessman and student with many interests. He is two years into a five-year degree program in economics management, is owner of his old team the Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association, runs Yao Family wines and heads up his philanthropic endeavors.

While he admits that there are times when he wishes he could pull on his sneakers and try to help his Sharks as they struggle near the bottom of the CBA standings, what Yao sees now in the game that was both kind and cruel to him is a Rockets team that could achieve what always exceeded his grasp — an NBA championship.

“With Dwight Howard, with James Harden, those are great players,” Yao said. “What we have to hope for is that they will not have the same kind of bad luck and injuries as me and Tracy (McGrady).

“When Rudy (Tomjanovich) said after the Rockets won the (1995) championship, ‘never underestimate the heart of a champion,’ that represented an attitude. The talent we have is probably the best we have in the league. It will be about attitude.”

NBA May Alter Start Times To Help Foreign Viewers See More Games

BEIJING – Commissioner David Stern raised the possibility the league will adjust the time some games start in an attempt to appease fans outside North America who now must either stay up late or wake up early to watch games on television.

It’s unclear at this point whether the adjustment will be for regular-season games, preseason games or both.

Speaking before the Warriors beat the Lakers 100-95 before 17,114 at MasterCard Center in the first of two preseason meetings between the teams in China, Stern said former Rockets star Yao Ming brought the idea up in hopes of making future games more accessible to international audiences. Stern gave no indication a decision was near, but was also clear that the league will have to consider what could be a radical suggestion, depending on the new times, at some point.

“I think that the NBA is going to have to wrestle over the next decade as more and more of our viewing audiences are outside the United States is what’s the best time for games to be played so that those fans can enjoy them live as opposed to having to get up in China to watch an NBA game at 7 o’clock in the morning,” Stern said. “I think that’s a fun problem that we’re going to be addressing because so much viewing is happening outside the United States now.”

Any dramatic move would obviously be met with resistance from fans in the United States and Canada, not to mention some of the teams themselves, if times of tipoff are moved much earlier than the current 7 or 7:30 p.m ET. One option that will undoubtedly be discussed is altering only weekend games, when schedules for spectators are more flexible and it is not unusual for early-evening or day starts.

Stern’s comments came as the NBA underlined the desire to continue to strengthen its relationship with China by announcing a partnership with Yao to develop and operate an after-school program called the NBA Yao School. The project is scheduled to launch in February in Beijing, with the hope that similar facilities will open in other parts of the country, including his native Shanghai.

The league has made increasing its presence in the world’s most-populous country a priority in recent years and returning to China for future exhibition games seems an automatic. There are, however, no plans to play regular-season contests anywhere in Asia, incoming commissioner Adam Silver said.

“As you know, we’ve played regular-season games in Asia in the past,” Silver said. “But one of the benefits of playing preseason games here in China is that there’s more time in the schedule for the players to be part of the community, to do charitable events, to conduct clinics and to get to see the country and to get to be more knowledgeable about the culture here. Our regular season is so tight in terms of the number of games, that while we could do it logistically it would mean a team coming in and playing and turning around and leaving right after the game. As Yao well knows, it’s a very tight schedule. So while it’s something we’re going to continue to look at, we think there’s much more benefit that comes from our partnership with the CBA (Chinese Basketball Assn.), with Yao Ming and with the Chinese people by playing preseason games here.”

The league has not staged a regular-season game in Asia since the Kings and SuperSonics opened 2003-04 in Saitama, Japan. Several countries in the region have hosted exhibitions and China has had games in four cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Macao and Guangzhou.

The 2013-14 edition opened with David Lee scoring 31 points in 12-of-16 shooting, Stephen Curry adding 24 points and Andrew Bogut 14 rebounds along with nine points to lead the Warriors to their second win in four preseason games. Nick Young had a game-high 18 points for the Lakers, who dropped to 2-3, while Chris Kaman contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds. Steve Nash started and played 18 minutes in his first game action since spraining his left ankle Friday against the Kings, making three of four attempts with eight points and four assists.

The teams play Friday in Shanghai — 7:30 p.m. ET local time, 4:30 a.m. in California – before returning to the United States for the final stretch of the preseason.

Taipei Gets A Full Dose of Linsanity


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TAIPEI, Taiwan – It was an afternoon that began with a greeting from Paul George.

Yet the 12,905 squealing, appreciative fans who came early and stayed on their feet often left the impression that John and Ringo were also inside Taipei Arena.

It might not have quite reached the level of The Beatles at Shea Stadium, but Jeremy Lin’s return to his ancestral roots hit all the notes of cultural phenomenon, NBA star and real life dream come true.

They love you, yeah, yeah, yeah.

It was the return of Linsanity, all of the attendant pregame hype and palpable buzz in the air meeting up with a performance that delivered by the main attraction.

From the moment he scored the Rockets’ first basket of the game on a 3-pointer from the top of the key to his exit midway through the fourth quarter of Houston’s 107-98 win over the Pacers, Lin was the focus of virtually all attention and idolatry.

When Lin left the game with 5:52 left to play with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting, four assists, two rebounds and one monster block, teammate Francisco Garcia encouraged the throng to come to its feet and then he clamped Lin like a little brother in a headlock and patted his approval.

Lin stood in a back hallway smiling and shaking his head at the experience.

“It wasn’t like anything I’m normally accustomed to, going out there before the game for warmups and having everyone yelling,” he said. “Yeah, I was nervous. I haven’t felt that way before a game since probably the first time back to MSG last season.

“Really, it was everything I could have hoped for. (Asssistant coach) Chris Finch said, ‘It was like all your birthdays rolled into one. You got the 3s, the dunk, the block.’ I think he was right. I didn’t know how this was gonna go, but I definitely didn’t think it would go this good.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale said Lin’s play was simply a continuation of the progress he’s made since the opening of training camp.

“He played very well,” McHale said. “The last week to 10 days he’s been very, very good in our games and our practices. I think he’s really comfortable with who he is. He’s in a good state of mind … Jeremy’s in really a good place. This is the way he’s been playing in practice.”

Nearly half the crowd wore some kind of NBA jersey or T-shirt and the lion’s share of those bore Lin’s name and number from various career incarnations. There were red Lin Rockets jerseys and white Lin Rockets jerseys. There were even a few with Lin’s name on the back of the throwback navy blue pajama-striped jerseys that Lin never wore. There were Lin jerseys from Harvard and his time with Golden State. And, of course, there were Lin’s jerseys from that magical five-week stretch of 2012 when Linsanity was born in York.

They screamed with delight when Lin came out of the tunnel and ran onto the court for pregame warmups nearly an hour before the opening tip and they roared in appreciation when he stepped into the spotlight and shined in front of an audience that included his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and thousands of other Taiwanese who claim him as their own.

“I have been an NBA fan for about 10 years,” said Taiwan native Tony Kuo, 25, who studied business at Michigan State. “The truth is the Pistons were always my favorite back, back from the days of their (2004) championship.

“But when Jeremy first came into the league with the Warriors and then he went to New York and did what he did, well, now he is my favorite and the Rockets are my team.

“I followed Jeremy when he was in Harvard and hoped that he would get a chance. But I wasn’t really sure if an Asian player could ever have the experience he did in New York.

“When Yao Ming played, he was famous here. But nothing like Lin. There is no question that Jeremy Lin is the No. 1 sports celebrity in Taiwan today. I can’t even think of anyone close enough to him to be No. 2.”

Kuo’s girlfriend, Ashley Wu, 29, said she never really took to the NBA when she was at Michigan State.

“I guess now I like the Rockets, but I went out and bought this Knicks shirt because the blue is a better color,” she said. “This is a really exciting and fun event and it’s fun to be here to support Lin and him,” she said, pointing at Kuo.

For the most part, it was fast-paced and seemed to be more intensely played for a preseason game with plenty of banging and with regulars getting a lot of minutes.

James Harden led the Rockets with 21 points. George had 19 to top the Pacers and George Hill had 17.

Nevertheless, according to how a script might have been written, Lin practically took the game into his hands in the first quarter and shaped it to fit the hype and his image. By the time the opening period was done, Lin had drilled a pair of 3-pointers, closed out a fast break with a crowd-pleasing dunk and then got a real rise from everyone when he chased down Indiana’s Danny Granger on a breakaway and used a sweeping swat of his arm to send the ball into the first row of seats.

“When I got that shot, just about all I could do was smile,” Lin said. “Not at him, but just the fact that it happened, because I’ve never done anything like that before in a real NBA game. Maybe in practice. So when I got that shot, I all could think was everything was going my way.”

Half a world away from where it was born, Linsanity was back. And, fittingly, at home.

Manila Thrilled, But A Tad Bit Subdued, With Rockets’ 20-Point Win Over Pacers

 

MANILA, Philippines — It was 2 1/2 hours before the historic first NBA tipoff in Southeast Asia when the Rockets’ team bus pulled up to the stage door entrance at Mall of Asia Arena and was greeted by a throng of several hundred Filipino fans.

This was the night that the NBA’s most rabid international following had waited more than six decades to see. The hope of catching a glimpse of the stars toting luggage was enough to create a noisy stir.

“Rockets! Rockets! Rockets!” came the chant from behind the barricade. Then it was followed by “Harden! Harden! Harden!”

James Harden, the All-Star guard, had already entered the tunnel and walked up the ramp when he suddenly made a U-turn and went back outside with his cell phone raised to takes videos of the fans with one hand while pumping a fist into the air with the other.

It was thought to be a prelude to the general craziness that would consume the atmosphere out on the court. But the emotional intensity and anticipated craziness never materialized from the crowd of roughly 20,000 that paid anywhere from $13 to just under $800 face value for tickets. An early evening downpour tied up traffic outside the arena. The game began with large blocks of empty seats.

In the end, it was not exactly the Thrilla in Manila.

The in-game atmosphere  seemed to be more studying, nodding, learning and taking in the proficiency of the NBA teams than mass hysteria. The Filipino fans rarely came out of their seats. A glimpse throughout the building saw few hands full of snacks, drinks and beers as the fans focused on the event.

Omri Casspi led the Rockets with 17 points, Donatas Motiejunas had 16, while Harden and Chandler Parsons scored 15 points each as the Rockets went wire-to-wire for a 116-96 win. Dwight Howard had seven points, three rebounds and five fouls in 21 minutes. Paul George led the Pacers with 13 points.

There were plenty of red Jeremy Lin jerseys in the crowd, but no more than you’d see during a regular season game at Golden State or Portland. Lin came off the bench and generated the most energy from the fans, especially with a pair of strong drives in the fourth quarter. He finished with 14 points.

There were a number of Pacers fans in the crowd, but the loudest buzz for a member of the Indiana contingent came when team president Larry Bird was on the video screen sitting near mid-court.

The Pacers and Rockets were greeted warmly when both teams took the floor for and received a nice ovation when they were introduced. There were appreciative cheers for 3-pointers made by Paul George and C.J. Watson, shots blocked by Roy Hibbert and slick drives through the lane by Harden. The lines at the temporary NBA Stores set up on the mezzanine level were six and eight deep as fans gobbled up replica Pacers and Rockets jerseys. Most customers came through the cash register lines carrying plastic bags crammed full of merchandise.

“The Philippines has a population of 100 million or so, so they’re a very important part of our Southeast Asian strategy,” commissioner David Stern said during a pre-game press conference. “It is the most intense and robust and knowledgeable basketball market. I was going to say outside of the U.S., but it may lead the world. I’m not sure.”

However, the knowledgeable Filipino fans were far more polite than rabid or noisy, sounding more like an All-Star Game crowd, where the sound of the dribbling ball and the voices of Pacers coach Frank Vogel and the Rockets Kevin McHale could be heard echoing throughout the arena.

As if to prove that they have the attitude to match regular American fans, the crowd finally rose to its collective feet and let out a roar for giveaway promotions — NBA 2K posters and t-shirts — during a couple of second-quarter timeouts.

The controlled enthusiasm and overall politeness was in keeping with experiences by the two teams during the four days they’d spent in Manila. When George, Hibbert and George Hill of the Pacers and Parsons, Lin and other Rockets went out in public, the Filipino fans were excited and crowded round to get a look and snap photos, but also kept a respectful distance. There was none of the fear-for-your-life frenzy that marked the Rockets’ first visit to China with Yao Ming in 2004. Of course, the din should come Sunday when the teams make the hop across the South China Sea and Lin plays his first game in Taipei.

In Philippines, Passion For NBA Runs Deep

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MANILA, Philippines – It could have been the high-pitched busload of school kids that shrieked its giddy joy and approval as they passed by on the traffic circle while All-Stars Dwight Howard, James Harden and the rest of the Rockets were lining up for a team photo in front of the giant-sized steel globe outside the Mall of Asia.

2013 Global Games - Philippines

Fans mob Paul George during his visit to a local basketball court in Pasay City in Manila.

It could have been the pulsing throng of photographers and well-wishers that swarmed and followed Hall of Fame legend Larry Bird’s every step, even two decades past his retirement, now just trying to find his way to a team bus in his current role as Pacers president of basketball operations.

But to truly get to the depth of the passion Filipinos possess for the NBA, one needed to look no further than the jubilant crowd inside the Cuneto Astrodome. The cozy gym in the Pasay City section of Manila, which regularly hosts neighborhood rec league play, was interrupted during an afternoon “drop-in” visit by George Hill, Paul George and Jalen Rose.

A young bespectacled fellow was standing almost slack-jawed at courtside.

“Oh man, I’ve been following George Hill since his days at IUPUI,” said 24-year-old Lorenzo Hortaleza. “The San Antonio Spurs have been my favorite team since 1999 and I was excited when they drafted him a few years ago. I was disappointed at first when they traded him to Indiana, but now it gives me a reason to be a fan of the Pacers, too.

That half a world away somebody actually had taken notice of a player from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis would be generally regarded as surprise. That is, anywhere but in the basketball-mad nation of the Philippines where the game is as much a staple as lumpia and pancit.

Love of basketball woven into everyday life

When the Rockets traveled less than a decade ago to Beijing and Shanghai to play a pair of preseason games against the Kings, it was mostly an acknowledgement and celebratory homecoming for 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming. As the same time, the league was making a foothold in the China market, where the first live broadcast of an NBA game had been the 1994 Finals between Houston and New York.

However, long before it became fashionable to pull on NBA shirts, jackets and assorted merchandise in China and the rest of Asia, the NBA had an established passionate following in the Philippines that frankly outstrips the rest of the world — even as commissioner David Stern continues to plant the NBA’s marketing flag in every far corner of the planet.

This year’s Global Games are part of the largest schedule of international games with 12 teams playing 10 games in 10 cities in seven countries. The league is playing games for the first time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Bilboa, Spain and Manchester, England. But here in Manila, the wait has been the longest and the interest runs deeper than the Marianas Trench.

The raw numbers don’t lie. NBA.com gets more page views and the league’s social media presence on Facebook and Twitter has more “likes” and “follows” from the Philippines than any country outside the United States. The Facebook page of the two-time defending champion Heat has more “likes” from Manila than from Miami, in part due to the Filipino roots of coach Erik Spoelstra.

2013 Global Games - Philippines

Jeremy Lin (center) talks with reporters before the Rockets’ practice at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila.

But the level of interest in the game is about far more than just one favorite son. The sport that was reportedly introduced by American missionaries more than a century ago has been an integral part of the sports fabric of the Philippines since the 1930s.

“The only reason I know a little about that is because I have a neighbor who’s Filipino and he’s often asked me to sign things for him to send back here to friends and relatives,” said Pacers forward David West. “Even then, it’s one thing to think that somebody has a group that follows the NBA. It’s entirely different to hear the numbers about the support we get from the Philippines. It’s staggering. It’s humbling. It gives these games that we’re going to be playing here a little bit more weight, even tough it’s preseason. These people have waited a long, long time to see something like this, to have us here. It’s important that we honor their commitment to us.”

The league has been sending emissaries here since 1975 when Knicks legend Walt Frazier headed up a team of NBA players. Eight members of the 1979 Washington Bullets championship team visited, Shaquille O’Neal led a dunking delegation in 1997 and in 2011 it was an All-Star collection that included Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Harden.

Even though Thursday’s game (7:30 AM ET, NBA TV) does not count in the regular-season standings, it is a significant step of progress and recognition for what has long been the league’s hotbed of international interest.

“This means everything to us,” said Glenn Agranzamendez, 35, who plays regularly in the games at the Cuneta Astrodome. “This is a country that loves sports. We love boxing, Manny Pacquiao. But basketball is by far the most popular sport, the favorite of the country. You should have seen what it was like here when we had the Asian Championship in Manila this summer.”

The Philippines posted a 7-2 record overall, lost to Iran in the finals and qualified for a spot in the FIBA World Championship in 2014.

“It was craziness,” Agranzamendez said. “It was like bedlam everywhere. This place is crazy about basketball.”

It is a place where basketball goals — regulation size or makeshift backboards — can be found around almost every corner. It’s also where, as Rafe Bartholomew noted in his book, Pacific Rims: Beerman Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair With Basketball, your average street game can find amazing moves made often in bare feet or sandals by a population where the average height is 5-foot-5.

There is a devoted following of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), which plays assorted competitions virtually year-round.

Manila is a city where basketball is ubiquitous. The dozens of players ranging from four years old to their forties who took part in shooting games with Hill, George and Rose on Tuesday wore an assortment of jerseys that represented the Rockets, Nuggets, Nets, Lakers, Bulls and even one throwback Sonics number.

Fans more than just star-watchers

2013 Global Games - Philippines

Hundreds of fans turn out for a local basketball clinic as part of 2013 Global Games in Manilla, Philippines.

When a group of Rockets players went cruising through the Mall of Asia on a sightseeing expedition Monday night, they were recognized and followed immediately. Of course, it probably didn’t help that Donatas Motiejunas wore a Rockets practice shirt.

“Yeah, he kind of gave us away,” said Jeremy Lin, who had tried to go incognito with a ball cap pulled down over his face. “We gave him a little grief about that.”

It is a far cry from 1988 when Rockets coach Kevin McHale was a member of the Celtics team that played in the first preseason international game, the McDonald’s Cup, held in Spain.

“Yeah, we did the first global trip and I don’t think anybody at that time ever envisioned coming one day over to the Philippines or going to Taiwan and how huge the NBA would become globally,” McHale said. “I think it’s great for the game. I think our guys get exposed to a whole new culture. It’s something that a lot of guys, if they didn’t take a trip here with the Houston Rockets or Indiana Pacers, in their whole lives would never get to this part of the world. I think it’s good. I’m amazed at where the NBA has grown from the fall of 1980 when I entered the league as a rookie.

“When we were in Spain, whatever year that was, I was real surprised that there were fans there that had Celtics jerseys and the kind of knowledge they had about us. They weren’t just wearing the shirts. They were fan-fans.

“Hey, I got in the league in the fall of 1980 and in my first time to play in The Finals (1981) it was taped delayed and my parents couldn’t even watch it how. So I’m thinking, ‘How in the hell could those people in Spain watch it and know who we are?’

“One thing that surprised me was the amount of Celtics jerseys and stuff that followed us around. Look, maybe at the time there were really only 500 Celtic fans in all of Spain and it just so happened they all came out at once to see us. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you, to see this stuff now, to see the reception we’re getting halfway around the world in the Philippines, wow, it makes you shake your head. Somebody’s doing something right.”

Since the days of Yao as the symbolic tall bridge across the Pacific to a burgeoning Asian market, the NBA has held more than 125 international events in 27 different countries and 67 cities. The league has 125,000 retail locations in 100 countries and a commercial presence on every continent except Antarctica.

Now, decades after the average Filipino sports fan engaged in the classic Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird rivalry and debate, the NBA has finally come to Manila for the most practical of business reasons — the shiny Mall of Asia Arena that opened in 2012. All around the world, the Global Games are tipping off in far-flung cities with NBA-caliber arenas, complete with luxury suites. Ticket prices for the Rockets and Pacers run as high as $700 for the best seats, a price that is well beyond the means of most of the citizens. Yet, the game will be sold out.

It is quite one thing for a bus load of school kids to recognize stars such as Howard, Harden and Lin. But stand outside the team bus as the players disembark for practice and listen to one nearby arena worker who has nudged a companion.

“Look, that’s Patrick Beverley,” he said.

The NBA passion here truly runs deep.

Summer Dreaming: Executive Of The Year

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HANG TIME, Texas – Never mind that the weather map says it’ s hurricane season. This is the time of year when there are nothing but blue skies over every NBA franchise from Miami to Portland to Los Angeles to Toronto.

Draft picks have been chosen and brought into camp. Free agents have been signed and trotted out for the TV cameras. Trades have been made to fill holes in the lineups. It’s a time for championship planning among the elite class and fantasizing about moving up by the wannabes.

But the truth is that, despite so much spin doctoring that comes out of all the front offices, there are a handful of team presidents and general managers that made the most of the offseason. That’s why we don’t have to wait till next April — or even the season openers — to know who’ll be taking bows for their work. They’re our summer dreaming picks for Executive of the Year:

Daryl Morey, Rockets – Unless Dwight Howard wakes up one morning and declares it was all a mistake — that he really loved having Kobe Bryant as a playmate, that he thoroughly enjoyed Mike D’Antoni’s offense and that he never, ever meant to leave those clever recruiting banners in L.A. — this is as sure a thing as Usain Bolt outrunning a lead-boot-wearing Charles Barkley. If Howard stays healthy, he and fellow All-Star James Harden will team up to make the Rockets instant challengers for one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference and could even be a dark horse contender to advance all the way to The Finals. But before they even chalk up one “W” in the standings, Morey has put a headlock on the award simply by making the Rockets franchise relevant again for the first time in years. After drifting on a sea of anonymity and mediocrity since the star-crossed Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming pairing came undone, the Rockets are back in the spotlight. A year ago, they were on national TV once. Now they have 10 appearances on ESPN, nine on TNT, one on ABC and even made it into the Christmas lineup with a date at San Antonio.

Billy King, Nets – It’s like walking into a casino with a sack full of money, walking straight to the roulette table and plopping it all down on red. Or black. Either way, it’s a 50-50 gamble and you live with the results. King certainly has the cushion and the endorsement of Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokorhov and the understanding that paying the luxury tax bill of nearly $100 million is no problem. Still, it takes considerable nerve for King to bet it all on the hope that a 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 35-year-old Paul Pierce, 35-year-old Jason Terry and a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd can take down the two-time defending champs from Miami along with the rest of what has become a strengthened Eastern Conference lineup. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were enough to make Brooklyn a postseason sports destination for the first time since the Dodgers left town, but now it’s the old Celtics who’ll be expected to show them how to win a series or more. To get Andrei Kirilenko to walk away from a guaranteed $10 million to sign a cut-rate deal was probably the second-best move of the entire NBA offseason, trailing only Dwight Howard’s move to Houston. Kirilenko adds a tough defender and a slashing finisher to a lineup that hopes to have Brook Lopez improving on his first ever All-Star season. If he’s accomplished one big thing already, King has jumped the Nets over the Knicks as the headlining team in New York, which is signficant.

Chris Grant, Cavaliers – Things have changed considerably since that first summer on the job as GM when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the temptation might have been to turn out the lights and simply declare the NBA party in Cleveland over. Grant has steadily reassembled the franchise one piece at time to a point where people are whispering that it’s not out of the question to think James could return next summer when he becomes a free agent. Before that, the Cavs figure to have a resurgent seasons between their splendid young point guard Kyrie Irving and all the other pieces that Grant has put around him. Anthony Bennett may have been a bit of a surprise on draft night, but should fill a need on the front line and free agent signee Jarrett Jack will be both a firecracker lift off the bench. Of course, the big bonanza would be if free agent Andrew Bynum can overcome the knee injuries that left him notable only for sitting on bench modeling outrageous hairstyles last season in Philly. A return to the form that once made him an All-Star with the Lakers makes Grant a genius and, even if Bynum falls short, the Cavs have not made a long crippling financial commitment to the gamble. And don’t forget to give Grant credit for not listening to the suggestions that he should have traded Anderson Varejao. The Cavs will likely make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference and, depending on how bright the future looks next spring, could turn the head of a familiar figure to come home.

Joe Dumars, Pistons – Let’s face it. The Hall of Fame guard-turned-GM has taken his fair share of abuse through recent seasons for allowing the once-proud franchise to drift way out of the playoff picture and even have trouble drawing crowds to The Palace. Was it a curse for making Darko Mlicic the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? Then there was that disastrous free agent splurge on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009. But lately Dumars has been making a comeback, drafting a pair of big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond who have the potential to anchor the Pistons front line for years to come. He made his biggest play in signing free agent Josh Smith, hoping that the stat-line filler can step into the role of No. 1 option and even team leader. Then Dumars traded for Brandon Jennings with hope that he can be both reined in and unleashed and brought home former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups to show him how. Mo Cheeks gets his third shot as a head coach and it’s all a mix that could put the Pistons back in the playoffs.

Dell Demps, Pelicans – The easier path for Demps would have been to keep Nerlens Noel when the big man fell into his lap at the No. 6 pick and keep on selling a theme of acquiring young assets and building for the future. But with a new team name, new franchise colors and a new owner (Tom Benson) writing the checks, it was a time for a new and bolder direction. The young and oh-so-slender Noel was deemed too much duplication on the front line with 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and was trade to Philly for 23-year-old guard Jrue Holiday, who puts the only All-Star credentials in the New Orleans lineup. Demps then kept dealing to bring more firepower into the lineup with former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. Of course, that immediately brought talk of a crowded backcourt with Eric Gordon still on hand, but Demps and coach Monty Williams are betting that a three-man rotation cannot only thrive, but put some punch into what was a thoroughly mediocre offense last season. Assuming Davis takes another big step forward in his second season, the Pelicans could contend for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

PREVIOUSLY: Comeback player | MVP | Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

One Last Chance For Oden?






HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – He was supposed to be one of them: a legendary NBA big man, carrying the torch from one generation to the next.

Instead of just interviewing the likes of David Robinson and Bill Russell, Greg Oden was set to join them in the pantheon of dominant centers. At least that was the plan on Draft night in 2007, when the Portland Trail Blazers selected him with the No. 1 overall pick, one spot ahead of current Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant.

We all know how that scene played out. Numerous knee injuries derailed Oden’s career before he ever got cranked up. While other members of his Draft class flourished and became All-Stars and franchise pillars, leading their teams to the playoffs and capturing gold medals at the World Championships and Olympics, Oden stayed in the shadows.

His name was barely spoken in most basketball circles, unless someone was relaying the cautionary tale of the No. 1 pick who failed to meet expectations.

Oden’s name is on the radar now, though. He’s at the center of interesting recruiting battle between the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and the reigning and back-to-back champion Miami Heat, three teams in need of big man depth. He’s scheduled to meet with the Mavericks today in Las Vegas, with the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans also reportedly set for face-to-face meetings with the former Ohio State star.

Since Vegas is the epicenter of the NBA universe the next two weeks (the Las Vegas Summer League is there until July 22 and USA Basketball’s week-long training camp and exhibition schedule begins Monday), it only makes sense that Oden be there to try to least reclaim a scrap of the glory he’s lost the past six years.

If there is a chance his legacy can be resurrected at all, the decision-makers roaming the hallways in Las Vegas will be the ones to help facilitate that process.

Anyone with good sense gave up years ago on the idea of him being what the pundits predicted him to be — a true challenger to Dwight Howard, Yao Ming and Andrew Bynum as the most dominant low-post force in the game. It’s strange now looking at that list of big men and seeing how injuries have marred — and in Yao’s case, ended — their careers.

Oden never reached that level. Much like Durant, the expectations for his career on Draft night were sky-high. The ’07 Draft boasted a strong talent base, and Oden and Durant ranked at the very top. They were believed to posses the kinds of talent that could allow them to rise to the level of being among the very best in the league at their respective positions, something Durant has achieved.

The best he can hope for now is, what? Earning a spot as a role player for a championship-level team like the Heat or Spurs? Maybe Oden’s a bit more ambitious than that and wants a bigger role with the Mavericks, Kings or Pelicans?

That’s better than the alternative, which is having to wonder for the rest of his years what could have been if those fragile knees hadn’t failed him.

We have to forget the fantasy of what Oden might have been and focus on what he can salvage of his career, wherever he lands. And who knows, Oden might just surprise us and be a bigger factor than we think in the right situation.


Rockets’ Morey Lands (D)wight Whale

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HOUSTON — Ahab and Moby Dick. Snoopy and the Red Baron. A Kardashian and a camera.

Talk about your classic chases through history.

Daryl Morey landed his (D)wight whale and finally has reason to throw up his hands and gloat, if not plan ahead for even more elaborate celebrations down the line.

In getting All-Star center Dwight Howard to pick the Rockets in the free-agent lollapalooza, Morey not only won the big prize, but also earned vindication for what was often characterized as a quixotic quest to land the type of player that could put Houston back into the conversation for an NBA championship.

Now in less than eight months, he has pulled James Harden and Howard into the boat and Morey is still sailing on with attempts to trade for wing man Josh Smith.

For a Rockets franchise that has not sipped from a champion’s cup in nearly two decades and has won just a single playoff series since 1997, it is heady stuff, like pulling a vintage Rolls-Royce out of a ditch.

Howard becomes the latest in a line of elite big men to play for the Rockets, the linear descendant of Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming. It was, in part, the urging of Olajuwon that nudged Howard toward his decision. But more than anything it was the maneuvering of the roster and the salary cap by Morey that convinced Howard that this was the place that he could establish himself as not only a highly-paid All-Star, but a true winner.

Howard forced his way out of Orlando because he didn’t believe Magic management was committed to doing all that it took after he led the team to The Finals in 2009. He turned his back on the Lakers after one miserable, tumultuous, underachieving season, probably because of the age of his key teammates — Kobe Bryant (34), Steve Nash (39), Pau Gasol (32) and Metta World Peace (33). He couldn’t risk what the Warriors would have to give up in a trade to get him and going home to play in Atlanta was never a real option.

What Morey has done — and is still working to supplement — is to put Howard back in the middle of a young roster where he can be the sun in the center of the solar system, yet feed off the 23-year-old Harden, who positively erupted as an elite level scorer last season.

This is a Rockets team that won 45 games last season by playing a pedal-to-the-medal offensive style and will continue to try to score in transition. But Howard gives them an interior force at both ends of the court and they will shift toward those strengths.

There is already talk of Howard resuming his offseason workout regimen with the Hall of Famer Olajuwon, the Houston icon and deliverer of the only two championships in franchise history. But the truth is that Howard’s game and his style and his physical skills are nothing akin to Hakeem the Dream’s. The key partner — and possibly one difference-maker in the decision — is coach Kevin McHale, a Hall of Fame member himself, who is generally regarded as one of the best big men in the history of the game and possessed unparalleled footwork in the low post.

Now, of course, the burden is clearly and squarely on the back of Howard to produce. If he thought the pressure of playing in the Hollywood spotlight of the Lakers was great, now he must live up to his four-year, $88-million price tag. He said he would choose the team that gave him his best chance to win championships and now that bill comes due with interest. See: LeBron James, summer of 2010.

It was all of these ingredients that Morey mixed into a stew that he was willing to let simmer for as long as it would take to get a plate this full. Constantly swapping draft picks and contracts and assets for six years, he went all in with a hand that for the longest time it seemed only he believed in.

After two years of a soap opera/clown show that traveled from coast to coast, Howard should be hungry as well as driven.

As recently as a year ago, Howard sent word out that he was not the least bit interested in helping the Rockets rebuild from the ground up. But that never even made Morey stop for a second to blink, and it was before the GM pulled a rabbit and Harden out of his hat four days prior to the season opener last October. Even when Howard went to L.A. and was presumed to have found his place among the pantheon of Lakers center, Morey pushed on. Now he has turned the equivalent of a pocketful of beans – Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb — into Howard and Harden, two members of the 2013 Western Conference All-Star team. It could turn out to be the greatest tandem trade of all time. Thank you, Sam Presti.

This is a once-proud franchise that had fallen into disrepair and disrespect following the retirement of Olajuwon, the dark ages of the Steve Francis Era, the crumbling of Yao’s feet and ankles and the wilting of Tracy McGrady’s spine. They had already changed coaches three times in 10 years. It was on that treadmill of mediocrity that one guy chased his plan, his hope, his goal.

Daryl Morey finally landed his (D)wight whale and now the real fun begins.