While several players are mulling over the possibility of taking their talents over the Atlantic, some are thinking about crossing the Pacific instead.
Instead of talking about Turkey or Spain, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose are talking about Manila where they have been selected to take part in a pair of exhibition games for MVP Sports Foundation, which is set up to support Philippine sports and to develop Filipino athletes.
Other NBA stars set to make the trip are Kevin Love, Andrei Iguodala and Mario Chalmers. This will be the first exhibition game played by active NBA players since Shaquille O’Neal and his squad went up against a group of PBA players in 1997 and slaughtered them.
This will also be the first on-court action Bryant has seen since he underwent surgery on his knee in Germany last month. The platelet-rich plasma surgery used on the 32-year-old’s knee is still an unproven procedure but Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal have both undergone the same knee procedure. Their results weren’t seen until two months later so it has yet to be determined how much the Black Mamba will really play.
Officials from Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, the official basketball entity of the Philippines, extended the offer after the beginning of the NBA lockout almost two weeks ago. Manuel V. Pangilinan, president of the SBP and owner of Talk ‘n’ Text (yes, that’s the name of a team there in the Philipines), has been the main force behind these talks and has two games set for July 25 and 26 at Araneta Coliseum. Talks initially began while he and a group of his were in the United States discussing whether or not to purchase part of the Sacramento Kings.
One game will be played against Smart Gilas, which is the developmental Philipine National team. The team is made up of collegiate and amateur players. The other game would be against a team of all stars from the Philippine Basketball Association.
For Smart Gilas, head coach Rajko Toroman considers this a great chance for his team to warm up for the Fiba Asia Championship in September in Wuhan, China. Winner of this will be the only Asian team to punch a ticket to the 2012 London Olympics.
They have recently cancelled a series of European training camps in Portugal and Turkey this month due to several injuries. Many of their players have also opted to play in the Governor’s Cup, which is expected to end in August. However, they won the Southeast Asian Basketball Association Championship in Jakarta last month with only nine on the roster.
The Philippines have had a bumpy road with international play for some time now. In 1963, they were suspended by FIBA for failing to host the 1963 FIBA World Championships after President Diosdado Macapagal refused to allow players from Yugoslavia and other communist countries to enter the country. Later, the Philippines, despite being the Asian champion, was forced to play in a pre-Olympic tournament in order to qualify in the 1964 Summer Olympics.
In 2001, they experienced a leadership crisis, which called for FIBA to intervene and enforce an election that resulted in Tiny Literal taking over. Things worsened in 2005 after the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Basketball Association of the Philippines couldn’t agree on the formation of a new national team. After months of meetings, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas was formed and basketball in the South Pacific was somewhat unified.
It’s an important two games for both sides and for many reasons. The NBA has always been about growth worldwide and extending games to Asia is another step for the league. Meanwhile, the Philippines is trying to become relevant to world basketball once again. In the end, both sides win despite how lopsided the scoreboard will be.
For your viewing pleasure, Niño Canaleta of the Air 21 Express in the Philippines dunking over three grown men:
There’s a reason they call him Da Vinci of Dunk.