Four-time National Basketball Association champion Horace Grant’s huge hands went to his face with incessant personal questioning from a particularly forward reporter at the recent presser for the All-Star Basketball Challenge at the Mall of Asia Arena powered by PLDT in Pasay City.
The truth was that the interrogation was directed at the fellow NBA all-star—the literally and figuratively ever-colorful Dennis Rodman. The seven-time rebounding champ and hall of famer is aware that his father, the appropriately named Philander Rodman (with 29 children by 16 women), has taken residence in the Philippines.
Following shocked reactions from the assembly, which included the aforementioned Mr. Grant, Dennis cleared his throat and smiled. “It’s okay,” he said. “I don’t hate the guy that brought me into this world. I don’t hate him.”
Rodman continued in his gruff voice: “Hopefully, we’re gonna be cool. It’s gonna be cool. Let’s move on.” Indeed, the father and son who hadn’t seen each other in four decades did seem to move on a day later, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
That was just some drama to further the afternoon drum-up for the exhibition game pitting Rodman, Grant, Mitch Richmond, Jason Williams, Cliff Robinson, and some other guys from the NBA’s storied past—including a certain Scottie Pippen—versus a select group of Philippine Basketball Association veterans.
Coaching the US Stars was Oscar “The Big O” Robertson, a 12-time all-star himself and inductee to both the Naismith Memorial Basketball and FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basketball) Halls of Fame. To date, he remains the only player in NBA history to average a triple double during the course of a regular season.
The PBA alumni players included Bong Hawkins, Jerry Codiñera, Jojo Lastimosa, Vince Hizon, Kenneth Duremdes, Marlou Aquino, Nelson Asaytono, Bong Hawkins, Bal David, EJ Feihl, and Noli Locsin. Sadly, only the first four players were present at the event launch.
Still, it was a solid chance to for the press to, well, press hands with the American basketball court heroes, as well as throw questions at them (politely or otherwise). Except no autographs; Pippen said no autographs on the PA.
When asked to comment on Kobe Bryant’s controversial opinion that the present Team USA could beat the original, Michael Jordan-led “dream team” of 1992, Scottie Pippen did quip: “That’s Kobe’s opinion, and he has the right to voice his opinion… I think that’s something that we won’t know the answer to – which is the best team. But if they bring home the gold, we can start to debate on that.”
The Big O’s reply was more pointed. “They haven’t won a game yet, so that’s where it lies right now,” he declared.
When asked on preparations for the game, Jerry Codiñera admitted with a grin: “We just practiced two days ago… we’re here for the wonderful experience.”
Mitch Richmond, the 6’5” shooting guard who earned his ring with the 2002 Lakers, and was a six-time all-star, jested: “We’ve been working for a month,” and continued they ran through track and hills. “So we need a lot of ice tomorrow,” he concluded with a laugh.
Rodman, who, like Richmond, made a return to the country, said that Manila is “the same when I left it. It looks the same, so what the hell. It’s always a pleasure to come back here. I think a lot of you guys know that my so-called father lives here. I’ll be surprised if he shows his face here.”
He continued: “Great city, with a great venue… You guys got some great legends here in the Philippines—even though they’re fat (and) out of shape, that’s cool.”
Rodman laughed and added while glancing at the PBA stars, “That’s okay guys. We are, too.”
Hear that? That’s the feeling that this one’s already decided before it starts.
The next day, the crowd roars in approval as the US Team expectedly jumps to an early lead, punctuated by a swat by Scottie Pippen on a shot attempt by Marlou Aquino. Pippen looked sheepish—embarrassed even—after the block.
After that, it took a while for Marlou to even start thinking about attempting from inside the paint. The other Filipinos tried to put on the moves even if their bodies were sometimes unwilling.
Rodman was mildly interested in snagging every rebound possible, and instead treated the crowd to some un-worm-like three-point heaves (I believe a couple did go in, thank you very much). Jason “white chocolate” Williams elicited oohs when he flashed some niftiness with the basketball, on the way to 26 points. A highlight of the evening was a dish off the backboard to a trailing Pippen who flushed the ball through the hoop.
Former Alaska standout Kenneth Duremdes made off with a game-high 29 points, even as the balding Nelson Asaytono wowed the crowd with some of his trademark willy-nilly moves that earned him the monicker “bull.”
After halftime (and a performance of the UP pep squad), a few autographed balls were also thrown into the stands by Pippen and company. The game flowed and ebbed with half-serious plays and flashy passing, but it clearly showed how little the PBA veterans practiced together, if at all. Still, not bad considering they were up against, well, NBA legends. Even EJ Feihl got a basket in.
With 16 seconds left in the game, emcee Anthony Suntay stopped play and gave Rodman the microphone. Dennis acknowledged the presence of his father in the audience, as the man stood up and waved his hands. The next day, stories of a father-son quasi-reconciliation made the news. Dennis asked Philander for his number, and it seemed that all was patched and forgiven between the two Rodmans.
Pippen also had his time at the mic, and thanked everyone who came to watch them. Thankfully, Pippen did sign some shirts for the crowd. The PBA players also took advantage of the stoppage to get the autographs of their NBA idols—asking them to sign on their shoes and jerseys.
Back at the press conference a day before, InterAksyon.com had a chance to ask Scottie if he thought the Miami Heat formula of big stars coming together to win championships was detrimental to the league. “I guess that’s always been the makeup of the NBA. I think it was just very obvious what happened with the Miami Heat team. But if you look at any championship team, there are always three or more all-stars on that team.
“But I think a lot is made of it because of the way that those guys laid it out. It worked out for them in the end because they won a championship this season. That’s the makeup of the game, if you want to win, you gotta get with other winners,” he maintained.
This writer also got a chance to chat exclusively with former Portland Trailblazers star Cliff Robinson, who said that the Heat remain the team to beat, notwithstanding moves by the rest of the league.
“I think that now that LeBron has had an opportunity to win a championship it’s either gonna make you lazy or want another one, so I think he’s a type of guy who’s gonna to desire to win another one,” he observed.
Meanwhile, Rodman, 46 and with red hair, a pair of dark sunglasses, and numerous facial piercings, proudly promised to the media: “We’re not over the hill yet, and that’s why we’re here to give you guys a great show.”
And that, we found out the next day, is no Asaytono.
• The All Star Basketball Challenge will be aired on AKTV on IBC 13 on
July 23, Monday at 8pm and on Friday, July 27 at 9pm.