Game Gaper

Italy wins the 2006 World Cup.

I wish I was still in NYC. I’m sure today is a day of free pizzas, pastas, and pesto breads in quaint Italian pizzerias across the city.

I rooted for the Italians to win against the French. They were the clear underdogs, and I love to see underdogs win.

My unprofessional opinion on soccer, er, football led me at first to predict (or wish) a Portugal-Italy final game (Portugal being an underdog, too, against France in the semis) but Zidane — yes the French butthead (pun intended) — wanted to end his career with a bang and in glory.

But an Italian win was just as sweet to watch.

So, yeah, the Italians are the champions until 2010. Felicitazioni!


The Miami Heat wins the 2006 NBA Championship. No surprise there.

What was surprising was the great effort displayed by the Dallas Mavericks throughout the season.

Miami had the Big Two: Shaquille O'Neal and Dwayne Wade. Add to that was championship veteran coach Pat Riley. Public opinion and support easily favored the Florida team.

In contrast, Dallas was unknown to many until Avery Johnson's wild new plays debuted on the hardcourt that led the team of young and eager players into its first Championship attempt.

In fact, the Mavericks put a real scare to those rooting for Heat (me, included) when it posed a 2-0 lead early in the Finals.

And for all that, I respect Dallas Mavericks as much as I congratulate and celebrate Miami Heat's win.

True, they lost. But they are winners in my book, too.

It took an aspiring underdog to defeat a hotshot bully.

The Dallas Mavericks eclipsed Phoenix Suns in Game 6 (102-93) yesterday to win the NBA Western Conference Finals, 4-2.

German import Dirk Nowitzki rallied the Mavericks offense (a 12-0 run at the start of 4th!) and instensified its defense against a Steve Nash-led second half threat-of-a-comeback and finally ensured the Texas franchise of its first NBA Finals appearance.

California perhaps finds this development as a sweet revenge of sorts after Phoenix Suns railroaded the sunny state's chances of a Finals berth with its early Playoffs wins against Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have dropped his signature line 'Hasta La Vista, Baby!' to Phoenix Suns after Josh Howard sank a three that pushed the lead back to ten with less than two minutes remaining in the 4th. The game was thus sealed in favor of Dallas.

And so the NBA Finals begin Thursday with the Dallas Mavericks playing against Miami Heat. Interesting match. Duo versus duo. Nowitzki-Howard versus O'Neal-Wade.

No underdogs or bullies this time around. The playing field is leveled.

No Raja Bell and his notorious clothesline fouls; No Steve Nash and his superstar to-a-fault-offense; No Suns, at last. Period.

If my allegiance to LA Lakers took a sudden (albeit, temporary) shift to LA Clippers in dire hopes of seeing a Los Angeles team play in the 2006 NBA Finals (a face-off against Miami Heat if it were up to me, anyway), it was further challenged by Phoenix Suns' 127-107 Game 7 win last night.

Ah, the night's supposed festive mood broke into silent despair (save for the long and heavy sighs).

Why did Clippers lose? The odds favored them early on, qualifying for the playoffs and winning the postseason series with swift resolve.

Well, ultimately, it boiled down to experience. At least that's what I think. Phoenix had Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson in the early '90s and the franchise now has Steve Nash who just earned another MVP award. But what of the LA Clippers? The franchise was on a dry spell for years (30, to be precise) that challenged that of Atlanta Hawks' until this season. Honestly, I hardly knew anybody from the team or how it played to win (e.g. Suns have Nash and his brilliant fast-break offense while Phil Jackson has his triangle offense, to name a few) until Kobe Bryant failed to lead LA Lakers to the Playoffs. There were the occasional buzz of a possible Lakers-Clippers Playoffs but as history bitterly unfolded, neither teams qualified .

The question in everyone's mind (at least those pining for a Clippers win) is why Sam Cassel, the team's clutch player, clammed-up in such a crucial game as Game 7 firing more missed shots than his 11-point performance? Which was a bit odd given how he was the only one with a Game 7 experience — a fact that was overemphasized by the NBA commentators one too many. Perhaps he was still reeling from warming the Clippers bench in the last quarter of Game 4 and watching in horror how Phoenix pulled a surprising upset. If that was so, then it is Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy to blame for the Playoffs blunder. It was he who benched second pointman Elton Brand in Game 1 when the guy was on fire, shooting hoops like a seasoned pro, and sending the wrong and inexperienced player (what's his name, again?) to wrap up and lose a 3-point advantage Game 5.

Argh! What a complete waste of opportunity for the LA Clippers. And to think Amare Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas were at injury bay! OK, so Phoenix Suns need respect. I'm now humbled… until next season, at least.

Still hurting and in denial from LA Lakers' recent humbling (read: big time) loss to Phoenix Suns (61 percent field-goal shooting!) in the Western Conference Playoffs, I'm coursing my Quan (a loosely defined attribute uniting athletic skill or knowledge with love and respect — or something only Cuba Gooding Jr. completely understands) into something relevant: Kobe Bryant and his jersey.

Over the weekend, Kobe announced his plan to switch jersey numbers, from No. 8 to No. 24. Apparently, he sported a No. 24 jersey shooting hoops in high school back in Philadelphia. His spectacular performance there led him to an equally spectacular career in basketball, thus the desire for a switch in numbers. He wanted the switch for this season but didn't get to apply in time.

"It’s time to start a new chapter," Bryant said over ESPN, "(for the) second leg of my career."

So he got sentimental and wants to commemorate his roots, big deal! But if this is his segue to nailing another championship next season, then I'm all for it.

In fact, I've taken the liberty to consult this switch with my numerologist over an email, just for kicks. She says No. 24 is better than No. 8 especially in physical activities such as playing sports. No. 24 translates to No. 6, which is highly considered as lucky; Pursuit to good outcomes require no-sweat, luck comes without working for it. In contrast, No. 8 means exerting a good deal of effort to get good results.

Now if my numerologist's summations are correct, then, we'd see Bryant in jersey No. 24 next season, winning games effortlessly.

"I’m really excited about it," Bryant said. "I’m pumped up about it."

Thanks, those are reassuring enough. Game 7? What Game 7? 

Wearing my 4-year old lucky Lakers shorts, I sit on the edge of the TV couch, panic stricken, ready to throw a Buster Bluth fit as the game clock winds down to 0.7 of a second in the 4th. The Los Angeles Lakers trails Phoenix Suns by 2, and Steve Nash is in possession of the ball. Damnit! Why does he have to be so darn good? As I knuckle under yet another display of Nash's brilliance, a miracle pops up in the form of a quick steal from Smush Parker. Parker quickly passes the ball to Kobe Bryant. Bryant runs a fastbreak, heads to the paint, and wildly throws the ball in the air as he entangles himself in a Tim Thomas and Shawn Marion tight defense. And then… swoosh! The ball sinks in. The buzzer blares. And the game extends to a 5 minute overtime.

Bryant hugs Parker by the head and says something like: 'You did good, you motherfucker!' (go ahead, turn on the TiVo, re-watch the game, and read Bryant's lips). And just as the Suns threaten to upset the game in overtime, Nash makes another turnover and forces a jump with Luke Walton. At 6'8", Walton, of course, reaches the ball first and taps it to Bryant. With a fraction of a second remaining, Bryant beats the buzzer with a 17-footer, sinking the ball and nailing an improbable 99-98 victory boosting the team's chances (3-1) in the first round Western Conference playoff series.

What a thrill ride of a game! Bryant repeats his game-winning bucket against Phoenix in game 3 back in 2000 (2.6 seconds remaining, 97-96 upset). Deja vu? Wait until Bryant half-raises a fist in the air, juxtapose a Michael Jordan winning moment montage, presto! A likeness to greatness, indeed.

Of course, Jordan is Jordan and Bryant still shakes off his indiscretions-past (read: rape charges, admission to adultery, and, by Phil Jackson's appraisal, 'uncoachable' persona). But it's hard to equally shake off the brilliance that is Kobe, especially with his recent 81 point scoring — second all-time high in NBA history — against Toronto last January.

He was 25 when he earned his 10,000th point, making him the youngest to achieve such feat in NBA history. And with former teammate Shaquille O'Neal, he enabled the Lakers franchise three consecutive NBA championships (2000-2002).

Sure, he can be a 'ball hog' at times, but come crunchtime, who to better trust the ball with and ensure a game-winning shot than Kobe Bryant?

Politics in Manila reared its ugly head yet again as the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) finally scrapped basketball from the official sports list in this month's staging of the 23rd Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) in the Philippines.

The controversy-ridden Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) has been suspended from the roster of accredited sports bodies under POC for reasons (1) BAP failed to honor its commitment with the POC in the formation of a national basketball team from major leagues to compete in international competitons, and; (2) the BAP chair (along with some basketball players) was found to be a non-Filipino, which is unconstitutional.

Officials of both sports bodies have been at odds for months and the stand off has hurt the participation of national players in basketball games overseas including the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (SEABA) Championship in Malaysia. The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) is poised to suspend BAP, as recommended by POC, and prevent the Philippines from fielding a national team in any international game. Because of this, Filipinos will be deprived of a basketball team in this year's SEAG where the Philippines consistently dominate and reap gold for years.

Sad, really. Politicians are spoiling the very passion and pastime of every common Filipino. Basketball is a national Philippine sport as soccer is in Brazil. Sure, Filipino players are not as tall as the Chinese; not as disciplined as the Japanese; not as superstar-like as Americans, but the display of skill and heart to play is always there. So much so that Filipinos revere basketball players, raising them up on pedestals as heroes, idols, and even Gods (and elect into politics — ah, the irony!).

Basketball championship in SEAG may yield only one gold, but if history will repeat itself this year as in 1991 when the Philippines lost overall SEAG championship to Indonesia by a mere gold, these politicians embroiled in the suspension of basketball will reckon the nation's wrath of political disenchantment and disgust.

No basketball in SEAG? What an injustice! Blow the whistle and call 'Foul!'

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