Wednesday, January 28, 2015
This appears on the NBA Philippines site.
Thoughts on Kobe Bryant’s 19th season
by rick olivares pic from shahan ahmed
When I hear the number “19” I think of the Paul Hardcastle dance song from the 1980’s that referred to the average age of the American combat soldier during the Vietnam War. Now I might have to add that Kobe Bryant’s 19th season in the NBA that could really hasten the end for what is a Hall-of-Fame career.
If you equate 19 to sports parlance especially in years played – now that is an awful lot of games and mileage. He’s had numerous injuries throughout his career that allowed him only to play in five complete seasons! FIVE. Yet think of his on-court accomplishments and how much more he could have achieved had he been in better health.
As of to date, he has missed 146 games (aside from those early DNPs by his coaches) to injury. And counting.
I know there’s this competitive fire that burns in Bryant and he wants to go out in a blaze of glory. Yet he should use this time off for lots of reflection. I think that he pushed himself for so long that in the past three years his body has given out.
When Larry Bird’s back gave him problems for two consecutive seasons 1990-92, he called it quits but not before he went out with an Olympic Gold Medal with the Dream at the Barcelona Olympics.
I am also reminded of the time when age and gravity also took its toll on Julius Erving as opposing players smelled blood and went after him – dunking on him while talking smack. This coalesced into that November 9, 1984 match-up between the Boston Celtics and Erving’s defending champion, Philadelphia 76ers. Erving was having a bad night being repeatedly torched by Bird on both sides of the court then it got chippy and physical. When a fight broke out, Moses Malone and Charles Barkley held Bird in an arm lock while Doc teed of on the Celtics’ star. Everyone was shocked to see Erving lose his cool and actually throw punches. This isn’t the shoving that characterizes “fighting” in the NBA post-Malice in the Palace but real haymakers were thrown.
I am also reminded about Bryant’s idol, Michael Jordan, who in his third coming with the Washington Wizards brought an inglorious end (am referring to the inability to tow the team to the playoffs and getting fired) to what should have been a storybook ending in Chicago. Tendonitis, his knee drained of fluids…
This season we saw Bryant jawing with former teammate Dwight Howard. I wrote something about that incident and opined that he should refrain from busting another’s chops and consider himself an elder statesman of the league (jeez we all got old). It sure bit the Black Mamba back as the sad fact was bared that the Lakers play much better when Bryant is off the floor.
With his season over after tearing a rotator cuff, Bryant is still in the news after it was finally revealed that he wanted to join Jordan in Washington after he hoped to escape Los Angeles over his feud with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal in 2004. However, Jordan was gone from the American capital and his former feuding foes in Phil Jackson and O’Neal were gone from LA (the former at least temporarily).
It’s a tantalizing thought and filled with what ifs and what could have beens however, the reality is the end of the road is much closer than we all think.
Since the publication of Jordan’s book, For the Love of the Game, I had always wondered why he included Bryant in the book. Outside his Chicago teammate Scottie Pippen, Bryant was the only other player given a page. I guess back then, His Airness saw something special in the young player. Their friendship over the years has proven to be solid none more so when he passed Jordan in the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Maybe Bryant should talk to another sports icon who recently left – and on his own terms – Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. Jeet played 20 seasons in pinstripes. After the Yankees won the 2009 World Series, Jeter had one more statistically great year while the others saw him mostly injured and his game in decline. Yet he still managed to provide many great moments in his final years. You cannot say he was a detriment to the team. He was like a shining light on a team that saw a lot of injuries and was in decline. But he went out the way he should – with a game winning hit at Yankee Stadium and a single in his final baseball game at Fenway Park to the rare applause of Boston fans.
Bryant has done the same. As a fan, I’d love for him to come back at least one more season before hanging it up. It would be good for teams to give him a send-off as he will go down as one of the NBA’s all-time best. If you tell him to hang it up, he’d do the opposite and come back. It’s that stubbornness that also got them to where they are. I would maintain though that it shouldn’t be at the risk of his health.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
This appears on the PBA's website.
What could be ailing Barangay Ginebra?
by rick olivares pic by nuki sabio
Someone asked me what I thought of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s loss and problems. Well, it’s only one game but in a short conference… every loss can be a team’s ultimate undoing.
Nevertheless… let’s take a stab at this even as everyone and their brother has tried to dissect Ginebra.
The carousel of coaches has been cited as one problem. While some point a finger to a star-studded line-up as the culprit as there aren’t enough role players.
You can make a case for both and I would agree to that. But one can only ride the coaching parade for so long because the players need to have some accountability.
Ginebra has talent for sure. They have the depth and manpower to compete with anyone on a nightly basis. If you look at their Season 39 team stats, they were a middle of the pack team in terms of offense and defense. Obviously, those stats plummeted after the Philippine Cup of that year. So what is wrong?
I’ll cite three things -- their confidence is low, they lack that blood and guts leader, and they no longer have that electrifying import that stirred the masses.
Ginebra by history isn’t a team that wins championships by the bushel load. No. They win one. Then go on a drought. Win another one then go on a prolonged season of heartbreak. It’s just in their DNA.
Well, missing in that DNA is just what I said. The lack of confidence, that blood and guts leader, and that larger than life import.
A crisis of confidence
They looked good last year but after San Mig Coffee scuttled them in seven in the semifinals they were never the same again. Like they put all their marbles in one basket and when they lost it was all gone.
When Joseph Yeo came on board in time for Season 40, they looked like they had added a weapon that could help them get past Purefoods with their wondrous shooting guard-small forward combos. But still they struggled.
They ditched Global Port in the playoffs but when they went up against a Talk ‘N Text squad that is known for their work ethic they crumbled.
They need to string up some wins – big ones –to get their confidence going.
Where art thou, Rudy Hatfield?
There used to be no shortage in this department. You start off with Sonny Jaworski then go to guys like Pido Jarencio and Rudy Distrito. Later there was Bal David.
For a while, it used to be Mark Caguioa. Jeez. He was electrifying back then in the post-Jaworski era but injuries, age, and gravity have done the rest. When they first acquired Rudy Hatfield he was like detonating a nuke on the PBA landscape. That’s how huge this guy was for Ginebra.
There are teams that have always been characterized by their system – Alaska used to run its famed triangle offense back then they had this coach by the name of Tim thereabouts. San Miguel was also the paragon of execution with Hector Calma and later Olsen Racela pointing the way.
But my how the PBA world has turned. Purefoods are the masters of execution. Alaska is the one that plays with a lot of fire and brimstone. San Miguel… well, if there’s anything that we can glean from their last title win it was defense and execution.
Ginebra… damn. Remember when Jaworski returned from a nasty game injury against Northern Consolidated Cement and led the team to a win? That was inspirational. And that began that saying of “never say die.”
The problem is – Alaska has co-opted that tag. Well, at least for now.
Ginebra has gone back to its run and gun but where’s the fire?
When you say “Gary Granada” in PBA parlance nowadays, not many will recall that anthem by that folk singer that defined the broken hearts club of fans in the 90s. They’ll now think of that dude in Meralco. You know. The one who’s supposed to shoot the lights out of gyms. Meralco. Lights out. Get it?
Okay. Enough of the bad jokes. Ginebra has been the butt of them.
The question now is --- who can lead this team of underachieving players?
That lack of a larger than life import
This is a team that at one time or another trotted out Lew Massey, Michael Hackett, Billy Ray Bates, Carlos Briggs, Jervis Cole, Jumpin’ Joe Ward, Sylvester Gray, Wes Matthews, Daren Queenan, Jamie Waller, and Chris King! Guys who swopped towards the basket for death defying jams. Who shot three-pointers like no one’s business (except when Hurricane Harris or Jose Slaughter was in town). Men who patrolled the paint and growled at those who deigned to drive inside the lane.
When the PBA players started getting taller and more skilled, we all saw that we matched up a little better to the American reinforcements. But in the second and third conferences where the fortunes of an import can make or break a team… Ginebra is breaking its fans’ hearts.
In Season 39, their imports didn’t even make the top 10 in scoring or total field goals. The one time they did was when Gabe Freeman was tenth in bombarding from three-point range. But Carlos Briggs (or Wes Matthews) he isn’t. And a far cry from his San Miguel days.
I am not sure if Michael Dunigan is the dude to carry this team. It was Greg Slaughter who was getting double and triple teamed out there!
Again, it’s one game. It would be interesting to see how they come out for the next game and how they finish. By conference’s end maybe we can analyze them again.
This appears on philstar.com
On the controversy before the Super Bowl calm
by rick olivares
When I first heard and read about the deflated footballs post Indianapolis and New England, my first reaction was, “What? New England again?”
My second was, “On this on the eve of Super Bowl XLIX?”
Now there are Deflategate cookies, memes, Saturday Night Live parodies, and countless editorial cartoons (not to mention the barbs in social media).
Hey, we’ve got the big game coming up!
In case you don’t follow the NFL, Super Bowl Sunday is between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks on February 1 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, USA.
Now like any self-respecting sports writer, I wanted to see what evidence came of it. Now fingers are pointing towards the ballboy. You mean the ballboy had the chutzpah to think of something like this and carry it out by his lonesome?
Some will defend the integrity of the Patriots and point out that after they were docked a first round draft pick and heavily-fined for Spygate, they’d be fools to try anything stupid.
It sounds logical, right?
When you hear reactions to criminals or serial killers, the common reaction is, “he was such a nice guy” or “he was quiet” blah blah blah. While it seems such a bizarre comparison, let me just say that New England has killed opponents on the field of play as they dashed many a Super Bowl hope.
I think it is also erroneous to say that people with an impeccable record cannot do any wrong.
Some people cheat because they want to keep their winning run going. Some people will cheat because they want to win at all costs. Some will even cheat because they are sick and tired of losing.
Sadly, I don’t think New England Quarterback Tom Brady didn’t do anyone favors with his answers during the press conference regarding Deflategate. He not only didn’t sound convincing but he also sure didn’t seem upset with people questioning his integrity. If I were put in front of a media horde that is looking to tear the Patriots and mark them as serial cheaters, I would be upset!
While I have no love for New England or any of its sports teams (sorry, I’m a New Yorker here), I respect what they have accomplished. I can accept Red Auerbach fleecing opponents their top players or draft picks for lemons and forcing opposing players to dribble over the old parquet floor’s dead spots. I can accept – gulp – the Boston Red Sox reversing a curse that one of their own labeled as such. But “spying” or even deflating footballs is low.
In case you do not understand the rules of the game, each team uses its own balls.
And perhaps like Spygate, the crux of the matter is integrity. And maybe that’s what is everyone is upset or quibbling about. The sad thing is it takes away from what should be a great Super Bowl. Hopefully, this goes away quick because we’d all might be deflated even before the opening kick-off.
Sunday, January 25, 2015
|Mike and Matt Nieto with their father, Jet.|
This appears in the Monday, January 26, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.
Chips off the old blue & white block
by rick olivares pics by , arvin lim, gil salandanan and jet nieto
Mike Nieto waited for the pass at the right corner pocket. When the ball was whipped over, he was wide open. A UP defender scrambled over to challenge what he thought was a three-point attempt but the 6’1” forward blew past him down the baseline where the Junior Fighting Maroons’ power forward Joselle Tupaz switched over to meet him. Nieto pumped faked Tupaz -- who is two inches taller – off his high tops, took the hit, then banged the ball off the window for an and-one; 70-45, at the 9:14 mark of the fourth period with Ateneo leading.
A minute later, Mike’s twin brother, Matt, drilled in a jumper from the outside to add to the lead as Ateneo coasted to a 83-66 victory, their 12th straight in as many games.
Over by the stands, the Nieto’s proud father, Jet, raised his fist to join the traditional post-game singing of the school hymn.
That’s two generations of Nietos wreaking havoc on the UAAP hardcourt. Jet who is a practicing medical doctor, was a bruising 6’2” forward for Ateneo teams that won the 1984-85 Juniors title and back-to-back seniors crowns in 1987 and 1988. Not only could the elder Nieto post up but he could also finish the fastbreak and hit long toms as he famously did during the Blue Eagles’ rally from 20-points down to defeat Jerry Codinera’s UE Warriors in 1987. After he helped Ateneo to its second UAAP crown over La Salle, he skipped his final year of eligibility to enroll in medical school. That prompted former Green Archer and television pundit Edu Manzano to exclaim – when he had the Blue Eagles on his show as guests – “after breaking bones in the UAAP now you will fix them.”
Aside from his ability to score points in bunches, the elder Nieto was a tough player who was very physical (which is an understatement). He also liked to get into the heads of opposing players. With his kids, he constantly reminds them to eschew the rough stuff and simply play the game.
Between the twins, Mike almost always is told that he plays just like his father. “I fell proud when people say that,” admits the burly forward. But his father is quick to dispel any similarities. “He is an improved version of me,” he says. “Mike can dribble with both hands, behind the back, and attack from either side. I couldn’t.”
In a recent match, an opposing player known for his dirty tactics was trying to get Mike’s goat. The son seethed. When the opportunity arose, he sent his foe crashing to the deck in the subtlest of ways with no foul called. “Tama na, ha?” he admonished while helping up his falling opponent who simply nodded.
Matt, two inches smaller than his twin, plays a different position from his dad – point guard. Aside from his quarterbacking skills, his strength used to be his strong drive to the basket. But this year, Matt along with Mike, have improved their outside shooting. “I have been on them to work on their shooting,” said the father. “That should serve them well when they move on to their college careers as the players are taller.”
Against UP, Mike finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists. Matt ably backed him up with 16 markers, nine boards, and two assists. Both are first and third in scoring for Ateneo (junior gunner Jolo Mendoza is second in scoring) and they form a formidable 1-2 punch.
Matt credits working with PBA great Jimmy Alapag as the reason for his improvement. The Blue Eaglets practice normally follows the practice of Talk ‘N Text at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center. Matt, constantly sought the mentorship of Alapag who taught him the finer points of playmaking and shooting.
Jeff Napa, head coach of rival National University Bullpups, marveled at the talent of the brothers in the vernacular “They aren’t that tall, but they are quick, smart, and know how to make the best use of their bodies.”
Right now, the brothers are focused on leading Ateneo to a championship that was last tasted in 2010. Last season, they to lost the Bullpups in the Finals in heartbreaking fashion. “It’s not an excuse but they were really tired,” related the father. Some of the Blue Eaglets saw action with the national team postponing the finals showdown. When they returned the hardly any rest and were tired come the championship. “But no excuses,” said Mike. “We felt bad for the seniors who graduated without a championship. We promised Aaron (Black) and Thirdy (Ravena) that we’d do our best to win a title for them and the school.”
The brothers admit they would like to add to the school’s legacy and doing their father proud by winning some championships. “We were about seven years old when we saw a tape of dad’s games (against UE and La Salle). We also saw a tape of the 2002 championship team (of Enrico Villanueva) and we knew that we wanted the opportunity to do the same,” related Matt.
Right now, they are two games away from a possible sweep that would send them to the finals with a thrice to beat advantage. “Right now, we don’t want to think about that,” said Matt. “We just want to take it one game at a time.”
“And enjoy our last months in high school,” chimed in Mike.
With that, the two joined their father as they made their way to the car. Just like chips off the old blue and white block.