PASAY CITY – National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar LeBron James made a rousing return to the basketball-crazy Philippines on August 19 as he was greeted by thousands of Filipino fans who wanted to see a glimpse of him.
The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) and two-time NBA champion planed in via a private plane which landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It is his second visit to Manila after appearing in exhibition game in 2013.
Another NBA star, reigning league MVP Steph Curry, is also coming to the country for a promotional tour.
The Golden State Warriors guard will arrive in Manila on September 5 as part of his Asian tour for sportswear brand Under Armour.
Curry will also be visiting Japan and China.
The arrival of Curry, who just last season led Golden State to its first championship in 40 years, is just one of the several NBA stars who will make their visit to the basketball-crazy country.
As James flew out of the countrym, Ricky Rubio, the Spanish point guard of the Minnesota Timberwolves, flew in together as other NBA top players Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs and Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets are poised to visit the country this month for their respective tours.
Rubio quietly slipped into the country without much fanfare but welcomed by his fans with open arms.
“The reception is overwhelming!” said Rubio of his first visit to the Philippines.
“I am blown away,” added Ricky, who witness the way the Philippine national team Gilas performed in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain, his home country.
“My love for the Philippines began last year when they were in Spain (for the FIBA World Cup). I remember the fans of the Philippines even won an award for that. I want to see that kind of passion personally,” added the 24-year-old Rubio, picked fifth overall in the 2009 NBA Draft.
In a span of two days, the Spanish national team player went through a series of activities to bring out his love for one of Asia’s biggest basketball nations.
The Spaniard was able to conquer the hearts of the Filipinos as he met with some fans after his press conference at the Adidas store in Fort Bonifacio Global City, before heading off to Manila..
In Manila, Ricky toured around historic Spanish walled city of Intramuros, the Rizal monument. He later joined some Filipino ballers and local Adidas brand ambassadors for a little street basketball on Anda St., Manila Standard’s Patricia Flores reported.
After playing with some Filipino cagers, Ricky said: “The Philippines plays an NBA style of game. Filipinos are very good,” said the 6’4” Rubio, who added that there is hope for “diminutive” Filipinos in the international arena.
“A lot of teams in the NBA are going small ball now. The Golden State Warriors are one of them. They play fast and just keep on shooting,” said Ricky.
“The basketball talent here in the Philippines is just crazy. I would love to come back to play more street ball and probably tour more places,” said Ricky.
James now plays with the NBA team Cleveland Cavaliers which was the runner-up in the recent NBA finals won by the Golden State Warriors.
Prior to the Cavaliers, James played with the Miami Heat which is coached by Filipino-American Erik Spoelstra and helped the team to two NBA championship.
He later appeared in a media event on the same day in Mandaluyong City to promote the Nike RISE program.
The top NBA player culminated the day by wowing the crowd with his dunking skills in an exhibition game at the jampacked SM Mall of Asia Arena (MOA) in Pasay City.
“In order to reach your full potential, make sure that the team is in high level, not just the individual. It was just how I was thought the game,” James said as he served as a mentor to young Filipino ballers in the program by the sportswear giant.
“More than teaching them the skill set, it’s about the inspiration that comes behind, the stories I can give them, tell them about the game. And it’s up to them to use that, the words that I gave them to use them to better themselves,” he said.
James also acknowledged the Filipinos’ passion for basketball which he said is something he is looking forward to in his second visit in the country.
“(It’s the) commitment to the game, you can tell that they’re having fun. You can always relate to people with passion on the sport,” James said.
James stayed in the country until Friday, August 21.
James commended the undying love and passion of Filipinos for basketball and inspired Final Nike Rise team to rise beyond belief in his appearance at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena.
“They love the game, you can always relate to those people who has passion for the game,” James said.
James served as the mentor of the Nike Rise team which was divided into two groups, Black and White and was reinforced by a selection of PBA and UAAP players.
At halftime, Kristine Cayabyab, the lone female member of the Nike Rise team defeated Thirdy Ravena, Perlas Pilipinas mainstay Ewon Arayi and teammate Nelson “Pogi” Deocera in a three-point contest.
The Cleveland Cavalier player joined the White Team with less than seven minutes left in the second half. He electrified the crowd with thunderous jams in almost every possession.
In the end, the Black Team prevailed over the White Team, 100-86