MANILA, Philippines — On his first ever trip to this basketball-crazed country, LeBron James didn’t miss the chance to impress Manila by strutting the showmanship the fans were raring to see.
From the moment he faced the thousands of fans at the Mall of Asia Arena on Tuesday — behind blinding fireworks to his grand gesture to reach out to the kids in the crowd – James certainly left his mark.
This isn’t to forget the step back, fadeaway triples, the nifty passes and the dizzying dunks, which the NBA superstar obliged to show in a brief exhibition game with select collegiate and national team players.
“I’m lost for words. This is unbelievable. This is crazy,” LeBron told the jampacked crowd at the Witness History event, some of whom had lined up for days just to see him.
James, who recently posted a preview of his rap song on Instagram, opened up the show by rapping and dancing to a beat while asking: “Philipines are y’all ready? James is in the building.”
And the crowd aptly chanted “MVP! MVP!” That was just the first of many times that chant was heard that afternoon.
While James said he had an inkling of how passionate basketball fans here were, the four-time NBA MVP admitted during the press conference Tuesday morning: “I didn’t know what to expect. This is overwhelming.”
He also tried to overwhelm fans with his famous rim-rattlers – where he rises up so high before stuffing the ball hard on the ring – to which the crowd reacted with non-stop “ooohs” and “aaahs.”
Team LeBron, which was made of basketball standouts from the UAAP seniors and juniors division, yielded to Smart Gilas Pilipinas, 27-29, in a 10-minute scrimmage.
James, who laced up his game-time kicks of blue and black and donned a white and red jersey emblazoned with the word “witness”, joined the game midway to the delight of the fans.
He threw down a monster jam after the other off lob passes from teammates Kiefer Ravena, Cris Newsome, Terrence Romeo and Ray Parks, and James even had a chance to win it for his team but misfired on the final two attempts.
“The reason why I missed those last two shots because my jersey’s too damn small, forgive me,” James jokingly said in his closing speech.
But his sense of humor wasn’t the last thing Manila would remember about arguably the best basketball player in the world — it was when he pulled a kid from the Lower Box section, brought him down courtside and gave him his used, and signed, jersey.
“You guys a got a great future here. I will continue to do my part and inspire you guys. You just gotta keep on being passionate just the way you are,” James said.