MANILA — For one memorable weekend, the Philippines will be the center of the basketball universe, if only for the stars that will converge at the Araneta Coliseum starting tonight [Saturday].
Kobe Bryant. Chris Paul. Kevin Durant. Derrick Rose.
Even in the NBA, where these basketball gods strut their stuff, the only time these four share the court for a basketball game is during the All-Star game—and even then, not as teammates.
Not even Team USA has gathered this four stars as teammates. Bryant and Paul played for the Beijing Olympics “Redeem Team” while Durant and Rose were stalwarts of the gold-winning United States squad in the World Championship.
Tonight, they will play together, in the first of a pair of charity matches. And fittingly, they will do so before some of the most passionate hoop junkies in the world.
With President Aquino expected at courtside, the four stars lead a nine-man squad of NBA standouts which Bryant, the five-time champion, acting as playing-coach in a game against a selection from the PBA tonight.
Game time—some say basketball heaven —is 7 p.m.
And this early, the Americans have been showered with the kind of basketball love unique to this country.
“What a welcome from the fans here in Manila,” Paul posted on his Twitter page after arriving yesterday morning. “(I) can’t wait to go out on the court tomorrow.”
For the local PBA stars and an entire archipelago that sometimes treats basketball as a religion, that excitement is amplified to the nth degree.
“It’s [going to be] a memorable experience,” said two-time league MVP James Yap of B-Meg. “It’s an honor.”
The rest of the NBA cast is equally impressive: Slam dunk runner-up Javale McGee, veteran playmaker and Kobe teammate Derek Fisher, second overall draft pick Derrick Williams, former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and shooting guard James Harden.
“I might get star-struck,” said Alaska’s LA Tenorio, who could be matched up against Paul, a player the Aces playmaker openly admires. “Can I bring a camera while playing? I’m so excited.”
Tickets that went on sale Sunday night didn’t last a couple of hours in the box-office.
Tomorrow, Bryant and his gang will slug it out with the Smart Gilas national team at 1 p.m.
After the two-game series, the NBA players will fly to Boracay as part of the package.
The players arrived yesterday from different places, with Bryant flying in from Beijing, where he concluded a five-city Asian tour that started here.
And already the players were starting to enjoy their stay here.
“This is my first time in the Philippines and I Love It,” Harden posted on his Twitter account.
“Shoutout to all my fans in Manila. They all showed me love at the airport,” tweeted Evans.
“So much love on Manila,” McGee posted.