TOKYO, May 26, 2004
By Joaquin Henson  ó  Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner Noli Eala has invited Michael Jordan to attend the opening of the leagueís 30th season on Oct. 2 in a grand ceremony as guest of honor.

Ealaís letter of invitation was personally delivered to Jordan by the author during a 45-minute interview arranged by Nike in a 50th floor suite at the Park Hyatt Hotel last Monday.

Jordan, 41, was here for two days on the final leg of a week-long Asian tour that started in Beijing, proceeded to Hong Kong and stopped in Taiwan. He returned to the US last night.

Jordan said it was his first trip to Asia in eight years and welcomed the opportunity to meet fans, the press, and retailers of his personal footwear and sports apparel brand.

"Iíve gotten older and bigger," said Jordan. "I hope to keep coming back to Asia, see old friends and say thanks to the fans for their support. The main purpose of this trip was to kick things off in terms of marketing our brand. In the future, we hope to bring athletes over and introduce more products. Iím doing a lot of brand work now that Iím retired. The Asian fans are great and Iím grateful that they appreciate my expertise."

In his letter, Eala told Jordan "how rabid basketball fans the Filipinos are and how much Michael Jordan is loved in the country." He said Filipinos are known to be among the most passionate Jordan and basketball fans in the whole world.

"While we may have missed out on being part of your Asian tour this time, the PBA would like you to be part of a forthcoming milestone in the rich history of Asiaís first professional basketball league," said Eala.

"It is with great pride and honor that we formally invite you to be our guest of honor when the PBA opens its 30th season with a grand ceremony on Oct. 2, 2004. Your presence will not only add prestige to the occasion, it will most certainly make our opening rites the most important date in the Philippinesí basketball calendar. It is our hope that you will act favorably to this invitation. Our basketball fans are just aching to let you experience the Filipino hospitality thatís known the world over and shower their basketball idol with the love and adulation like no other."

With the letter, Eala sent the PBAís hard-cover, coffee-table book "The First 25 Years" and a league pin to Jordan.

The five-time National Basketball Association (NBA) MVP said he appreciated the invitation and accepted Ealaís gifts with a smile.

There was no indication if Jordan would accept the invitation although his personal assistant Estee Portnoy told Nike Philippines communications manager Rely San Agustin she hopes in the superstarís next Asian tour, Manila will be included. "Maybe, next time," she said.

Jordan was in Yokohama for the Nike Hoop Heroes project in 1996 and said he hardly toured or shopped during that trip.

"Japan still looks the same," he said. "Style is of the essence in Tokyo and I hope the Jordan brand catches on. I was able to do some shopping this time. I bought watches for my kids, purses for my wife and I even got myself a watch."

Jordanís first public appearance here was at the Mitake Park in the Shibuya district last early Sunday afternoon. He was surrounded by about 100 fans, mostly kids, to dedicate the first outdoor basketball court in Japan.

"I hope someday one of the kids gets to play in the NBA," said Jordan. "The court is made of recycled shoes. Itís a good start. Itís a court for kids to play on. Itís all about communities evolving."

Later in the afternoon, Jordan appeared on stage with Jordan brand president Larry Miller for about 30 minutes in an audio-visual presentation to media at the Park Tower building beside the Park Hyatt Hotel. Jordan and Miller spoke to the press and answered questions from a Japanese announcer.

Miller said the Jordan brand, a division of Nike, reflects excellence, sophistication and confidence. "We cultivate a combination of style and sport," he said. "We are the leading edge in product design. Our vision is to build a premium brand that reflects excellence on and off the court."

Jordan said he participates in the design of the products. The Air Jordan shoe series, now up to the 19th version, is the heart and soul of the product line. The 20th version is due next year and is now being worked on.

The Jordan line endorsers are personally handpicked. They include NBA stars Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, Ray Allen, Eddie Jones, Mike Finley, Derek Anderson, Quintin Richardson and Carmelo Anthony.

Before Miller and Jordan came on stage, 15 male models paraded in a dazzling light-and-sound fashion show that unveiled the extensive Jordan line of footwear, apparel and accessories. The models walked to the beat of hip-hop music, wearing jerseys, caps, armbands, wristbands, different kinds of shoes and an assortment of lifestyle apparel for all seasons.

The next morning, Jordan met with selected members of Asian media for 45 minutes in a private suite. Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines were represented in the exclusive conference.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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