,  August 19, 2004  (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Cebu City Mayor Tommy Osmeña described the recent six-day Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) All-Star tour as an exercise in nation-building.

PBA commissioner Noli Eala couldn’t agree more. Someone whispered that Mayor Osmeña isn’t a hoops fan like provincemate Rep. Eddie Gullas who once coached the University of Visayas cage team. But when he saw the excitement that the PBA All-Stars created in the Queen City of the South, Mayor Osmeña turned into an overnight believer.

A source said Mayor Osmeña was so convinced of the PBA’s drawing power as a galvanizing force in the community that he has offered to foot the bill for a repeat performance.

A second All-Star Week in Cebu, however, isn’t possible in the near future as Eala plans a Luzon venue for the next edition. Baguio and Pampanga are leading contenders to host the All-Star Week next year. Cities in the north and south will alternate hosting the annual festivities.

But the PBA plans a regular season game in Cebu in October so Mayor Osmeña won’t wait too long for another visit.

The North versus South format is perfect for the All-Star Game because it brings out a homecourt flavor. In last Sunday’s game, an enthusiastic Cebu crowd cheered lustily for the South squad and chanted "dee-fense" at the height of the second half rally that eventually led to the North’s two-point defeat.

The Cebu fans greeted the selection of Jimmy Alapag and Asi Taulava as co-MVPs with a rousing ovation. Alapag’s father is from Southern Leyte and mother from Butuan. Taulava’s mother traces her roots to San Jose, Samar.

The partisans gave a similar ovation to Red Bull’s Cyrus Baguio for capturing the Slam Dunk title. Baguio hails from Iligan and played high school ball in Cebu before moving to the University of Santo Tomas. His mother is former PBA guard Ric-Ric Marata’s sister.

Star writer Nelson Beltran said he was told that during a collegiate Slam Dunk competition in Cebu a few years ago, Baguio–watching at courtside–was called in to replace an injured contestant. Baguio was then a high school player. He took the challenge and won the competition over–would you believe–Cebu’s own Dondon Hontiveros.

Baguio said his uncle Ric-Ric couldn’t watch his Slam Dunk performance because he was in Manila but Ric-Ric’s brother Bong was in the stands to witness the high-flying act. Baguio registered two perfect 50s to outclass Joey Mente and Reynel Hugnatan in the finals.

In all, Baguio posted three 50s in four executions, including two in the elimination round. Mente, Peter June Simon and Hugnatan were the only others to score 50s.

Hugnatan hurt his left hand on his second dunk, a difficult mid-air maneuver where he switched from right to left in stuffing the ball. His first dunk merited a 50 from the five-man judges panel made up of PBA legend Boy Cabahug, Purefoods coach Ryan Gregorio, Cebu coach Yayoy Alcoseba, Cebu sports editor Jun Migalen and media icon Ronnie Nathanielsz. The perfect dunk was a right-handed slammer with the left-handed Hugnatan looking away and pointing his left forefinger at the crowd. It was a pose fit for a poster.

Defending Slam Dunk champion Brandon Cablay was originally entered in the contest but opted out due to a knee problem. Taulava also withdrew at the last minute, claiming a hand injury–which didn’t seem to bother him in the All-Star Game.

About P4 Million was spent for the All-Star extravaganza and it was worth every centavo. Eala said the PBA broke even in the project and wasn’t in a cash-out position. Talk ‘N’ Text and San Miguel Beer reportedly contributed a total of P2.5 Million to defray expenses. Ticket sales for the All-Star Game amounted to over P800,000. Discounts were also negotiated for air travel via Cebu Pacific and accommodations at the Waterfront Hotel in Lahug.

Everywhere the All-Stars went, they were mobbed. A window in the tour bus where the players rode was smashed by over-eager fans. At the University of Visayas campus, the All-Stars had to make a hasty exit through the backdoor to escape a huge throng of fans.

The All-Stars visited the San Vicente Hospital, toured five campuses, conducted a clinic (with coaches Chot Reyes and Tim Cone who flew in for the day), dropped by five restrobars, went to Plantation Bay, attended the "Gimik Ng Bayan" which was an evening rock concert at Sunflower City and mingled with fans at the SM City Parking Lot before taking to the hardcourt for the skills events last Saturday and the All-Star Game the day after.

I never thought of the PBA as an instrument for nation-building until Mayor Osmeña pointed it out. No doubt, the PBA is a unifying force in society. It brings millions of Filipinos together through live events, radio, TV and the print medium. It is Filipino sports entertainment at its best. It is both a culture and tradition. The PBA is a way of life and plays a role in the development of the Filipino identity.

Mayor Osmeña is absolutely right.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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