LAOAG CITY, November 29, 2005 
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - The consensus was it was the most thrilling All-Star Weekend ever staged by the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) since the pro league institutionalized the annual extravaganza in 1989.

From the skills events to the Rookie vs Sophomores "blitz" contest to the Legends Shootout to the Slam Dunk competition to the North vs. South All-Star Game, the level of excitement was unprecedented. City Mayor Michael Farińas rolled out the red carpet for the visitors who gave the local folk an unforgettable treat in four days of rocking and rolling both on and off the court.

Players participated in campus tours, a street party, barangay visits, gift-giving to orphans, bar hopping, clinics and even a coastal clean-up at Pagudpud during the fun weekend.

On the court, it was strictly business.

Red Bull’s Topex Robinson clocked 30 seconds in the obstacle course to win the race over Alaska’s Brandon Cablay (42) and Sta. Lucia Realty’s Alex Cabagnot (45) in the three-way finals last Friday. Eliminated in the first round were San Miguel Beer’s Paolo Hubalde (42), Barangay Ginebra’s Egay Echavez (1:12), Air21’s RenRen Ritualo (54), Coca-Cola’s Dale Singson (1:03), Purefoods’ Paul Artadi (51) and Talk ‘N’ Text’s Leo Avenido (39).

Not known for his outside shooting, Robinson hit the top-of-the-key mandatory shot on his first try in both the eliminations and the finals. Artadi missed on five tries from the same spot, Ritualo hit it on his fourth attempt and Avenido on his first.

Hubalde outdid Talk ‘N’ Text’s Mark Cardona in the finals of the trick shot event. The San Miguel rookie’s neatest trick was bouncing the ball off his head and into the basket.

Talk ‘N’ Text’s Jimmy Alapag regained the three-point shootout crown by outdueling Ritualo and San Miguel Beer’s Dondon Hontiveros in the three-way finals. Alapag shot 15, Ritualo 14 and Hontiveros 11. In the eliminations, Hontiveros led with 18 followed by Ritualo (15) and Alapag (14). Barely missing the cutoff was James Yap (13). Defending champion Ronald Tubid crashed with only eight.

In the Legends Shootout last Saturday, the oldies were the goodies as they outpointed the finalists of the day before. Ronnie Magsanoc, Frankie Lim and Alvin Patrimonio beat Alapag, Ritualo and Hontiveros, 41-39. Patrimonio, shooting last, clinched it in dramatic fashion by knocking down his final trey, the two-point money ball from the corner. But Lim emerged the highest pointer with 15. Before taking to the floor, Lim found out he was No. 10 in the PBA’s all-time three-point field goal percentage ladder. PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon said the realization probably inspired him.

Air21’s Nino Canaleta dazzled the packed crowd at the Centennial Arena with an array of acrobatic rim rattlers in the Slam Dunk competition that followed the Legends Shootout. He creamed Enrico Villanueva in a dunk-off. Nobody came close to upstaging the high-flying Tarlac jammer who made his first dunk as a six-foot, 16-year-old high school student. Canaleta said what he unraveled wasn’t even half of his dunk arsenal. He kept the two-handed windmill under wraps until probably next year in anticipation of a serious challenge from pro-bound Kelly Williams and defending titlist Cyrus Baguio who backed out this year due to an injury.

Canaleta is clearly out of this world. He’s in his own stratosphere when he soars for a slammer. The things he does on the way to stuffing the ball into the hole are unreal. PBA commissioner Noli Eala said he’s considering to send a tape of Canaleta’s best dunks to the National Basketball Association in the hope of arranging an invitation for "KG" to perform as a guest in the All-Star Weekend in Houston this February.

Someone suggested organizing a contest where the PBA’s imports fall in line to dunk against Canaleta. Purefoods import Marquin Chandler, who flew here with his girlfriend Abby and the All-Stars to enjoy Ilocano hospitality and Ilocano food, couldn’t believe his eyes as Canaleta showed why he’s the undisputed dunking master in this part of the world.

Then, in the All-Star Game, the action was just as exciting. It went down to the wire. South All-Star James Yap could’ve sent it into overtime but his triple fell short at the buzzer. Jay-Jay Helterbrand erupted for 38 points to bag MVP honors and lead the North to a pulsating 131-128 win.

North coach Ryan Gregorio, in his All-Star Game debut, was ecstatic. So were the North All-Stars who whooped it up in the end. South coach Joel Banal, who won the All-Star Game last year, said the Laoag edition was more exciting and more fun even if he wound up on the losing end. To witness the league’s biggest and brightest stars go all out to win was a consolation for Banal who couldn’t have asked for more from his team.

Eala said the All-Star Weekend will be held in the South next year. Whether the host is Tacloban or Bacolod or somewhere else, the Laoag extravaganza will be a tough act to follow.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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