MANILA, APRIL 27, 2006 (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Dennis Rodmanís bodyguard Craig Balkam yesterday warned Asi Taulava to be careful in crowding the former National Basketball Association (NBA) star for rebounds when the "Bad Boys" take on the Philippine team at the Araneta Coliseum on May 1.

"Iíve seen that big blond guy play," said Balkam who watched Talk ĎNí Text go up against San Miguel Beer in a Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) game last Sunday. "Iím just afraid he might get in Dennisí hair when they fight for rebounds. You know how it is in the NBA, they can get pretty physical and Dennis is known to protect the ball by extending his elbows. If that blond guyís jaw is in the way of Dennisí elbow, it could end up getting broken or dislocated."

Balkam provides protection for Rodman but not on the court. Obviously, Rodman can take care of himself during a game.

One thing Balkam has noticed since arriving here last Saturday is how friendly Filipinos are.

"Iíve been to at least 30 countries and I think Filipinos are the nicest people in the world," said Balkam who is of Italian descent. "You smile at a Filipino and youíll get a smile back."

Balkam makes a living out of what he calls "executive protection." He was trained in the business by Israeli security consultant Moshe Alan some 20 years ago, fresh out of high school in New York. Today, Balkam owns and operates a Los Angeles company that specializes in celebrity security.

"Iíve got people working for me, other security specialists," said Balkam. "We donít usually take in athletes except Dennis is a special friend and a great guy. We do a lot of Hollywood stars. I choose my clients and in fact, I just turned down Jessica Simpson."

Balkam fought several years in the World Combat circuit, the precursor of the Ultimate Fighting Championships, but gave it up because the money was too good in executive protection.

"We only had two rules in World Combat fightingĖno eye-gouging and no fish-hooking," continued Balkam. "Everything else, you could do. Iíve got scars on my face and marks on my hands and body from bites."

Despite the years of serious fighting in the ring, Balkamís nose is straight and narrow. Looks, however, can be deceiving as Balkam quickly pointed out with a broken cartilage, there is nothing to keep his nose in place.

The one Filipino heíd like to meet is Manny Pacquiao whom Balkam said is known as the "Mexican Killer" in US fight circles.

"Iím a really big fan," said Balkam. "I love his fights. Iíve watched all of his US fights. When I canít watch his fights live, I get them taped on my video recorder. Pacquiaoís a heckuva fighter."

What about Rodmanís plans? Does he intend to check out the bars and nightclubs in town?

"Dennis will stand out too much wherever he goes," said Balkam. "Heíll draw too much attention. No bars, no nightclubs. I think weíll all sleep well at night."

The "Bad Boys" make their Philippine debut against the San Miguel Beer All-Stars in Mandaue tonight. The All-Stars are made up of Allan Caidic, Ato Agustin, Ronald Magtulis, Ed Cordero, Vince Hizon, Chito Loyzaga, Joey Santamaria, Cris Bolado, Tony Boy Espinosa, Peter Martin, Pido Jarencio and Bobby Jose.

Rodmanís teammates on the "Bad Boys" squad are playing coach Sidney Moncrief, Calvin Murphy, Alex English, Otis Birdsong, Darryl Dawkins, Kareem Reid, Olu Famutini, Myron Allen, Jason Klotz, Colin Boddicker and Chad Wilkerson.

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Gabby LaO, the interim chairman and president of the Horse Harness Racing Association of the Philippines (HHRAP), is a familiar sight to Subic goers.

In Subic where he is the custodian and caretaker of the El Kabayo Riding Stables, LaO drives a top-down Datsun 1976 Fair Lady restored by his son and walks around in a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, a leather vest with a sheriffís badge, cowboy boots and a holster with a pistol thatís really a cigarette lighter.

LaO, 58, is now working on assembling a native American costume as heís expecting the delivery of a full Indian chief headdress any day now.

Eventually, LaO will alternate roles as cowboy and Indian.

At the stables, LaO manages 44 riding horses, 31 of which are owned by the Subic Freeport Zone and 13 by private individuals. He rents out the horses for trail rides into the forest, jungles, beaches and aeta villages and for romantic carriage tours. His dream is to build an authentic Wild West town in Subic.

"During Holy Week, we had a lot of visitors in Subic and Senator Freddie Webb came with his grandchildren one of whom told me when he grows up, heíd like to be like me, a cowboy," said LaO, a father of four. "My wife Rina (Villavicencio) understands why I go around in a cowboy get-up and stay in Subic three to four days a week while my family lives in Manila. Itís my personal mission to boost tourism. I believe in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and in my own small way, I hope Iím contributing to its progress."

Horse harness racing is a popular sideshow in local town fiestas. LaO said the HHRAP is determined to make it a nation-wide sport and a tourist attraction, particularly in Subic.

Last April 9, the HHRAP held its first-ever series of 20 one-on-one "tiburin" races on the 800-meter asphalt Subic International Race Track with 40 entries vying for top honors and prizes. The second series of races is scheduled on May 14.

By the way, LaOís late father Rogelio was a long-time La Salle juniors and seniors basketball coach. LaO himself was a varsity football player for both La Salle and Ateneo.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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