The rain poured hard last Friday but not even that could stop a good size crowd from trekking to the Araneta Coliseum to experience some nostalgia care of the NBA Asia Challenge 2009. A first-of-its-kind event to be held in the country, the Challenge presented the "best of both worlds" as teams led by National Basketball Association and Philippine Basketball Association legends competed against each other in 40 minutes of "crowd pleasing" action.
The excitement actually began even before the game proper started as the fans went buzzing as early as the pre-game shoot-out of the teams.
Fans took the opportunity to take pictures and get autographs while the NBA Generations and PBA All-Stars sized up the Big Dome court.
The enthusiasm of the crowd hit fever pitch when the members of the competing teams were announced. First to be called were the visiting NBA squad, bannered by Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins, All-Stars Tim Hardaway and Vlade Divac, and seven-time NBA champ Robert Horry. A fifth legend, league all-time leading scorer and many-time All-Star and champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was also there but did not play and concentrated instead on assisting coach Rory White on the sidelines. The NBA legends were backstopped by a select group from the NBA's development league.
Soon after the PBA All-Stars of former and current stalwarts were called and equally drew much applause especially when their own legends - Alvin Patrimonio, Allan Caidic, Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc and Kenneth Duremdes - were announced by the court barker.
The game got off to a rousing start with both squads exchanging early baskets. Wilkins, a known scorer during his prime, set the pace for the NBA team early, chalking up their first six points with a couple of rim rockers and a fade-away jumper. Not to be outdone, Arwind Santos and Patrimonio combined for the early points for the PBA to keep in step.
As the first canto progressed, Horry, Hardaway, Divac and D-Leaguer Billy Thomas joined the scoring fray for the NBA and threatened to pull away. But the PBA answered the challenge as it turned to Caidic to bail the team out. Despite being a decade removed from competitive ball, "The Triggerman" answered the call, racking up five straight triples to the delight of the hometown crowd and his teammates. But more importantly, Caidic's explosion afforded the PBA to keep pace and even take a one-point lead at the end of the first quarter, 26-25.
The second quarter saw the NBA legends take a seat and give way to the D-Leaguers who were all business. Forward Marcus Hubbard led his team in the period as it successfully held off the PBA selections to end the half with a five-point cushion, 46-41.
Unfortunately for the PBA, the second half had the team tapering off. Patrimonio, Paras, Willie Miller, Joseph Yeo and Enrico Villanueva tried to keep the team afloat but the NBA squad capitalized on its size advantage that limited the locals' effectivity. Led by Wilkins's 15 points, the visitors ended the third comfortably ahead, 79-60.
The NBA legends once again sat out the fourth quarter but the D- Leaguers ably finished off job, piling up 30 points combined en route to a 109-86 victory.
Atlanta Hawks great Wilkins led all scorers with 28 points in 20 minutes of play. Hubbard came in second with 18 markers. Horry had 10 points, Hardaway seven and Divac six. The PBA All-Stars was paced by Caidic's 15. Miller chipped in 14 while legends Patrimonio, Magsanoc and Paras had nine, eight and seven, respectively.
Making the event all the more engaging were the New Jersey Nets Dunking Divas and mascot Sly the Fox who dazzled the crowd with their impressive aerial acrobatics and dance moves. They also got the fans excited by giving various merchandises like posters, shirts and stuff toys every game intermission.
After the game, NBA legends Wilkins and Jabbar, as well as Thomas and Coach White, had good words to say for the PBA selections. In particular, the four threw praises on Caidic who they said was a great shooter and the one they had to contain. They also highlighted their size advantage as the huge difference in the game.
In summing up the Challenge, coach White said, "We really wanted to focus on pleasing the fans. We really wanted to come out and perform for them."
And the effort was surely appreciated by the crowd as nobody really left the arena even when the NBA squad broke the game wide open. The NBA Asia Challenge in large part presented a chance for the fans to see their retired heroes back in action and doing their stuff, and at the end of the day they got just that.