The Bleachers King: Just be glad you were a witness

by Rick Olivares

Posted at Jul 27 2013 05:12 PM | Updated as of Jul 28 2013 01:26 AM

It’s been four days since LeBron James set foot in Manila for a one-day event that was organized by Nike.

It wasn’t my first time to see James up front close. It was my second.

The first was after his rookie NBA season at the NBA Store in Manhattan. He was a star already but not as big as he is today. It was advertised that he was making a promotional appearance at the store with several other NBA players.

I left work early that day and decided to hang out at the store so getting in wouldn’t be a hassle later in the day.

He shot a few hoops, signed autographs, and gamely posed for pictures. The youthful kid who smiled in the face of pressure in that first ever Nike ad (where he faced Mike Bibby and the Sacramento Kings) is no longer there. Stung by withering criticism, he had to prove everyone wrong after repeated failures on the court. It is now a chiseled veteran of many wars who I saw at the Makati Shangri-La. I was willing to suspend my dismay because it must have been an exhausting flight for him.

He didn’t smile much and he sounded like he trotted out the prefabricated answers and words. That changed somewhat when he got to the Mall of Asia Arena and on the court where he was in his element. He smiled and joked. Seemed more loose.

I saw some of the college and pro basketball players follow him hoping for a photograph with him; a souvenir of what was otherwise a magical day. After all, how many can say that they were on the same court as LeBron James?

He only had one photo and that was with one photographer during a lull in the activities on the court. But other than that he was whisked away and said, ‘No photographs or autographs.”

I can understand the need for privacy or that one may be tired but this was a promotional appearance. I remember one of our more famous boxers telling me over dinner that he gets the feeling that people only want to talk to him because they want his money. And yes, I think of Allen Iverson’s quote about signing stuff and having photos taken. To paraphrase Iverson: you can sign all afternoon but when you’re done there’s one more and you decline, you get a ‘you suck’.

True. On all counts. But not for all occasions and every person.

Others will counter that in the case of James and those other foreign athletes who are worshiped as demi-gods, ‘you are in the Philippines. It isn’t everyday that you are here. Chances are this is a once in a lifetime event.’

No interviews. No autographs. No photographs.

I have no idea if that is the policy of the NBA, Nike, James, or maybe all three of them. But then you see these people (NBA and Nike) have their pictures with him. So it becomes it’s just us and the rest of you are here to watch. Well, they are right. It was the “Witness History” tour, right? We’re here to witness and not ask questions or ask for photos. Ooo-kay.

“Hey, I am here to fulfill my duties as an endorser of so and so. They didn’t say that I had to flash a Magic Johnson smile while I go through the motions.”

It was the same when Ken Griffey came over. They kept everyone at a distance except for the US Embassy folks who could get their pictures taken with a smiling Griffey any time. You should have not announced it and just kept it for yourselves so that way you didn’t offend the local media.

Of all the recent pro athletes to come over to these shores, the only ones who have shown gregariousness or genuine excitement in being here have been Kobe Bryant (and he’s been here a lot), Dominic Wilkins, Gary Payton, Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, Landon Donovan, and Luc Longley (to name a few). The others ranged from okay to the surly to the oblivious. Heck, even Tracy McGrady didn’t even remember going here.

I recall even when the WWE was here, wrestlers Edge and Lita were openly hostile in a meet and greet that was a complete disaster (people waited for hours for nothing except one humungous photo with about 50 people and two wrestlers who were sulking).

And then you see them on television saying, “It’s all about the fans.” And the NBA does a great job of selling that. “It’s about the fans.”

Really?

Several years ago, FC Barcelona went on a tour of Korea where they put on a cold war act that made the locals very unhappy and downright angry. They paid a lot of money for nothing.

Sometimes, I wonder if it’s because we’re Asian and not white.

But I notice that this is more frequent with the global stars while those from fledging sports are more accommodating. Yeah, interview me now before I become a swellhead.

Am I upset? Nah. If there’s anything I’ve learned from covering sports for quite a long time, is don’t expect much because you’ll end up disappointed. Sometimes, just take it for what it is. Just write the story and don’t come away affected by whether this athlete is an ass or not.

So there’s the selfie photos, the transcript of someone else’s interview, some dunks during the layup line and a scrimmage. And someone dunking on you.

These are the images we’re left behind with.

Oh, to be a witness.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.