LA Lakers Wesley Johnson (L) and Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan (R). Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines -- NBA stars DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors and Wesley Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers thrilled Filipino basketball fans Sunday at the SM Mall of Asia Music Hall when they gamely participated in various events of the NBA 3X Philippines.
DeRozan, an All-Star who led the Raptors to the playoffs in the previous season, watched the finals of the celebrity division of the NBA 3-on-3 tournament, and helped in an NBA Cares clinic involving Special Olympic athletes.
Both he and Johnson also helped judge a Slam Dunk contest, and Johnson later gamely answered questions from fans via social media.
"I think it opens up their world a little bit," said Carlo Singson, NBA country manager for the Philippines, when asked about DeRozan and Johnson's visit to Manila. "They see that there are places on the other side of the world that worships them and loves them. The people we bring out here love coming to the Philippines, and they want to come back because they see how popular the NBA is here."
Also present in the event were the Toronto Raptors Dance Pack, and Slamson the Lion, the official mascot of the Sacramento Kings, who wowed the crowd with his acrobatic dunks off a trampoline.
In the finals of the celebrity division, Team Alcaraz outlasted Team Rejects to retain the championship, while in the Slam Dunk contest, last year's champion, David Carlos, put on a stunning show that impressed not only the MOA crowd but even DeRozan and Johnson.
Carlos' two dunks in the preliminary round -- which included a 360 dunk -- only garnered 9s from the panel of judges, with Johnson shrewdly saying that the high-flyer seemed to be holding back his best dunks.
The Laker -- and unrestricted free agent -- proved to be right, as Carlos blew away the competition in the final round when he dunked over two of his friends for his first slam, and then threw down a windmill dunk that got DeRozan off his feet.
The finals of the other divisions of the NBA 3X challenge were still being played as of this writing.
"This is the fourth year of the event, the fourth year in a row, and it gets bigger and better every year," said Singson. "This year, we had over 200 teams from all over the Philippines, from 13-and-under divisions all the way to adult open divisions with bothe men's and women's teams."
Singson said it was very important for them that the Filipino fans got to see the NBA 3X events -- and by extension, the NBA stars -- without having to pay a single cent.
"We encourage everybody to come out, and we have something for everybody. We have fun games that anybody could try, and there's no entry fee because it's our way of giving back to the Filipino fans who are so good to us and who are very passionate about the NBA," he explained.
The Naismith Trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the FIBA World Cup, was also on display during the event, with fans allowed to take their pictures beside the historic trophy.
Singson said it was a happy coincidence that the FIBA World Cup trophy tour occurred on the same weekend as the NBA 3X Philippines, but stressed that they were willing to help out FIBA at all times.
"The NBA and FIBA have a very good relationship, we are partners with them, and we have the same mission - to grow basketbll around the world," he said. "So any time we can lend our platforms to FIBA, and vice versa, we do that."