NBA stars eager to put on a show for Pinoy fans
Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Brandon Jennings, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross pose for a picture during a press conference at the NBA Cafe. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – Several NBA players are in Manila for a basketball charity event, tabbed "The Last Home Stand," that includes a pair of exhibition games against the Gilas Pilipinas national team on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as a three-point shootout and a dunk contest.
Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, Brandon Jennings, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan,and Terrence Ross were introduced to Philippine media Monday afternoon, and despite the long flight to Manila, the players said they are excited to show their skills in front of Filipino fans.
"We're out here to put on a good show and give back to the community," said Lowry, a guard for the Toronto Raptors. "It's an opportunity for us to see the world and interact with different cultures, and we're excited for our time here."
"When we landed, we got a great reception. The fans are excited," added Portland's Lillard.
Toronto's DeRozan and Houston's Harden both expressed their delight to be back in Manila. DeRozan was in town earlier this month for an NBA Cares event, while Harden visited the country several times, including a trip last October wherein he led the Rockets against the Indiana Pacers in a pre-season game.
"It's always good to be in the Philippines. It's my third or fourth time, and just to be here is an unbelievable feeling," said Harden. "And these fans are amazing. They're crazy about basketball, and sports in general."
"We played our pre-season game here against the Pacers, and the crowd was amazing... It was an amazing experience, just playing in front of the Filipino fans who were out here," added Harden, who added that he was looking forward to playing with Indiana star Paul George this time, instead of against him.
The biggest cheers were for Leonard, the Spurs forward who was named the 2014 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player. The soft-spoken Leonard said he heard a lot about the Philippines from Spurs shooting coach Chip Engelland, who was a naturalized player for the country in the 1980s.
"He shared that experience with me, like how many points he scored and how he had a relationship with the culture and the fans here," said Leonard of Engelland, whom he also credited with helping him improve his shooting technique.
The two-day event, set on July 22 and 23 at the Araneta Coliseum, is also geared towards helping the Philippine national team as they prepare for their stint in the FIBA World Cup in Spain next August.
Coach John Lucas II, who will lead the NBA players in the exhibition games and will also handle some of the basketball clinics, is looking forward to seeing Gilas Pilipinas in action.
"It's a chance to work with the national team before they go and play friendlies" against other teams, said Lucas, a former NBA point guard who now trains both professional and amateur athletes.
Gilas Pilipinas head Coach Chot Reyes was also in attendance and stressed that that the star-studded event was all in the name of charity, even if it will be a huge boost to the national team.
"It's gonna be a big help to the national team to have the experience of playing guys that are as athletically gifted and talented as they are," he said, referring to the NBA stars. "But this is really for charity."
Reyes noted that after Super Typhoon Yolanda ravaged Tacloban last year, one of the first things that the children in the area did was put up a makeshift basketball hoop.
He also mentioned that during a report of ABS-CBN News' Jeff Canoy in Bataan during Typhoon Glenda, a young boy was seen in the background clutching a basketball.
"He was reporting on the storm, and behind him was a kid who was carrying a basketball. The one thing he saved from his house was a basketball," Reyes said. "That's the passion and love that we have for the sport."
"It's not a sport, it's almost a religion for us here," he stressed.
Also playing in the exhibition games are Tyson Chandler, Ed Davis, Blake Griffin, and Nick Johnson.
Tickets for the charity event remain on sale, starting at P750. The event will be for the benefit of the Philippine Disaster Recovery Fund, Caritas Manila and the MVP Sports Foundation.