Miami Heat superstar LeBron James (center) celebrates with UAAP players after dunking in a basketball clinic during his "Witness History" tour Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena. -- Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – NBA superstar LeBron James capped his one-day visit to Manila by coaching – and then playing with – a team composed of college players against the Gilas Pilipinas national basketball team.
In front of thousands of screaming fans at the Mall of Asia Arena on Tuesday, “King James” called the shots for a collegiate squad that included two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player Ray Parks, former Rookie of the Year Kiefer Ravena and Far Eastern University guards Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia.
James watched his team trim a seven-point deficit to just one point, 8-9, before calling a timeout halfway through the 10-minute scrimmage and putting on a red “Witness” jersey.
The four-time NBA MVP then joined the collegiate stars and proceeded to wow the crowd with an array of impressive moves, including an alley-oop dunk off a feed from Ravena.
But Gilas, led by Japeth Aguilar and Marc Pingris, won the game, 29-27, after James missed a potential game-tying lay-up in the dying seconds.
“The reason I missed those last two shots is because my jersey is too damn small, so forgive me,” said James, who also thrilled the crowd by throwing signed basketballs to the stands.
Prior to the scrimmage, James also joined the collegiate stars, Gilas Pilipinas, and the national under-16 team in a skills clinic.
Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes led the clinic, putting the players through dribbling drills, pick-and-roll drills as well as running some of the plays that the national team will use in their FIBA Asia Championship campaign this August.
James, who led the Miami Heat to their second consecutive NBA championship last June, gamely joined the drills, passing out the ball for three-pointers and even rebounding for some of the youth team players.
The crowd roared its approval when James swatted away a shot by a member of the youth team, then cheered even louder moments later when La Salle Greenhills standout Kobe Paras threw down a thunderous jam past James.
“You got a great future right here,” James said toward the end of the event, gesturing towards the local basketball players.
“On behalf of myself and Nike, I want to thank each and every one of you guys. I will continue to do my part, to continue to inspire you guys, and continue to make sure you guys love the game of basketball,” he said.
Earlier, as part of his "Witness History" tour, James visited the Nike Park at The Fort in Taguig City, where hundreds of fans ignored the pouring rain just to catch a glimpse of their idol.
During a press conference at the Makati Shangri-La, James also promised that this will not be his last visit to the Philippines.
“I can’t believe this is my first time here,” he said. “Definitely, it’s not my last.”