|Fireworks light up during LeBron James' entrance in his "Witness History" tour at the Mall of Asia Arena last July 23. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – NBA superstar LeBron James of the Miami Heat, widely acknowledged as the best basketball player on the planet, tweeted his appreciation for Filipino fans a day after he was showered with cheers and adoration in his “Witness History” tour.
James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, visited the Philippines for the first time this week and thrilled thousands of Filipino fans on Tuesday when he visited the Nike Park at The Fort, then put on a show along with local basketball stars at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“What a great experience here in Manila, Philippines!!” James tweeted Wednesday morning. “Thanks for welcoming me with open arms, will never forget it.”
The highlight of James’ visit came at the MOA Arena on Tuesday afternoon, when thousands of screaming fans went wild as he appeared amid a fireworks display and smoke.
“Are y’all ready, Philippines?” James asked, and the MOA Arena crowd responded by showering him with “MVP” chants.
“I’ve been everywhere,” James said. “This is an unbelievable place. I love it, I’ve had an unbelievable time so far.”
|LeBron James of NBA champions Miami Heat slaps hands with members of a Filipino basketball team upon his arrival at the Mall of Asia Arena to conduct a basketball clinic in Pasay city, metro Manila July 23, 2013. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
James gamely participated in a skills clinic conducted by Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes along with members of the national team, the national youth team, and some collegiate basketball players.
The crowd followed his every move, cheering on every dunk, pass, and even a missed three-pointer.
The local hoops stars, especially members of the Under-16 team, were clearly thrilled to be doing skills drills with James.
“Siyempre idol. Nandoon na lahat eh. Ano pa ba ang hindi mo a-idol-in kay LeBron,” Ateneo star Kiefer Ravena would later say in an interview with The Philippine Star.
But the loudest ovation came when, halfway through a 10-minute scrimmage between Gilas Pilipinas and the college stars, James decided to suit up for his team.
He immediately drilled a three-pointer and spent five minutes blowing past by his defenders, including Marc Pingris and Ranidel de Ocampo.
“Sinabayan ko talaga siya, kaso wala talaga eh. Ang lakas ng upper body niya,” De Ocampo told The Philippine Star.
“Tatlong beses niya akong tinirahan ng tres pero wala talaga akong magawa eh,” offered Pingris, one of the best defenders in the PBA today. “Magaling talaga siya. Kinain niya ako ng buhay.”
But Pingris and de Ocampo can take comfort in the fact that Gilas Pilipinas wound up beating Team LeBron, 29-27, after the King himself missed a potential game-tying lay-up.
“The reason I missed those last two shots is because my jersey is too damn small, so forgive me,” James said after the game.
Though he could not lead his team to victory, James was clearly able to accomplish what he set out to do when he visited the Philippines – inspire the local basketball players and fans.
“I will continue to do my part to inspire you guys and continue to make sure you guys love the game of basketball,” James said.
He thrilled the crowd further when he gave away signed basketballs, and then authored a heart-warming scene when he gave away his jersey to a young boy.
|Miami Heat superstar LeBron James goes for a reverse dunk against Gilas Pilipinas' Ranidel de Ocampo during a scrimmage at the Mall of Asia Arena last July 23. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com
In a press conference earlier in the day, James discussed the difficulty of winning consecutive championships with the Heat.
"They always say once you win the first one it starts to become easier. It wasn't easier for us at all, to be the defending champs and have to defend your title each and every night regular season, throughout the playoffs, was very difficult, " he said.
"For me, as a player, I just want to be the best that I can be each and every night, I want to be the MVP for our team."
James, who has been under tremendous scrutiny and pressure since he came into the NBA, stressed that he was not even close to being satisfied despite being a four-time MVP, two-time champion and two-time Finals MVP.
"I got a lot more to prove, to myself, I got a lot more to accomplish, that I want to accomplish. And the word 'legacy' is always thrown around very early in my sport, in sports in general," he said.
"So, for me, I don't really talk about it. I think at the end of the day, when I decide to hang my shoes up, put the jersey down, my game, my resume speaks for itself and I will let everybody decide where they want to put me," he added.