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  1. The Real Thing

    File this under "Wala Lang, Walang Kinalaman Sa Basketball", specifically under "Food and Drinks".

    I just had a long discussion with an old college friend and one of my best friends of all time, Babymaker.

    Babymaker is from an old Albay family, really old school, old roots Bicol, and he makes a mean "laing".

    For lack of a better translation, let me roughly describe this to those unfamiliar with the dish as the top leaves of tubers, cooked in coconut cream, with the usual Filipino spices and seasonings.

    "Here is the basic 'recado' (ingredients): Bagoong Alamang, the colorless variety (a kind of aggressively salty, fermented fish paste), Tinapa (smoked fresh fish), leftover Adobo (a kind of pork braise in soya sauce and vinegar), garlic, onion, ginger, siling labuyo (the red devil chili), siling malaki (the long green finger chili), and native suka (vinegar), and of course kakang gata (first pressing of the coconut cream)," he enumerated.

    "The cooking is very tricky, and only the old masters get it right most - I repeat, most - of the time, that is to say, even the master cooks of Old Bicol will never get the cooking of laing done just right every time," he noted.

    "Genuine Bicol laing, at least as I grew up with it, ends up dry-ish, dark green, all leaves, absolutely no stems, and the coconut cream must have rendered out its natural coconut oil without burning of course, and you cannot, indeed must not, stir or mix while cooking, again while making sure it doesn't scorch or burn. It is as much about timing as it is about technique," he expounded.

    "The stuff you get here in Manila is utter and absolute crap," he teased with his usual derisive guffaw.

    I've tasted his laing a number of times, and indeed he never claimed to be a master cook of the dish, so those times were I would say 50-50, at least in terms of him hitting all the marks of the traditional laing he grew up with.

    One thing I must note however: Although he says he hit the mark maybe only half the times when he served it to me, to my unbiased mind and taste buds, I'd have to say he actually made a delicious laing maybe 9-out-of-10 times.

    That got me to thinking: If the stuff was delicious, even if it wasn't the genuine article, or the real thing, especially to someone who grew up with the dish, and was from the dish's native locale, doesn't that still make it the real thing after all?

    Consider: we cook in order to eat, and of course since we go through the trouble of cooking, we try (or at least I'd like to think most reasonable people try) to cook something delicious. You're going to eat it, you cooked it, you might as well make it taste good, right?

    Now if something is considered genuinely delicious to an eater - whatever that eater's threshold is for "delicious" - does that not make the dish successful, and therefore the real thing?

    It is like that old publicity gimmick, the blind taste test. You get a product, you get two of your competitors' products, you make a bunch of people sample each of the products, and hopefully they choose your product as the best tasting among the lot they tasted.

    To a non-Bicolano, especially to someone who doesn't know how to cook, if a dish strikes us as delicious, then that should be the happy ending for all and sundry, yes? It may not have been cooked perfectly according to the cook's knowledge of how the dish should have been cooked, but if the eater still found it genuinely delicious, then that dish should by all accounts still be considered a success, yes?

    For all we know, had the cook cooked that dish the "right" way, and it had come out "perfect" per the cook's standards, the eater might not have liked the dish. What are we to make of the dish then? That the real deal is actually unpalatable and the "wrong version" of it is the one that is actually delicious?

    My friend of course, known for his bullheadedness on all matters, especially his native cuisine, would have none of it. "I've never had a complaint yet about my laing," he huffed.

    "But my friend," said I, "if your laing was only 50-50 on the mark the times you made it for me, and I still found it delicious 9-out-of-10 times, isn't my opinion of more weight than yours? You are after all cooking it for me, a non-Bicolano."

    "If you were a barbarian, sure, no problem," he gruffly retorted, "but I know you are a civilized man with a sophisticated palate, and I tell you that laing can only prepared the way I have described it, using the ingredients I have enumerated, and anything short of those two things blending in perfect harmony, is a failed laing! And if you think a failed laing is delicious then perhaps I must rethink my opinion of your civility and the sophistication of your palette!" ...
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  2. With These Beermen, No Contest

    Sam Miguel usually handles the PBA, but this time he let me have a go at it.

    It was over one of our regular dinners with Mr Libog that the subject of comparing the great San Miguel Beer teams came up.

    Coincidentally I just had an interesting exchange with the great Bill "William the Conqueror" Velasco the afternoon earlier about this same topic.

    Here's the deal: Which of the three great San Miguel Beer teams is the best, the 1989 Grand Slam team, the 2-Danny's team of the late 1990's to early 2000's, or the current 2017 team of June Mar Fajardo.

    Of course the discussions we had were much too free-flowing, so maybe let us set some "parameters" if we can.

    First off, it is easy to be tempted to look at individual players and their stats and just say this guy scored more, rebounded more, passed more, etc etc, and therefore he is clearly better than the other guy. We can't really do that. Remember, those stats were not made against each other, these teams never played against each other, so those stats were only for a particular point in the fabric of the basketball time-space continuum. They might be useful but they cannot be the be-all and end-all of this discussion. The same thing holds true for individual awards like the MVP trophy. You all know how I (and Sam) feel about the very concept of an MVP in the first place.

    Secondly, we have to look at them as teams, and from the particular eras in which they dominated. This must hold especially true for the 1989 team because of the presence there of Ramon Fernandez, the man widely recognized as the best Filipino basketball player ever. (More on this particular point later.) In 1989 Fernandez was a year removed from the last of his four MVP awards, and was no longer the stud he was from say the late 1970's to maybe the earlier half of the 1980's. He still had great game of course, but he was no longer at the peak of his powers here. This will be very important to keep in mind.

    Third, since this is 2017, we will compare these three great teams through the prism of current PBA officiating, so in terms of officiating we will look at this in terms of what is allowed, and no longer allowed by current PBA rules, such as the Flagrant 1 and Flagrant 2 distinctions.

    Fourth, and I cannot stress this enough, if you do not believe that both the game and the players have somehow or other evolved, at least from 1989-onward, then we can end this discussion right here.

    Fifth and last, let us pretend that all three teams could be put in a mini-tournament, triple round robin eliminations, so each team gets six elimination games each, with the top two teams facing off in a best of seven Finals.

    Bearing all of these in mind, let me get straight to the conclusion Mr Libog and I agreed on: the Finals would be between the 2-Danny's team and June Mar's team; the Grand Slam team would get its licks in but in the end would not have enough size and talent to knock off either of the later-generation teams.

    Let's get the admitted facts out of the way first.

    Mr Libog and I agreed that Allan Caidic, hands down, is the only one from the 1989 team who could still play the game as it is being played in 2017. Caidic is without a doubt the best damn shooter ever that this country has produced. Ever. Take all of the best shooters across all the generations and Caidic would be the best among that esteemed lot.

    June Mar Fajardo will go down in history as the best player ever, regardless of position. At his young age he will probably win at least a dozen more PBA championships, and maybe at least a half dozen more MVP awards. He has truly changed the game just by being here. You're talking about a 6-10, 260- to 270-pound player who has touch, good footwork, agility, and mobility, and can even run in transition. Yes, Fernandez displayed far more skill, coming close one season to averaging a near-triple double for an entire year. But Fernandez never changed the game the way Fajardo did, simply because for all his wondrous talent, Fernandez was a normal-sized Filipino big man, in that 6-5 to 6-5 range. Had Fernandez been at least 6-8, then maybe we'd have a different opinion. But Fajardo is completely different owing precisely to his sheer size, and he isn't the barely-skilled lumbering lummox that say Bonel Balingit, or Chris Bolado, or EJ Feihl, or Dong Polisitico were. Fajardo, far more certainly, is better than fellow skilled skyscraper types such as Marlou Aquino and Yancy De Ocampo. And let us not forget, he is not only tall and long, he is thick-bodied and massive. It is that complete package that has allowed him to amass the titles and accolades he has, and he isn't even 30 years old.

    "Dynamite" Danny Seigle will go down in PBA history as the best player never to win an MVP award. This is a very ...
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  3. Two Game 7's Dream Come True for PBA

    For the fans, whether casual or diehard, having both the San Miguel-Talk N Text Series, and the Ginebra-Star Series go the full seven games, is a dream come true.

    After all, Game 7's are the ultimate thrill for any fan. It pits two teams so evenly matched that they need to go the full route of seven games to decide the winner.

    There is after all no more tomorrow for the losing team, and no team ever wants to be the losing team, especially if it has gone the distance as these two series have.

    Only coaches and players want best-of-7-series to end in sweeps, and understandably so, no sense in prolonging a series when you can end it quickly, as the San Antonio Spurs have done, twice at that, in two of the NBA Finals they've won in the last decade or so.

    Of course it is not just the fans that are happy with a Game 7.

    The league itself, in this case the venerable PBA, Asia's pioneering play-for-pay basketball league, is indubitably happy that both semifinal series of the ongoing Philippine Cup conference have gone on to the seven-game ultimate do-or-die. Allow me to explain, Praxedes.

    Every game in a semifinal series promises to be a quality game. And for San Miguel-TNT, and Ginebra-Star, that has been the norm indeed. There haven't been any 30-point blowouts, or any other indications that either series is a monumental mismatch not worth the basketball public's time and ticket money.

    The notable exception was last night's (as of this writing) Game 6 between Ginebra and Star. Ginebra pulled away in the third quarter and just plain went nuts in the payoff period to win pulling away 91-67. Joe Devance, Sol Mercado, and Jervy Cruz took turns in putting some distance between their Gin Kings and the Star Hotshots, and it all rubbed off on the end-of-bench players as even the seldom used 6-4 forward Jam Jamito scored on a short jumper in garbage time.

    Where were we, Praxedes? Oh yes, the league.

    The PBA is an organization that thrives of PR and media values. The more people watch the games, preferably in the venues, but on TV and online streaming is fine too, the more they keep their member-teams, and their sponsors and advertisers happy.

    Let's put it another way: a 30-second commercial on prime time TV can cost a company a few millions. Now imagine if that company had a PBA team, and that team was in this semifinals. Their brand will get at least two hours worth of direct mentions on prime time, with millions of eyeballs watching live, or on TV, or via online streaming. How many 30-second commercials' worth is two to two and a half hours of prime time mentions? And then how many millions are those two to two and a half hours worth?

    Granted the four protagonists in these semifinals are among the top brands and companies in the country already, still, there is nothing like brand equity coming from live, prime time exposure, and in a critical sports setting at that.

    Those with a dirty mind (such as Praxedes) might of course be thinking that the PBA had somehow orchestrated this whole shebang, that these teams are not really all that evenly matched, but that is mere conjecture and ultimately nearly impossible to prove with actual and real evidence.

    Sure, there have been some disappearing acts from key players, such as Marcio Lassiter and Paul Lee at crucial junctures of the middle games of their respective series.

    Sure, some of the whistles and non-whistles have been of the hair-tearing variety, and on either side at that.

    Sure, the Ginebra-Star series has features some of the most woefully low-scoring games in a long while in PBA playoffs history.

    But then again, don't we get those anyway regardless of stage of conference or season? All of the bad things we see we tend to turn into bogeymen just because they seem to fit a notion we have one way or another.

    In the end we the fans are getting a rare treat indeed, and we can choose to enjoy the game we all love, at its most enjoyable, or we can choose to create conspiracies where there might be none.

    As for the games themselves, it says here we get a San Miguel-Ginebra Finals.
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  4. What GOAT?

    You want to start a never-ending bar discussion that just might degenerate into an out and out bar room brawl? Ask the guys in the bar who the greatest player of all time is. Yes, that's right, ask them who the GOAT is.

    It sounds like a harmless enough question, something that can be the subject of a rather fun discussion, maybe even elicit a few laughs.

    But then again, that depends on who one asks. There are some fans that will - quite literally - fight you over their choice of GOAT.

    In the basketball world, there seems to be an easy enough answer, a rare consensus that is, that Michael Jordan, His Airness, is the sport's greatest of all time.

    It'd be a compelling case: multiple NBA championships, multiple MVP awards, multiple defensive player of the year awards, All Star from Day 1, the man who basically turned the game of basketball into a global game, arguably the most popular athlete of his generation, and one of the most popular of all time regardless of sport.

    And this, Praxedes, is where I must throw a monkey wrench into the works.

    It is well-documented how much I do not subscribe to the notion of a Most Valuable Player. Let me know declare, using a similar line of argument, that I now believe there can be no such thing as a greatest of all time, no way is there a GOAT.

    Allow me to explain, Praxedes, using a similar tack as the MVP argument.

    Basketball is a team sport, so by that very fundamental principle alone, no one player could ever win on his own. There is no way, for example, that one could take say fourteen Division 3 scrubs, complete their roster with the 25-year old Michael Jordan, and expect them to become NBA champion. I would bet even money they might even become the worst team in the league. Sure, Jordan would in all likelihood score 50 points per game and put on a show every night, but a team this awful just cannot win, even with the nominal GOAT on their roster.

    Think about all of the players who have ever been in the GOAT conversation: Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Oscar Roberston, Bill Russell, Trim Duncan and on and on and on.

    Each of those men are in the conversation because they are champions, they have the individual awards, and they have those "intangibles" that made them all winners.

    One of the things I think that is conveniently left out of this conversation is that the times they won they all had at least one other teammate who was himself an All Star. Heck, Magic and Kareem won five championships together on those Showtime Lakers teams. Jordan, for all of his wondrous talent, had the greatest sidekick in the history of the NBA in Scottie Pippen. Pippen may not have won a thing without Jordan, but Jordan, arguably won as much as he did thanks in large part to Pippen.

    You don't think having great teammates mattered for these guys? What if Magic was only passing to say Mike Smrek and Adrian Branch instead of Kareem and James Worthy; would that still have been Showtime? What if Bird only had David Thirdkill and Fred Roberts and never had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish? What if Jordan only had Larry Neal instead of Pippen? What's that, Praxedes? You never even heard of those other guys? Would it surprise you to know that all of those guys really were teammates of those aforementioned GOAT candidates during their respective times with the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls?

    Imagine Jordan or Magic on say the Los Angeles Clippers, or the Vancouver Grizzlies, of their time, and I would still wager even money that they would not have won with either of those teams either. For all of an elite superstar's talent and powers, the very nature of the game of basketball precludes any one player from being able to carry an entire team all by himself all the way to a championship.

    Let us just imagine what such a player would have to do. He would probably have to score over 50 points per game, deliver a triple double with rebounds and assists every game as well, maybe thrown in two to three blocks, and two to three steals per game, be able to shoot 50% from three-point range, at least 60% overall from the field, and at least 90% from on freethrows. If he could, he should never ever foul out, or get a technical, or miss a game due to discipline or injury. He would also have to lead his team to the championship every year, meaning if he has a typical NBA career that he would have led his team to 10 straight championships assuming he has a 10-year career. Given all of the foregoing he would also be a 10-time MVP, maybe at least a 5-time Defensive Player of the Year, definitely he would be an historic Rookie-MVP, taking after Chamberlain and Wes Unseld. Only under all of those circumstances would anybody be the GOAT, that is how impossible ...
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  5. Gang of 4 (2)

    (Continued)

    Ginebra San Miguel ___

    Conference Record: 6-5

    How Did They Get Here: Ginebra had to beat the Alaska Aces, a team they've always had difficulty with, and this time with the added handicap of Alaska having a twice-to-beat advantage, and they had to do it with Joe Devance out with an injury in the do-or-die game.

    Ginebra somehow pulled through, even coming back from 17 points down in the first game, before completing the fight back in the second game.

    Why They Will Make the Finals: Lets face it, nobody does box office better than Ginebra, and nobody does blockbuster better than Ginebra in the Finals.

    But an imbalanced roster might make that dream difficult to realize. Ginebra has one of the top big men in 6-foot-9 jumping jack Japheth Aguilar. Aguilar is probably the best in-game dunker now in the PBA, and he has a soft shooting touch for a guy his size, able to hit even all the way out to three-point range. But he is also one of those guys who lets bad calls and wily opponents get under his skin to the detriment of his overall game, and he certainly not one of those big men who can work the low blocks automatically. Still, his ability to keep things honest inside, and to be a rim protector, will be the key factors up front for the Gin Kings.

    Aguilar better step up though since Devance will likely be out for at least another week, maybe two, with that plantar injury. That means the likes of David Marcelo, Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano, and Jervy Cruz will form the front line for Ginebra, not exactly an awe-inspiring prospect.

    This is where the crafty backcourt of LA Tenorio, Scottie Thompson, Sol Mercado, Chris Ellis, and the venerable Mark Caguioa need to fill in the gaps. Aguilar is basically tending the front court by himself until Devance returns, so the Ginebra backcourt needs to produce and produce big, especially from the perimeter. Ginebra is the worst three-point shooting team in the league, so there really is nowhere to go but up.

    Why They Might Not Make the Finals: Back-read to the previous section.

    Why they will make it is exactly the same set of reasons they might not make it.

    This is a team that lives on its never-say-die spirit, and that can only take you so far in what is expected to be a grueling Manila Classico semifinal. Ginebra has had to rely a lot (some observers and analysts say rely too much even) on one of their stars catching fire every game to win and keep winning.

    This wasn't much of a problem last conference thanks to their gunner of an import Justin Brownlee. But now that its just the local crew, and undermanned at that, things might get a little too dicey for the league's most popular ball club. They can't even fall back on Coach Time Cone's Triangle, since that system has basically been obliterated by the much faster running and gunning of the modern game.

    The public - and the PBA itself if we are to be honest - wants to see Ginebra at least make the Finals. But as things stand, that looks like a 50-50 proposition at best.

    Purefoods Star ___

    Conference Record: 7-4

    How Did They Get Here: It was a slow start for the Star Hotshots but they peaked at just the right time and seem to be thriving under new head coach Chito Victolero. They are no worse than the second best team in both offense and defense, and newcomer Paul Lee seems to have found an even better set of teammates to maximize his low key but high level talent.

    Why They Will Make the Finals: Paul Lee seems to have rejuvenated the franchise. This is a team that, kind of like Talk N Text, really still is your daddy's Purefoods. Marc Pingris, Rafi Reavis, Peter June Simon, Alein Maliksi, and Aldrech Ramos all have some miles on their legs. Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon, and Ian Sangalang are the youngsters of note. Bringing in Lee for the deathless James Yap was a brilliant stroke, as Lee's passing game and ability to create have brought out the best in all of his teammates.

    Matching up against this group isn't the easiest thing in the world, as almost all of them have the ability to manufacture baskets on their own, even lunch bucket types like Pingris and Reavis. Maliksi in particular is benefiting a lot from Lee's play making, since he no longer has to contend with Yap and even Simon getting their touches; Lee finds a way to keep all of them in the loop.

    Why They Might Not Make the Finals: As good as the Star Hotshots are, they aren't exactly shoe-ins to barge into the Finals. Not only is the league's most popular team standing in their way, but they might have already peaked in their quarterfinals against the Phoenix Fuel masters.

    Lee always brings his "A" game even this deep into the season, but its been a while since his ...
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