While NBA superstar James Harden was definitely the biggest star at the adidas Free To Harden Manila Tour, Wednesday evening, one of the guys that stole the show in the biggest way possible was Pinoy basketball player Diego Dario.
The former UP Fighting Maroon who currently plays for the Blackwater Elite in the PBA was one of a handful of professional and collegiate ballers that were invited to participate in some games alongside the Houston Rockets star.
Right off the bat, Dario already caught Harden's attention by doing his best Beard impersonation and draining a stepback three during a 3-on-3 scrimmage that pitted him and teammates Bright Akuhuetie and Richard Escoto against the team of JJay Alejandro, Aljun Mariano, and Jason Credo.
It was the team of Alejandro, Mariano, and Credo who got off to an early lead, but Dario's sweet-shooting helped lead his team to a one-point comeback win.
With every jumper that Dario swished in, Harden, 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player, enjoyed what he was seeing and cheered the PBA rookie on.
After the game, Dario was able to interact with Harden and have some of his stuff signed.
The experience, Dario says, is something that he won't soon forget.
"First off all, again, [I’m] super blessed, especially with the Lord, He gave me this opportunity, and of course with adidas, I’m super grateful for the opportunity, they put me in there and luckily, I played well in the 3-on-3, and I got to talk, at least for a while, with James Harden and he signed some of my jerseys. I’m just really blessed and grateful for this opportunity," Dario shared with ABS-CBN Sports.
"Honestly, I’m a super big fan. I study his game, the way he fishes for fouls, the way he creates separation, and for me, him being physically present in the same building as me, sobrang lapit niya sa akin, I feel super blessed, I feel like words can’t even explain, I just watch him in games, watch him on TV, now he’s just right in front of me, actually complimenting my game or giving advice about hard work. It’s just surreal. Being a guy in the Philippines actually interacting with an NBA player, not everyone can have that opportunity any day, so I’m just super blessed and I’ll remember this for the rest of my life, for sure," he added.
Dario made at least two or three shots that elicited a reaction from Harden, and the 5-foot-8 playmaker says that playing in front of a star the caliber of Harden is definitely added motivation to perform well.
"I just had fun. I work everyday, I play basketball everyday, so I just enjoyed on the court, as always, but then again, it’s extra motivation when the former MVP is watching you. For me, it’s really surreal, honestly I can’t explain it through words, but I just feel super blessed."
As for what Harden said to him, Dario shared that the seven-time NBA All-Star gave his dribbling skills some props.
"He just complimented my handles, he said ‘You have handles!’ then he said just keep working. Even thought it’s just a few words, for me that’s a big thing, coming from James Harden, from an NBA player, from the former MVP, so I’ll just remember those words and keep working until I reach my dreams as well."
More than just the experience of getting to meet and interact with NBA star, Dario says he was also able to pick up bits of advice in terms of getting even better and better every single day.
"During the interview, he said for Filipino basketball players who want to achieve their dreams, you just gotta put the work in. You can’t just want it, you can’t just say that I want to be a basketball player, you have to put the work in, every single day. That’s what he said, 'Every single day'."
"For me, I’m just gonna do that, I’m gonna work every single day and eventually get better and he said to think long term, like four, five years, so for me, if you think long term and just keep working, I think you’re gonna have that hope of actually achieving your dreams rather than just wanting it right away in like a year or a month. For me that’s a big thing, four, five years, thinking long-term and working hard every day," Dario concluded.
So don't be surprised if we see Dario EuroStep around defenders or bust out one of those stepback jumpers in the PBA soon.