BALL IS LIFE. The sport we hold dear gave as a big year
Paul Lintag on Dec 31, 2016 01:15 PM
On a normal year, a young Filipino kid landing a regular roster spot at an established US college program would be the country's biggest basketball story. However, 2016 is not a normal year so Kobe Paras becoming a Creighton Bluejay is only one of the things that rocked our hoop-crazed nation.
It has been a great year for basketball, really it was.
From our local hoops to international basketball, the sport, which just recently celebrated its 125th birthday, has provided us with so much joy or sadness, depending which side of the court you are on.
Regardless of your affiliations, basketball was incredible in 2016. And before we head to the new year of hoops, let's look back at some of the memorable moments the game we hold dear as a nation has brought us.
A PROMISE KEPT
The NBA sure hit the jackpot this season. Regardless of who won the 2016 Finals, it was history in the making.
If the Golden State Warriors just held on to their 3-1 series lead, the Dubs would have made a pretty strong case about them being the greatest team of all time. After all, back-to-back championships would have been the cherry on top of a 140-24 two-year run that included them winning a new NBA record of 73 wins this past season.
But since they didn't hold on to a 3-1 Finals lead, the Cavaliers celebrated a different kind of history after winning Cleveland's first-ever NBA title, the first major championship for the city since 1964.
What made the Cavs' incredible comeback more meanigful was the fact that hometown hero LeBron James finally delivered his promise of winning a ring for Cleveland.
The journey was basically 13 years in the making, and even for casual fans, the emotions were strong as the King finally removed some major weight off his shoulders by taking the NBA title home.
Speaking of epic Finals comebacks, our local PBA featured a similar, perhaps even better version of it after the San Miguel Beermen practically stole the Philippine Cup title away from rival Alaska.
Winning back-to-back All-Filipino titles is hard enough, it's rarer than a Grand Slam, and after the defending champion Beermen went down 0-3 in the 2016 Finals to the Aces, San Miguel's chances of repeating was essentially zero percent.
No team in the history of basketball, even in the NBA, won a best-of-7 series after losing the first three games.
Facing an embarassing sweep, the Beermen clawed their way back to win Game 4. And then they won Game 5. Game 6 was supposed to be Alaska's delayed coronation until it wasn't.
By the time Game 7 at the sold-out MOA Arena came, no way the Beermen were letting the Philippine Cup title go.
Chris Ross, a defensive maestro with super-limited offense magically turned into a shooter over the course of San Miguel's epic run and his efforts for "Beeracle" were rewarded after winning Finals MVP.
Back-to-back All-Filipino titles are rare enough, but with San Miguel doing it after being down 0-3, it was most definitely the top PBA story for 2016.
GAME WINNERS GALORE
We see game winners all the time, but rarely do we see championship game winners.
2016 was the year that almost all relevant basketball championships were decided by an incredible clutch basket.
Over at the NBA, LeBron's championship promise was made possible after Kyrie Irving made the shot of his life.
Tied at 89 and one-on-one with reigning two-time MVP Steph Curry, Uncle Drew pulled up from deep to gift Cleveland its first NBA title.
Easily one of the best shots ever, Irving has cemented his place among the greats by making the most clutch shot in NBA Finals history.
A couple of months before Irving's magical shot, the Villanova Wildcats likewise ended their title drought after winning the NCAA tournament by beating the University of North Carolina.
What made the culmination of the 2016 March Madness special was the way how it ended. Down by three, Marcus Paige was able to tie the game for the Tar Heels by draining a double pump trey from way out.
With time winding down, the Wildcats went the length of the court only to find Kris Jenkins launching a prayer.
The prayer was answered and Villanova won its first national title since 1985.
Not to be outdone, the WNBA also made sure its championship series went the dramatic route.
A new playoff system made sure the two best teams met in the Finals. Two two best teams delivered a classic.
The Los Angeles Sparks have pushed the Minnesota Lynx to the limit in Game 5. With the twin city looking to extend its WNBA dynasty, the league's newly-crowned MVP made sure Hollywood had another basketball title as Nneka Ogwumike made the game-winner with 3.1 seconds to go.
It was the Sparks' first WNBA title since 2002 and Los Angeles' first basketball title since the Lakers won back-to-back NBA championships in 2009 and 2010.
Locally, we also showed the basketball world that we love suspense as the 2016 PBA Governors' Cup Finals proved to be one of the closest series in recent memory.
However, the best game proved to be the last as Brgy. Ginebra San Miguel ended an eight-year title drought after import Justin Brownlee drained a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the series for the Gin Kings, 4-2.
In what will forever be known as the shot that put an end to kangkong, Brownlee's clutch basket was surely a great way to cap the PBA's 41st season.
After missing a golden opportunity in the 2015 FIBA-Asia Championships, Gilas Pilipinas went all out in 2016 trying to lang a spot in the Rio Olympic Games.
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas even went out of its way to have the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament be held in the Philippines just to have out national team all the help it could get.
Unfortunately, Gilas Pilipinas didn't even got out of the preliminary round after losing a tough one to New Zealand, head coach Tab Baldwin's former team. That came after we pushed world power France to the limit before Tony Parker and co. pulled away in the end.
With that latest disappointment, the Gilas program has now lost a chance at two cosecutive Olympic Games. To make matters worse, the team's core that led the squad to back-to-back silver medal finishes in FIBA Asia and a stint at the FIBA World Cup are slowly ageing.
Jayson Castro, undoubtedly Gilas' best local talent in international competition has retired from the national team. The national team has now installed a new cadet system in hopes of injecting new life to the program and the SBP has brought back former head coach Chot Reyes.
Likewise, despite the SBP looking for other naturalized centers to back up Andray Blatche, the former Brooklyn Net who's strutting his stuff in China has made it known on Instagram that he wants to return to Gilas, he also wants Castro there.
With a major FIBA tournament coming up later in 2017, the Philippines' basketball dynamic remains interesting. Also, the Jordan Clarkson remains a huge factor until there's a decisive decision to allow him to play for the country... or not.
As for the rest of the world, status quo remained at the top as the United States of America kept its Olympic title despite struggling for most of the Games at Rio.
The biggest surprise have been Serbia and Australia respectively with the former challenging the mighty Americans for gold while the latter looked the same before settling for a fourth-place finish.
Spain, longtime rivals to the new American dynasty, missed out on a third straight Olympic Final but not without giving USA its usual tough game every time both countries meet.
France and Canada, two countries with more than enough NBA firepower to duke it out with the US were safe to say the biggest disappointments in world play. Both did square off in the Finals of the FIBA OQT in Manila but that only happened because they couldn't get the job done in their respective regions.
In the end though, the French got the Olympic berth but didn't really make that much of a noise in Brazil, struggling to regain their deadly form from the Euro championships.
Going back to the Philippines, the country has another Jones Cup championship thanks to Mighty Sports, although the same team narrrowly missed out on adding the returning Merlion Cup to its collection.
The country also has new representative in the Asean Basketball League as Ray Parks' Alab Pilipinas made its debut in the regional tournament in November.
2016 gave us a lot of incredible moments, however, it also saw a number of legends retire from the court. From Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and even Jimmy Alapag in the PBA, the basketball world has lot certified Hall of Famers.
The biggest retirement for sure was Kobe Bryant, who after announing late last year that he's finally calling it quits, embarked on a season-long tour that reached a final stop in Los Angeles on April 13.
Facing off against the Jazz, the same team to which he fired blanks during a playoff elimination game in his rookie year, the Black Mamba gave to best last game ever as he went on to drop 60 points on 50 shots including the go-ahead bucket and the game-clinching assist to none other than Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson.
Playing 20 years exclusively with the Lakers, Kobe retired with five NBA titles, one MVP, two Finals MVPs, and over 33,000 points good for third all-time and ahead of Michael Jordan (click here for Kobe's full resume).
With such a decorated career, Bryant scoring 60 in his swan song was almost too perfect. Mamba out.
One Kobe left and another Kobe came.
Blessed with incredible talent, the Philippines is banking on yet another Kobe to fulfill the ultimate dream of seeing a full-grown Filipino in the NBA.
Kobe Paras, son of PBA legend Benjie, has broke through in the United States, landing a regular roster spot with the Creighton University Bluejays in the US NCAA Division 1.
Playing high school ball in Los Angeles and originally committed to play for UCLA, the highly-athletic Paras ended up at Creighton which should bode well for him in the long run as the Bluejays look like the perfect team that could feature his talents.
Granted, Kobe's first year with Creighton has seen him spend more time at the bench than on the court but what many don't realized is that the Filipino guard is the team's only true freshman.
The Bluejays also feature a great collection of veteran talent, allowing him to grow behind the scenes.
Despite riding the bench, Paras is part of a Creighton team that is off to a historic start with CU going undefeated so far. A big-time matchup against conference rival and defending national champion Villanova looms on the final day of 2016 (January 1 in Manila).
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