Game of the Generals

The Arena, San Juan City
September 29, 2014
Game of the Generals

I have cried watching a basketball game before.
I have cried when our National basketball team coached by Robert “Sonny” Jaworski, Sr. lost by 60 points to China in the 1990 Beijing Asian Games where we end up bringing home a silver medal.
I have cried when Lee Sang Min buried us with that triple in a semifinal game of the 2002 Asiad in Busan.
I have cried when a Rajko Toroman-mentored Gilas Pilipinas squad beat Iran in the Jones Cup a few years back.
I have cried when our Gilas squad, now coached by Chot Reyes, took the silver by downing old rival Korea, thus ending the curse.
I have cried when our Batang Gilas team, Gilas’ junior team, copped the silver in the FIBA-Asia Under-16 in Iran last year to qualify in the FIBA U-17 World Championship in Dubai last August.
I have cried when one by one we stared the world’s best eye to eye with a win versus Giorgiu Dieng and Senegal and performances to remember against Croatia, Argentina, Puerto Rico and heck, even Greece.
I have cried when our Gilas team lost a won game against Iran in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
I have cried when our beloved players dropped another heartbreaker with a familiar nemesis, Korea.
I have cried when a chance to make the semifinals of this same Incheon tilt slipped from our grasps after our once mighty 18-point lead vanished in thin air in an effort to forget versus Kazakhstan.
But never did I cry for some team or something in a college basketball game.
Until I watched these brave five Emilio Aguinaldo College players face off with the complete San Sebastian Stags today, Sept. 29, here. How can we not cheer for these guys? They’re only five. A by-product of the suspension handed out by the NCAA in the aftermath of the free-for-all that happened in the Generals’ non-bearing game against the Mapua Cardinals on that fateful Monday evening, Sept. 22. They eventually lost to the Stags by stratospheric figure.
But not to me. Because deep in my heart they won. Just for showing up. They could have forfeited or defaulted their second game in a row. But they don’t. These five–Christ Mejos, Ai Indin, Jerald Serrano, Jozhua General and Faustine Pascual–wore their uniform, showed and play the game. And that is how the game should be played.
With dignity.
With heart.
Even against overwhelming odds.

Salute.

And I cried again.

Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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To Kill a Mockingbird

Rizal Memorial Coliseum
September 28, 2014
To Kill a Mockingbird

My wife and I are no teenagers. But like adolescents, we too celebrate a monthsary, which, for those who are as old as us, is the monthly version of an anniversary. Because today, Sept. 28, 2014, is the 21st month since my other half and I tied the knot. And we celebrated by spending the morning with our 11-month-old baby boy, Iago, and watching a movie somewhere later, perhaps that Japanese movie we’ve long waited for.
Along the way, basketball. This time, it’s Gilas Pilipinas versus Kazakhstan. We needed to win by 11 points and hope and pray Korea beats Qatar later to advance to the semifinals of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. Destiny seemed to be favoring us when we led by 18 points. In the end, it was not to be as we beat the Kazakhs but couldn’t win by the margin we want. So we’re out of the medal race. Good luck to Kazakhstan and Qatar, or whichever makes it that far.
The saddest part of this game was what happened in the end. Up by two points with seconds remaining, we tried to score on the basket of our opponent to tie it and send the game into overtime where we hope to get the 11-point lead that we craved for. Mercifully, that Marcus Douthit shot was correctly nullified by the referees. Kazakhstan, realizing it, didn’t cooperate also and intentionally missed two potentially game-tying free throws to give us the win.
That win though felt like a loss. And every inch of me revolted with the way we went down. Call it tragic. Or a disaster. Worse, a mockery of the game we all love. I’d rather lose with dignity than win without one. It is embarrassing, humiliating. Hard to find the words to describe what I’m feeling right now. It happened so fast. I never imagined to live to see our beloved Gilas team to play in the world stage only to fall like this. A bitter pill to swallow. This is death by basketball.
But just like life, there are defeats.
And sometimes, we have to live with it and move on.
So I will not resort to blaming people after this. Because in the end, everyone behind the Gilas Pilipinas program are still heroes to me. And, from the bottom of my broken heart, we are in gratitude to you. And I dedicate this ode of a roll call to everyone.
Thank you Manny V. Pangilinan.
Thank you Chot Reyes.
Thank you Jimmy Alapag.
Thank you Marcus Douthit.
Thank you LA Tenorio.
Thank you Gary David.
Thank you Japeth Aguilar.
Thank you Jeff Chan.
Thank you Gabe Norwood.
Thank you Ranidel de Ocampo.
Thank you Marc Pingris.
Thank you June Mar Fajardo.
Thank you Paul Lee.
Thank you Jared Dillinger.

Thank you Gilas Pilipinas!

Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photo courtesy of Jun Mendoza of The Philippine STAR)

Pacific Grim

Splendido, Tagaytay
September 26, 2014
Pacific Grim

Oh how things have changed.
Entering the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, Gilas Pilipinas has been tipped to challenge for the gold medal after surprising the world with a performance to remember in the FIBA World Cup in Seville, Spain. Why not? We beat Giorgiu Dieng and Senegal. We came a shot and good breaks away from stealing a win over Croatia, Argentina and Puerto Rico. And admit it, Greece bled to beat us. Ask Kostas Papanikolaou, who was recently signed for two years by the Houston Rockets, if he knows LA Tenorio and he’ll tell you why.

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I mean, after Spain, the sky is the limit for our boys and we’re ready to reclaim Asian supremacy after being dormant for decades. Nevermind that Andray Blatche, who played NBA ball for the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before recently inking a contract with a Chinese club, was not allowed by the scared Asiad organizers to see action due to lack of eligibility years. After all, we have Marcus Douthit, our other naturalized player, as an insurance.

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Right?
Wrong.

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After struggling to beat India, Gilas blew what could have been a won game over our old rival Iran in the preliminary stages before we faltered anew, this time against a Qatar team that we were tipped to beat. And then things started to turn for the worse. What was once a rosy picture turned into a ghastly sight. Everything is just in shambles.
Then the blame game.

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Hardworking Reuben Terrado wrote something about it at spin.ph and you be the judge:

HWASEONG, South Korea – Gilas Pilipinas’ quest for an Asian Games gold medal is in tatters. Worse, the team looks as if it is falling apart. Gilas coach Chot Reyes launched a stunning tirade against Marcus Douthit after a disappointing 68-77 loss to Qatar on Friday, ripping into the naturalized player not only for his performance but also for his actions inside the dugout at halftime. “We’re all disappointed in Marcus,” the national coach said after Gilas’ bid for the country’s first Asiad gold medal since 1962 was left hanging in the balance by a hot-shooting Qatar side. [See Gilas gold medal hopes left hanging after shock loss to Qatar] Douthit scored six early points for Gilas but faded in the end, hesitating on his jumpers and getting beat off the dribble by Qatar big man Erfan Ali Saeed in two crucial possessions in the fourth quarter. “They were all the men of Marcus. When we switched, he defended No. 11 (Erfan Ali Saeed) and he started burning,” said Reyes. Reyes was so unhappy with Douthit’s play that he made his feelings known after the game, accusing the 6-10 center of ‘quitting’ on the team during the crucial Group H match. “Our big guy, Douthit, just quit,” said Reyes. “Our big guy, the man we rely in the middle, just quit on our team. That’s very un-Filipino. I’m very disappointment with that development.” There had been palpable tension between Reyes and Douthit ever since the Gilas coach named NBA veteran Andray Blatche to his lineup for both the Fiba World Cup in Spain and the Asian Games. Douthit, who led Gilas to a runner-up finish in last year’s Fiba-Asia championships in Manila, only got the Asiad call-up when Blatche was ruled ineligible owing to the three-year residency rule for naturalized players.

Sportsmaryosep’s prognosis: I agree with coach Chot that Marcus, or Big Daddy to some of us, indeed played bad. But I would have to disagree that it’s exclusively Douthit’s fault. This is a team game, we win as a team, we lose as one. Did we blame Douthit when he led us to a silver medal finish, perhaps gold if he hadn’t gotten injured, in the FIBA-Asia Championship held right in our home soil last year that clinched us a spot in the World Cup where he was eventually replaced by Blatche? Hard to blame coach Chot also. This is probably his way of waking up the inner beast in Douthit. Perhaps it will work. Perhaps not. But the bottomline is that Coach Chot, like every single one of us, wants to win.

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Despite the sad development, everything is not lost for Gilas. It’s not yet the end of the world. All we need to do is beat South Korea in Korea and then Kazakhstan, which by the way was being accused of tanking one of its first round games allegedly to avoid facing us in the second phase. I know, easier said than done. But if it’s the only way to do it, then we’ll do it. I’m still hoping the finger-pointing stops there. Because it’s never too late. And we will never tire of cheering for you Gilas Pilipinas, coach Chot Reyes and Marcus Douthit. Louder. Wilder. More passionate. And with more vigor. You’ll hear from us not just “puso” or heart. But also this thing we call faith. Yes, faith!

Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photos courtesy of Jun Mendoza of The Philippine STAR, Smart Gilas Pilipinas and FIBA)

The Punch

The Arena, San Juan
September 24, 2013
The Punch

I am not laughing.
You probably are. Yes, I see that smirk. Don’t hide it. I know.
You probably saw on national television the sad, unfortunate incident that happened during the waning moments of the non-bearing Season 90 NCAA basketball game between Emilio Aguinaldo College and Mapua last Monday. The shoulder bump by EAC’s John Tayongtong that sent Mapua’s CJ Isit sprawling on the floor. The push by Mapua’s Leo Gabo that left Tayongtong backpedalling. Isit getting up and running straight to Tayongtong. And then the Tayongtong punch on Isit.
Then BOOM. Everthing just materialized by a snap of the finger. Gabo doing the run around and chased by EAC’s Jack Arquero. Mapua rookie Justin Serrano rushing to Tayongtong and was instead met by EAC’s Jan Jamon. The brave, valiant venue bouncer rushing to protect Tayongtong by wrapping his massive, muscled body. Several Mapua players including Andrew Estrella throwing a punch or two to Tayongtong that landed on the bouncer.
It was total chaos.
Or Royal Rumble to you with that smile.
Basket-“brawl” at its ugly glory.
The worst brawl in perhaps two decades since that ill-fated free-for-all between San Beda and former NCAA member Philippine Christian University at the Makati Coliseum 12 years ago and the Letran-Jose Rizal fracas during the 1999 NCAA championship at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.
It resulted to 18 players, nine each from EAC and Mapua, getting slapped with suspensions from one game to five and referees being fined an undisclosed amount and suspended indefinitely.
Or you can look at Isit’s face and his swollen left eye caused by a fractured skull and his bruised ego.
Or you go straight and ask Isit’s mother how heartbroken she is for travelling straight from Canada only to see her son getting punched at.
Or you can imagine the misery and remorse Tayongtong is probably feeling right now after he uncorked that rocking that devastating right straight instead of restraining himself and just run away.
Or you can check the international sports websites like Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated that reported this black mark not just in the history of the NCAA but Philippine collegiate basketball in general.
It is utterly senseless.
And I’m still not laughing.

You probably are. Yes, I see that smirk. Don’t hide it. I know.

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Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

(Photo courtesy of Noel Tonido of The Benchwarmers)

UP Ikot

Smart-Araneta Coliseum
September 14, 2014
UP Ikot

Today, September 14, at this very place, the Smart-Araneta Coliseum, right before a rocking and rolling audience, a sea of over 20,000 fans, National University won itself a second UAAP cheer dance title with a performance to remember. Save for some deductions, it was a dominating performance from every aspect by NU.

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So give them credit, they won through sheer hard work. They deserved it. Won it fair and square.

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University of the Philippines finished second.
But for many, it shone like gold. While technically they were no match for NU’s perfectly mechanical performance, UP captured the imagination of many with a soul-touching, thought-provoking effort. They thought us about unity. And equality. Actually, we know of those things. That all men are created equal. Sometimes though we forget.

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Until UP reminded us of it.
So seeing that male flyer being carried by a female is an unforgettable visage that will forever be etched in the annals of UAAP cheer dance history. So years from now, when you see Ateneo, or Adamson, or any UAAP school, heck even schools in the NCAA and outside it, do the same, we will all look at UP and thank them for blazing the trail. That is equality, folks.
And you probably saw this massive, colorful flag that was passed on all around the Big Dome. It was like watching an Azkals friendly years back at the Rizal Memorial pitch when this huge Philippine flag, our colors, was passed on to everyone and circled all over the place. Only this time, it was from UP. UP’s Babaylan flag in particular. Coincidentally, it bore the colors of all schools, even NU’s dark blue. It went circling all around the venue like it was UP campus in Diliman where the old, antiquated, smoke-belching UP Ikot  jeepneys ply around the campus. And when every single school touched it, we all felt goosebumps.

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Because for a fleeting moment, we all bear witness to oneness. Not just UP, or NU or the rest of the eight schools fighting it out for the top prize. It’s just one. United. Nevermind that it was torn to pieces at the end of it (not the fault of NU because it landed on their hands already in tatters).
And that, my friends, is bigger than what NU had rightfully taken.
So be proud long-suffering UP fans. Because today, you have won a bigger battle.

Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photos courtesy of Philippine Star, spin.ph, Philstar.com, Rappler’s Mark Cristino, @MarkGiongco and @pyarbie)

The Greatest Never

Lipa City, Batangas
September 13, 2014
The Greatest Never

Floyd Mayweather.
Unbeaten in 46 fights.
Probably the best fighter now (Take note of the word probably). Beaten almost everyone in his weight category and somewhere near the trajectory of his class (Take note of the word almost). Money in the bank. But can he be considered the Greatest of All of Time?

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Well, let’s do the Math.
Let’s compare Mayweather with the best welterweight in the era and put him in the same room with Leonard, Hearns and Duran. Will he beat anyone of the three? Let’s read this story written by Scott Christ for http://www.badlefthook.com/. Here it goes:

Ray Mancini: Mayweather wouldn’t have beaten Leonard, Hearns, Duran, Benitez
Ray Mancini fought in an era with some great welterweights, and doesn’t believe that Floyd Mayweather truly measures up to the likes of Leonard, Hearns, Duran, and Benitez.
Former WBA lightweight champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini spoke with Fight Hub TV and The Boxing Channel’s Marcos Villegas in Las Vegas this week, giving his thoughts on the Saturday night rematch between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana, saying he feels this time, Mayweather will win easily.

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He also gave his thoughts on how Floyd stacks up to some of the best of Mancini’s era.
“(Mayweather) couldn’t figure (Maidana) out the first couple of rounds, he figured him out in the second half of the fight,” Mancini said of the first bout in May, which Mayweather won via majority decision. “He’ll beat him easy this time, because Maidana’s got nothing different. There’s nothing different Maidana can do. Floyd can do a lot of things different.
“I would hope Robert Garcia would tell Maidana, you know, the same punch that knocked (down) Broner, over the top right hand that he did the first two rounds against Floyd, that was giving Floyd problems — but about the fourth or fifth round, Floyd figured it out. So what do you do? You should feint, come from the side. I would hope they do something different. I don’t know if he knows how to do anything different, but I hope they would.
“The only way Maidana had a chance of winning is what he did, he made it ugly. You gotta make it an ugly fight, which he did. It made it interesting, made it controversial, but he lost the fight. I think Floyd beats him easy this time.”

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Mancini acknowledged that Maidana (35-4, 31 KO) has the sort of style that can be somewhat effective against Mayweather (46-0, 26 KO).
“When he wins, he wins ugly. When he loses, he loses ugly. It’s always an ugly fight with Maidana,” he said. “At the end, Floyd stayed right in the pocket there, and he didn’t do anything different. I think in that respect, Maidana’s an awkward style, throws punches from weird angles. It’s an ugly style. That’s how he wins. That’s the key of his success. But now Floyd’s figured him out. I think he makes it easy this time.”
The Youngstown, Ohio, native was a little less enthused with how Mayweather stacks up to the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Wilfred Benitez, and Roberto Duran, however.
“Floyd’s handpicking opponents. He fights to his capability when he has to. He puts out as much effort as he wants to,” he said. “I mean, look, Floyd’s special. He’s the best there is now.
“When you put him with all-time greats, he ain’t gonna beat Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns might have stretched him. Benitez would’ve had him talking to himself, and Duran would have played with him. Duran would have played with him. Floyd’s special! Don’t get me wrong. I think he could’ve fought with those guys. But I don’t think he would’ve been as successful, no.”
How can Mayweather truly stand in league with those guys? He has to do what they did, Mancini said. He has to fight the true best opponents in the sport today.
“The only way to show his greatness is what Ray Leonard did, what Tommy did. You fight each other. Him and Pacquiao is two years old, I don’t even know if anybody cares anymore. But if he wants to have any credibility of an all-time great, the best ever and all that crap he says, you gotta fight Pacquiao now. Fight him now. Make it your next fight.”
Another, possibly even more unlikely name, then sprang to mind for Mancini. “Or Gennady Golovkin! Somebody of that caliber. Meet Golovkin at 154! It’ll never happen. What are you, nuts? But it makes it interesting.”

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Sportsmaryosep’s scorecard: Hearns has the length and size advantage to beat Maywearther. And their clash of style should make Floyd a little uncomfortable. Hearns via unanimous decision. Leonard has the mad skills, bigger also and his quick hands should be enough to carry him through. Leonard via knockout in nine rounds. Duran? He will probably kill Mayweather. No mas. So Mayweather, time to be not scared and get out of your comfort zone and fight the best. Stop hiding in your closet. Come out and fight. The best, of course, is no other than Manny Pacquiao. I don’t know about that, but I think it’s going to be a fight for the ages. The Mohammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight of this generation. Now if he beats Pacman, then I will probably build him a monument in front of my house and start talking about him as one of the greatest. Otherwise, he will remain just Floyd Mayweather. Unbeaten in 46 fights. The greatest boxer that NEVER lived.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

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(Photos courtesy of i.telegraph.co.uk, forbezdvd.com, aworldofboxing.com, http://www.layoutjelly.com and cultureboxe.files.wordpress.com)

Kingdom Come

Lipa City, Batangas
September 8, 2014
Kingdom Come
 
By now, LeBron James is comfortably perched in his hometown Ohio and itching to play for the team where it all started for him–The Cleveland Cavaliers. Most of us never expected him to leave the Miami Heat and his not-so-super-friends anymore. And living up to his character, LeBron did. Guess what? I wrote about at NBA.com Philippines that he may end up leaving Miami after getting a spanking from San Antonio. So I’m re-posting the piece I wrote on June 14, 2014. And here it goes:
 
 
Kingdom Come
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Photo: San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan center, is joined by his daughter Sydney, left, and son Draven, right, during a news conference after Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals against the Miami Heat on Sunday, June 15, 2014, in San Antonio. The Spurs won the NBA championship 104-87. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It’s been a week since the San Antonio Spurs beat the bejesus out of LeBron James and the Miami Heat. I intentionally refrained from writing a piece so I could relish to the bones one of the most lopsided victories in the modern history of the NBA Finals since the Spurs obliterated, yes, King James’ Cleveland Cavaliers via a sweep in 2007.

Happy for Tim Duncan, the greatest power forward of all time, Gregg Popovich, one of the best coaches in our midst, and the Spurs in general after re-establishing how basketball should be played–the old-fashion, team-first way.

The super team just beat the Super (manufactured) Team.

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I have five (not one, not two, not three) thoughts though about the NBA Finals.

First, what if the Indiana Pacers didn’t give up Kahwi Leonard, the NBA Finals MVP whom it picked at No. 15 overall in the 2011 rookie draft only to trade him for their starting point guardGeorge Hill? Could Indiana be the one hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy instead of the San Antonio? And how could a talent like Leonard could have gone back as far as No. 15 over an intriguing set of players led by the Cav’s Kyrie Irving?

It probably didn’t help that the Pacers had Paul George and Danny Granger, who play the same position as Leonard, that time. But man, if they knew Leonard is this good, they would have kept him and find a high or medium average PG like Hill elsewhere.

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My second thought is how Boris Diaw was maligned as being fat but played that good? On an NBA stage this massive and in a level of this magnitude? Maybe the basketball gods were good to Diaw, who have jumped from the Atlanta Hawks, who have drafted him in 2003 at No. 20, to the “Seven-Seconds-Or-Less” Phoenix Suns, to the hapless Charlotte Bobcats, who have thankfully reverted to the old Hornets, before landing in Spurs uniform along with fellow Frenchman and long-time buddy Tony Parker.

Speaking of the 2003 draft class, Diaw is one of the many who won a championship. Of course, Darko Milicic (2nd) was the first to ever tasted a title in the Detroit Pistons’ 2004 run. Followed byDwyane Wade (5th) in 2006 witht he Heat before he was reduced to a carcass in this year’s Finals, Matt Bonner (45th) in 2007 and now, Luke Walton (32nd) and Josh Powell (undrafted) in the Los Angeles Lakers’ back-to-back conquests in 2009-2010, and finally LeBron (1st), Chris Bosh (4th) and James Jones (45th) for the Heat in 2012-13.

Interestingly, the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony (3rd), the Chicago Bull’s Kirk Hinrich (7th) and the Pacers’ David West (18th) have yet to win one.

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Third, this is a series Popovich won.

With the series knotted at one game apiece after splitting Games One and Two, Coach Pop inserted Diaw into the starting line up in place of Brazilian Thiago Splitter. It was brilliant and a masterstroke because momentum shifted from there. The Spurs were just unstopable starting in Game Three. So dominant that San Antonio won its last three games in the NBA Finals by an average winning margin of 19 points including a 19-point and a 21-point drubbing in Miami’s own turf and right before their class-less fans, who left as early as the first quarter when their team were receiving the spanking.

Photo: Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) and LeBron James (6) slap hands on the sideline during the second half in Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals against the San Antonio Spurs, on Sunday, June 15, 2014, in San Antonio. The Spurs won the NBA championship 104-87. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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Fourth, the win further shore up Tim Duncan’s legacy.

Five NBA crowns, perhaps six if Miami didn’t get lucky last year, three Finals MVP, two MVP, one All-Star Game MVP, 14 All-Star appearances and so much more. He helped carry the Spurs in the top five of best team in the NBA next to the Boston Celtics (17 titles in 21 Finals), the Lakers (16 in 31) and Michael Jordan and the Bulls (6 in 6).

Most importantly, The Big Fundamental started a gentleman and will end like one with his faith and loyalty on his team. Not some people I know who jumped ship when the boat was sinking.

Hats off to you Timmy. Please stay one more year.

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Last but not the least, this series, as much as you don’t want to admit it, will also be remembered for LeBron’s Game One cramps, Wade’s disappearance and Manu Ginobili’s posterization of Bosh, who is being paid more than what was being paid of Duncan, Manu and Leonard combined.

“The Decision” boys’ dream run is over. Nightmare follows. So if you have notions of the Big Three getting back to its feet again, forget about it. The Spurs have thought everyone a way to refute it. Team effort still works and teams that were bought are beatable. But we’ll see if the Big Three of Miami will still work. Assuming they return next season. But I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron jumps ship again and make “The Decision 2.0.” I mean he did it to the Cavs, he can do it to the Heat.

And oh, I thought you will win not one, not two, not three? I guess it stops in two, not three, but two.

Postscripts: Somewhere out there, His Airness and Kobe Bryant must be smirking their smirks knowing their only company in the three-peat feat club are just George Mikan and Bill Russell. And no else. Try harder next time, boy…Welcome to the Philippines Kevin Love. I hope you get traded to the Celtics and join Rajon Rondo there. It’s equally interesting though to see you in Golden State Warriors uniform. I mean a Stephen Curry-Andre Iguodala-Kevin Martin-Andrew Bogut-Love starting five should be entertaining.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar