LeBron James made sure this time he fulfilled his promise two years ago.
“There’s no way I wasn’t going to be back here in Manila. I’m happy that I’m celebrating this time with you,” said James, addressing the thousands in attendance inside the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on Saturday.
This marked the third visit of the Cleveland Cavaliers stalwart to the country as he staged the “Strive for Greatness” show. His “Battle the Doubt” bootcamp last year was postponed due to “logistical challenges”.
James wowed the Filipino crowd in his short playing time in a 30-minute exhibition game featuring the current and former national team standouts.
He teamed up with Gilas Young Bloods’ Kiefer Ravena, Kai Sotto, Ray Parks, Baser Amer, Mac Belo, Roger Pogoy, Mike Tolomia, Matthew Wright, Raymond Almazan, Raymar Jose and Almond Vosotros.
Going up against them was the veteran-laden Gilas OGs consisted of Jimmy Alapag, LA Tenorio, Jeff Chan, Gary David, Ranidel De Ocampo, Paul Lee, Gabe Norwood, Jayson Castro, Japeth Aguilar and Jared Dillinger.
High-leaping forward Aguilar, big man Almazan and athletic wingman Norwood came up with a variety of dunks before James made his much-awaited entrance to the game with under five minutes left.
The two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) champion put on a show as he started with a triple and a breakaway one-handed slam that drew wild roars from the fans.
The four-time Most Valuable Player went for another sensational throwdown and punctuated the Young Bloods’ 91-72 win over the OGs with a windmill dunk before getting mobbed by his teammates.
Earlier, the 6-foot-8 James led a training session with several members of the Gilas pool and young ballers at the Kerry Sports Gym in Taguig.
“It (training session) was a great experience. The way that you guys love the game of basketball, the way those young kids and the girls play on a team, it was just fun to be around. I’m happy to be part of it.”
James, who made his first two visits in 2013 and 2015, was grateful to the hoop-crazed fans who welcomed him with loud chants of his name’s initials.
“You guys are unbelievable. I thank you so much for being part of this tour,” said the 32-year old cager.
Before James left the court, he threw autographed basketballs to the audience.
At the end of his statement, the “King” said he would love to see the rowdy Pinoy fans again.
“I hope you continue to welcome me because I would love to come back.”