They came to the Philippines to promote prohibitively expensive rubber shoes and the game of basketball.
In that order, and woe unto the naïve, basketball-crazy Filipinos—that is how NBA stars LeBron James and Ricky Rubio sized up the natives during their whirlwind visit to the country last week—who thought that the two were here to “inspire” wide-eyed PBA D League wannabes.
Fact is, you don’t need to promote the game in the Philippines—it is here, there and everywhere, so much so that streets in Metro Manila are cordoned off by your friendly barangay (village) captain to give way to an inter-village tournament even if doing so is against the law.
You see, Mr. Naismith, even the rules are bent in this country for the game you invented.
James did not even shoot the breeze, literally, apparently preferring to cocoon himself inside a high-end mall (air-conditioned, of course), and spewed words of wisdom on how he rose from adversity to become what he is today.
His spiel was consistent with what his sponsoring shoe company was endorsing—a reality TV show centered around “rising” above the humble beginnings one may have come from.
Then, as soon as he was done with going through the motions under a prepared script, James was gone in his private jet and until his next stopover in Manila, when his appearance fee will have considerably gone up.
Rubio, on the other hand, did ”better” than James, even taking a brief stroll at Intramuros and conducting what seemed to be a clinic for young Filipino boys in Mandaluyong City.
During the clinic, he reportedly told the boys to go for speed to make up for their lack of height (!) and everything will be alright when they decide to become like their NBA heroes.
Height is everything in basketball, and if you don’t have it, sorry, you won’t make it.
Of course, Rubio was just being honest about aspiring basketball greats who are vertically challenged.
He was talking with underprivileged local teenagers, who, if genes were kind to them, would have a sporting chance to make it, first in some village liga and later, perhaps, a national one.
But if they are from families who barely make both ends meet, then they will stop growing without as much as a warning, and there goes the dream.
So, it won’t really matter if Filipinos, as Rubio put it, play basketball close to the NBA style, whatever that means.
Incidentally, he was reported to be pitching rubber shoes that sell for P7,995 a pair.
With that amount of money, close to P8,000, you can buy an island in these parts.
Undoubtedly, many young men, even the older ones, would not be able to buy those shoes but do not underestimate the power of suggestion.
Somehow, the target market of this footwear will find a way to purchase a pair.
After all, who would not want to be in the shoes of LeBron James or Ricky Rubio?