Second chances are hard to come by, but when it does you don’t let it go. Never stop until it’s yours and you will reap the reward of your persistence. Believe me, I know a thing or two about it. There’s no sweeter prize than achieving a goal you have been aiming for. A dream realized at last.
My birthday month has been nothing short of amazing and the cherry on top would be the main point of this blog entry. How fitting since I haven’t posted in months and this has to be one of the worthiest subjects for me to write about for my comeback. I want to share my experience as a fan and the completion of this once in a lifetime dream from start to finish. It took a lot longer to get done because I want to indulge the fan in me and give you every little detail as much as I can. I’ll probably go a bit over board but what’s the point of telling a story if I don’t go all in? This is history for me. Something to look back on and reminisce for years, nay decades after.
Here’s how I made it count…
It was a seemingly normal day and I was stuck doing my day job in Makati. Unfortunately, non-work related websites are blocked in the office computer and I, for some reason, didn’t turn my mobile data on until after lunch time. When I went back online, my Twitter feed was flooded with news of LeBron James’ return. My heart skipped a beat and I started hyperventilating. This has to be real, right? He did promise to come back which made me hopeful no matter how long I have to wait. You should’ve seen my face that day!
I started asking around on how to get tickets but no one knew initially which frustrated the hell out of me. I tried contacting my sportswriter friends and acquaintances but got zero info. Someone said I should not give up and reminded me to not miss the chance if ever our boy came back. He was right. I was hoping it wasn’t like the first time where people lined up in Nike BGC for 2-3 days but I thought of skipping work if that happened. Thankfully, Nike posted this and I couldn’t be more happier. Online registration? Psh, easy… Or so I thought.
My best friend nicely said yes to my favor. Since the slot reservation is at 9am and I’m at work (blocked sites!) I surrendered everything to him. I’m not gonna lie, I was nervous as hell. To give you some perspective, it’s like waking up to a Game 7 of the NBA Finals! When the registration opened, we hit a snag. Turns out, you have to be a Nike PH member online first. EH I WASN’T! L, bless his quick thinking, immediately created a new account then went back to the page for the ticket reservation. I heard that the Nike portal closed 15-20 minutes after they opened it. I don’t know how he pulled it off but my boy is goddamn clutch! Thank you to my other friend’s fast internet connection at home, too. Ultimately, this has to be the best screen shot I’ve seen in a while:
I drove and collected the free tickets in the Nike Glorietta branch. Happiness and relief washed over me when they gave them to me. It meant so much because there it was in my hand, the proof that I am halfway through finally seeing LeBron. One foot is already inside the door, or in this case, inside the Mall of Asia Arena.
August 20, 2015
I remember waking up with a smile on my face. First of all, I didn’t have work so that was a big plus! Do you know the feeling when you’re about to go out on a first date with a guy/girl you really like? There’s a burst of excitement and little butterflies in your stomach. The kilig and extra spring to your step? That’s how it was for me. I asked L to come with me. He’s not into basketball and not exactly a Bron fan but he reserved the tickets so it was the right choice to make.
One thing you have to know is that I hate Mall of Asia/Mall of Asia Arena. It’s too far from where I live. SUCH HASSLE. But oh the things I do for love. The gates open at 6pm but I decided we should leave early just in case. I made sure I have everything we need and made our way at exactly 1pm. To fill the car’s tire with air, I stopped by a gas station where I suddenly remembered something important. THE CAR IS ON CODING! We were already in the Pasig area (where I was previously caught for the same violation HAHAHA), good thing they have a 10am-4pm window but Makati is not as lenient. I immediately scrambled for a new plan. Best option in my mind was to drive to SM Megamall, park the car, and get a cab. I thought about riding the MRT but I didn’t want to risk it so no thanks. We waited by the taxi stand in Mega B strip. The line was long and only a few cabs coming through. I was getting anxious and screaming inside my head but I tried my best to stay put and be quiet because I didn’t want to stress my best friend. We had time but I don’t trust the traffic in this country. My god, until the end I still had to go through setbacks before I see the King. It took roughly 30-45 minutes before we were able to get a ride. I don’t know what sorcery was at work that day but there was minimal traffic on EDSA! I cannot believe it! We hopped out of the taxi as the rain started to pour in the Marina entrance side. This is it, here we go!
LOL NOPE! As expected, we were asked to fall in line again inside. Fans were allowed to go up to the hallways only. I think we stayed there for almost 2 hours before they let us in. I didn’t expect how steep the seats were! Good thing I can still see everything from the upper box section. I wish I brought my DSLR but I was initially told it was not allowed. SHAME! To pass the time, they showed a couple episodes of the Nike Rise series on the projector which was visually impressive and tugs at the heartstrings.
The Rise program started with a Slam Dunk contest hosted by Boom Gonzales and MC Paolo. It was a nice warm-up to what was going to unfold later. After that, the lights were dimmed and they went off the court. I knew then that we’re about to be in the presence of greatness.
I hugged myself as my legs started to shake from anticipation. Coach Chot Reyes made a short speech then called out the Final 12 Nike Rise kids. We all knew what was coming next. The music changed and a silhouette of man came into view on the background. I would recognize that body frame anywhere. There were fire effects on stage then out came LeBron freaking James!!! Everyone screamed. Me? I screamed and cried at once. I was overwhelmed with emotions, I wasn’t sure how to process what was happening in front of me but it was all I ever wanted. If he was Jesus, I’d go to church. You’ll see a bit of his intro here. He rapped along to a Jay-Z song (I think???) then walked to the middle of the court where Boom made a quick interview. As far as I know they both came from the press conference before heading to this event. His voice is super low, I can barely understand what he was saying but super giddy to hear it live and not on TV. He waved at everyone especially the people (US!) on the upper and gen ad sections. I think he meant, “Hey don’t worry I see you guys there.” He then sat on the bench as the Nike athletes and Nike Rise kids were about to start the game. Some of the participants I can recall were Chris Newsome, Sol Mercado, Thirdy Ravena, Kobe Paras, RR Garcia, Chris Ellis, Cliff Hodge, Jeff Chan, and Jared Dillinger.
During the team warm-ups my eyes were on him the whole time. At one time he got a ball and adjusted himself on his chair, I knew he was going to do this, and he actually did! Casually danced the nae nae after hitting the shot to boot. The first 10 minutes blew by fast while Bron watched from the sidelines. Team Rise were able to grind it out with the vets although you know they still have a lot more to learn. At the half, there was a three-point shooting contest. The surprise addition was 12-year old Kristine Cayabyab who came home with the W. We were all rooting for the kid and she didn’t disappoint. She did so well that the King took notice and made him get up from his seat and clapped as she finished the last rack. She’s the only one who received a signed basketball from LeBron among the Team Rise members, too. Lucky girl!
The second half started and a lot of people are getting antsy. They are calling for the main man on the court already. People were screaming, “Ipasa niyo kay LeBron” among other things, which I found amusing. I saw him do a bit of stretching on the bench and I knew he’ll play eventually so there was no reason to panic. True enough, he checked in for the white team and needless to say, the whole arena was filled with beautiful chaos. People were excitedly chanting, “LBJ! LBJ! LBJ!”. It was the best four minutes of my life. There he was, playing 5-on-5 basketball in front of me and I can barely control myself. Sure, it wasn’t competitive but still an ultimate joy to watch. My boy was punishing the rim left and right. There were bursts of flame from the side with every dunk. I either screamed or stood (or both) with every basket he made. It was like him saying, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MAINE! This one’s for you, and this, oh here comes another, one more time for good measure!” Haters been ripping him for not doing the Slam Dunk contest but we’re way past that now and to be honest I couldn’t care less. I think we went over the quota that night. Sure, he missed a few outside shots (still lol @ your 3-point shot, Bron) but everyone was having fun. He had a little dunkfest against Kobe Paras and playfully guarded Tintin Cayabyab. I’m not sure who it was but I got to see him block, too (bless you whoever you are)! He tried to make plays and excellent passes to keep his teammates involved. Although most of them just want to hand him the ball anyway. As the final buzzer sounded, Team Rise mobbed LeBron on the court. He gave one last message to all the fans in the Mall of Asia Arena then signed numerous basketballs and threw it to the crowd. Unfortunately, I was too high up and those only reached the lower box section. He also signed and gave his game jersey away. He went to the dugout and just like that it was over. As we left the stadium, I knew I witnessed something special and no one can take that from me. I can finally forgive myself for missing the Witness History tour back in 2013. All the regrets and pain gone. This has to be the best vindication and way to move past the heart break. Earned not given, as always.
August 20 was one for the books! I may not have more photos or videos but it’ll be with me forever and that’s what is important. Thankful for the opportunity and to be given this chance again. Everything was surreal. I think I was under the LeBron spell for a week and until now it’s an instant pick me upper every time I think about it. There’s probably one thing I would’ve changed to make this adventure more fulfilling but it’s better that I’ll keep it to myself.
This is not the end. I’d still want to see my GOAT play in a real NBA game but that’s a different story for another time. Hopefully, he’ll decide to come back in a year or two with ~maybe~ another championship title under his name (GET THAT THIRD RING, LOVE). Who knows? One thing’s for sure though, I’ll be there waiting and cheering for my boy again like it was the first time.
Photos courtesy of L.A. Arandela; Vines from @janebracher