With the growing passion for basketball and the general lack of top-level hoops in the Southeast Asian region, fans were understandably excited when the Malaysian sports apparel brand Xballer Sdn Bhd announced in collaboration with the Professional Basketball Alumni Association (PBAA) that National Basketball Association (NBA) legends Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and Jason Williams, among others, were headed to Malawati Stadium in Shah Alam, Selangor, for an exhibition game against the KL Dragons of the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL). Of course, JUMPSHOT.sg would not be JUMPSHOT.sg if we did not seize this great opportunity, and thus we headed up to Selangor by way of a long bus journey to take in the game. The atmosphere was electric from the start, as the crowd within the huge arena was hyped up at the sight of their childhood heroes. The game started slowly, however, as a sluggish PBAA team looked content to launch perimeter jumpers and make use of Horace Grant’s height and size in the post, a far cry from the playing style of Grant as well as the rest of the team back in their heyday. The KL Dragons team was boosted by stars from around the ABL, including Thailand’s one-time ABL Most Valuable Player (MVP) Attaporn Lertmalaiporn, Mario Wuysang from Indonesia and our very own Desmond Oh, and appeared inspired by the presence of these great competitors, holding the PBAA All-Stars to a 21-21 tie at the end of the first quarter before going down by just 2 at the half. The highlight for us Singaporeans was no doubt the lockdown defense on Scottie Pippen by Desmond Oh at the end of the second quarter, culminating in a steal and then a fast-break layup which was rejected by Pippen as the buzzer for the intermission sounded. A definite goal-tend in our eyes, but apparently not to the referees! The second half began the same way, with Rodman and guys like Mitch Richmond and even Cliff Robinson launching away from beyond the arc, and bricking most of their attempts. With the expected easy victory seemingly under threat, the PBAA team decided to send in the ‘young guns’, consisting of lesser lights such as the solid but unspectacular former NBA journeymen Jeff Trepagnier and Victor Alexander, Alexus Foyle, cousin of NCAA shot-blocking great Adonal Foyle,ex-Saint Joseph guard Charoy Bently and complete unknown Chris Campbell. The five did their job ably and with minimal fanfare, as they quickly and effortlessly put the game out of the Dragons’ reach, showcasing the incredible gulf in talent and ability between basketball in the States and in this part of the world. Trepagnier showed he still had much of his old hops and some range as he notched up some points for his side, but it was the former Division II player and one-time Globetrotter Campbell who really impressed as he finished strong in traffic time after time, as it soon became painfully obvious that no one on KL’s roster had what it took to stop his relentless drives to the basket. Campbell would go on to lead all scorers with 20 points, but it appeared to matter little to the spectators, who roared in approval when the much less effective but decidedly more entertaining stars were brought back on. To everyone’s delight, Rodman hit a couple of outside shots as the PBAA team closed out the third with a sizeable lead. The final period eventually delivered on what most fans were hoping for, as ball-handling and passing wizard Jason Williams finally put on a clinic worthy of the moniker, “White Chocolate”, with Pippen getting in on the act as well. Williams’ dazzling dribbling and his repertoire of moves and fakes were evidently on a level that Mario Wuysang had never experienced before, as the bald-headed point guard backed off his man and refused to come anywhere within two feet of Williams. This only made it easier for Williams to pull out his entire bag of tricks, culminating in the famous ‘elbow’ pass on a fast-break to a trailing Pippen, who promptly flushed home the dunk. This brought the crowd to their feet, as half of them raised their hands in the air and cheered in delight, and the other half took out their mobile phones to text home: “I saw the elbow pass in person!” More thrilling assists rounded up the show as the PBAA All-Stars clinched a 96-81 victory.
The end of the game saw the NBA legends getting mobbed as autograph-seekers and photograph-hunters galore made it hard for the players to even get to the dressing room, delaying the start of the press conference. The players were most gracious, however, as they gladly entertained the media with a lengthy question-and-answer session. NBA legend and PBAA’s figurehead ‘coach’ Oscar Robertson was the first to field questions, while Jason Williams stayed in a playful mood throughout the press conference, whooping in delight as the players were handed chicken nuggets as their post-game snacks. About the elbow pass, Williams claimed, “I don’t know man, you will have to ask the recipient about that! Scottie called for the ball and that was the only way I could get it to him.” Once portrayed as the ‘bad boy’ of the NBA, a genial Rodman praised the crowd and proclaimed that the show was “all for the kids”.
Well, the kids will certainly be very pleased, as the president of the PBAA, former Clippers, Knicks and Spurs forward Charles Smith, took the opportunity to announce that the PBAA team will be back in Malaysia next year for another exhibition game. If you have been dying to meet the idols of your youth in person, do be sure to free up some room on the calendar around the same time in 2013!