Sleepless summer, playoff fever

POINT OF VIEW - Juaniyo Y. Arcellana - The Philippine Star

If you come across a sleepwalking sports aficionado sometime in mid-May, chances are it isn’t just because of the heat and humidity among other vestiges of El Niño, though that too could be a factor, but mainly because many of the major sporting leagues around the world are in their playoff or homestretch phase, with cutthroat competition and serial knockout games sure to keep the fan up till the wee hours and beyond.

Aside from the much loved NBA now approaching the conference finals with weekend games at well past midnight because matinee time in the US, there’s the Premier League of English football (soccer to the hegemony) coming to a head at the weekend, with Manchester City poised to win a fourth straight premiership title if the dice doesn’t roll Arsenal’s way; Champions League football first weekend of June pitting record holder Real Madrid against under-the-radar Borussia Dortmund; Euroleague basketball with the final four slated before the end of the month, featuring a couple of Greek teams taking on separate opponents, a Turkish team and defending champion Real Madrid, not to mention the PBA in our backyard, also in the semis hoping to recover from a season-long poor attendance.

There are enough cable providers as well apps for livestreaming, with expert analysis spewing statistics and analytics machine gun-style, at relatively affordable prices, including access to chatrooms where one can join the ribbing and trash talking like other athletes do, in the safety of one’s own home and thus likely spared from any cheap shots or plain cruel fate resulting in ACL or Achilles injuries, meniscus tears and assorted sprains, except perhaps to the brain from lingering insomnia.

Bets are starting to be laid down in the NBA, varying odds calculated, with defending champion Denver Nuggets seemingly headed for a collision course with storied franchise Boston Celtics, if the bookies are to be believed, unless Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves or New York Knicks can spring a few surprises. What’s not surprising is how much the game has changed and evolved through the years, with emphasis on athleticism and an almost dogged determination, they don’t call the best players dogs for nothing, but in kinder years they were merely called workhorses, or a Mr. 101 percent.

There’s the thinking man’s passing center who can shoot the three if need be (Jokic), the flying ninja (De Vincenzo) and whirling dervish (Brunson), the clutch playmaker leading one of the youngest teams in the league (Gilgeous Alexander of OKC), the Slovenian master of the triple double (Doncic), the heir apparent to past greats (Edwards aka Antman), the Celtic dynamic duo just needing to finally win it all after years of almost but not quite (Tatum and Brown).

A plethora of storylines to keep even the most bored hipster awake, notwithstanding provocative remarks by Draymond Sourgrapes Green, he conducts himself on panel as he does on court, has an image to live up to. The controversial Charles Barkley stirring a hornet’s nest wondering when was a Filipino ever drafted in the NBA. It’s a business of course, and commissioner Adam Silver can’t help but grin all the way to the bank.

In Britain, the ascendance of Manchester City means more than just a changing of the guard, with crosstown rivals the more illustrious Manchester United left to scramble for a place in the second tier European Cup as a window to the Champions League. But the names of Man U players seem best heard only in dreams, stuff for somnambulists: Garnacho, Casemiro, McTominay, Onana. As opposed to City’s Gvardiol or Haaland. Or Liverpool’s triple threat up front in Diaz, Nuñez, Salah that crumbled in the stretch and dropped out of the race, leaving Arsenal as a last gasp challenge to the mighty City and relive the memory of the Invincibles of 2004.

In Euroleague, cup defenders Real Madrid beat the other three in qualifying for the final 4, their rumble in last year’s quarters against Serbia’s Partizan now a mere memory where Yabusele throttled Dante Exum, who at present plays for the Mavericks alongside another former Euroleague standout Doncic.

Doesn’t it just boggle the mind that former NBA standouts find their way back to Europe, as in the case of Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandes, Sergio Rodriguez, even Frank Kaminsky III?

Real Madrid, 14-times Champions League holders, try to notch another one against Borussia Dortmund in a symbolic tiff between establishment and upstart.

Basketball sure as entertainment, and former NBA superman Dwight Howard making waves in Taiwan and the Strong Group. In football or soccer, how is it that UP winning the UAAP title was not even breaking news, 1-0 on a 50th penalty kick by Macky Tobias? As the volleyball leagues are just about over, both UAAP and PVL, with only the NCAA about to commence the finals, the fans may or may not troop back to the PBA like lost loves looking for a fix, being creatures of habit, sleepless or not.

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