Friday, June 16, 2006

Chess-savvy NBA stars

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

Every Tom, Dick and Harry seem to be discussing basketball nowadays owing to the ongoing best-of-seven NBA Finals series between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks.

Even in our meetings and in-between chess games at Handuraw Cafe in Mabolo, the topic of conversation is the NBA Finals with a lot of betting on the side.

Today’s column is all about NBA basketball players who play chess. Perhaps the greatest basketball player ever was Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, whose 100-point performance against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962 is the greatest single performance in NBA history. Known for his relentless pursuit of women (he claims to have bedded 10,000), he was also an avid chess player whose favorite opening was the center counter. He once invited Bobby Fischer to his house for dinner but Bobby declined as he did not want to meet any other people.

Another outstanding chess lover is David Robinson known as “The Admiral.” A well-rounded person who plays several musical instruments, he is a born-again Christian known for his philanthropy. The “David Robinson Plaque” is given by the league once a month to NBA players doing charitable work.

“These young guys are playing checkers, I am out there playing chess.” This is a quote from Kobe Bryant describing his style of play. He must be a good enough player as he is comfortable with the intricacies of the Budapest Gambit.

Larry Bird’s favorite opening is f4, which is known as the Bird’s opening. It is not named after him, of course, but after a 19th century English master, Henry Bird. Larry’s former Boston Celtics teammates Kevin Mchale and Danny Ainge also play chess so they must have played a lot of chess together. “Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten but they may start a team as one man cannot make a team.” – Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Famous for his “skyhook,” he retired in 1989 leaving a legacy of professionalism, class and success. He holds several NBA records among them – most points scored, most All-Stars selection and most playoff games. He is also a part-time actor and good in martial arts being a pupil of the late Bruce Lee. He is one of Lee’s opponents in the movie Game of Death. Other films he is in are Airplane, Fletch and Slam-dunk Ernest.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a family-like atmosphere and one of their activities is playing chess. “We have a mini-tournament in our locker room most of the time,” says Mark Madsen. Among his colleagues who play good chess are Latrell Sprewell and Gary Trent.

The Knicks are a chess-playing team. Larry Johnson, who suffers from chronic back problems and retired early because of it, wanted “something that I could do sitting down” and when the wife of one of his friends taught him how to play chess, he was hooked.

He played often with his teammate Allan Houston, who learned the game from his father-in-law. Kurt Thomas, their center, who picked up the game while making a personal appearance at a school, is a good player and so is Erick Strickland, their guard. They usually played on the team’s airplane. “There is no betting. It’s all about respect,” says Thomas.

Other NBA players who play chess are Steve Smith, Rick Carlisle, Maurice Carter, Reggie Carter, Bill Cartwright, Sean Elliot, Greg Kite, Grant Long, Jason Williams, Michael Doleac and Bill Walton.

N.B. Mandy Baria, president of the Cebu Executives and Professionals Chess Association, has announced that the club’s monthly tournament will be on June 25 at the Stella Maris Center starting at 2 p.m.

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