THE seven- and six-footers looked smaller from where they sat. Still, nothing compared to the experience of watching a historic NBA preseason game between two legitimate title contenders in Manila live — and for free.
The 50 extremely lucky winners of the “Gas Up, Match Up” promo of Phoenix Petroleum finally got what they came for on Thursday night when they witnessed the Houston Rockets and the Indiana Pacers in action in the Philippine edition of the NBA Global Games on Thursday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Recipients of a coveted ticket, free overnight accommodation at Microtel, and P10,000 travel allowance, the winners were all clad in a red Phoenix polo shirt and gathered in Section C, where each seat cost P8,400. They also had a chance for a photo-op at halftime with NBA legends Ron Harper and Jalen Rose.
With James Harden leading the way, the Rockets defeated the Pacers, 116-96.
Dolph Saavedra, one of the winners from Mindanao, admitted his seat (equivalent to one in Upper B) was a bit far from desired, but nevertheless was grateful for the chance to watch the ground-breaking game.
“If you’re a true fan of the game, whether you’re in general admission or anywhere, basta you are able to enjoy the game, wala namang problema yan,” said Saavedra.
[To view GALLERY of the winning experience, click here.]
The 33-year-old Saavedra is grateful to their sponsor, considered the leading independent oil company in the country.
“We’re very thankful to Phoenix for giving us this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity kasi kung wala sila, ang hirap,” said Saavedra, a plant manager for a startup company based in Mati City, Davao Oriental that exports agricultural products.
Saavedra said he has already spent most of the P10,000 travel allowance given to him.
“So if you don’t have that (allowance) even if you have a ticket, I think yung iba would not be able to come kasi you need about five to eight thousand (pesos) to really be in a comfortable place and be able to fly.”
Most importantly, the 33-year-old father of one son saw the Phoenix gift as a respite from the armed conflict that had ravaged Mindanao last month, particularly in his native Zamboanga, where his family is based.
“Natuwa na rin ako dahil medyo worried kami sa nangyari sa Zamboanga dahil sa gulo then all of a sudden 'yung pag-attend ng NBA game was a big uplift sa akin especially,” the Davao-based Saavedra said.
Another lucky winner, 73-year-old “Tatay” Librado Sabale, also saw the event as a celebration of life, his own for that matter.
The oldest winner in the group based in General Trias, Cavite, Sabale boasted how strong he still is at his age as he is still the one who drives his grandson to high school with his Isuzu Crosswind.
“Nagmamaneho pa ako,” Sabale said, briefly flashing to Spin.ph his driver’s license as proof.
He said he would always gas up at a Phoenix branch in Kawit, Cavite, two kilometers away from their house.
“Nagustuhan ko yung Phoenix kasi maganda yung puwesto, at yung mga tao courteous, at yung facilities nila malinis.”
Sabale said he has religiously joined previous Phoenix promos, but this was the only time he won after he let his daughter, Jenny, sign the ticket stub. Jenny then transferred the name to his father when she won.
Sabale, a Larry Bird fan, was so excited that he, in a rare occurrence, kept the ticket for himself.
“Sabi ng apo na sa kanya na lang daw yung ticket pero sabi ko 'wag naman. Matanda na ako at ngayon lang ako makaka-tsamba ng ganyan,” he chuckled.
Charla Garcia, for her part, celebrated the health of his father, who had undergone a successful cataract operation a few days before she flew to Manila from her native Kalibo, Aklan.
One of only two winners from Visayas, the 33-year-old Garcia admitted she was not an avid NBA fan, but only went after her father’s successful operation.
“Ipapa-transfer ko sana (yung ticket), pero naging okay naman yung pag-opera sa kanya.”