A slow start, a late opposing West Block team surge, a closed gym and playing outdoors in cold weather didn’t stop North Block from barely three-peating in the Asian-Pacific Islander Holiday Basketball Tournament where the prize was keeping the Becky with the Good Hair trophy.
“It was 42 degree out here. I can’t feel my feet,” said North Block’s (NB) center Damon Cooke right after the winning game.
NB guard Chau Vi responded, “Champs don’t care; we play in elements. We three-peat.”
The battle for the trophy named Becky with the Good Hair came down to back-to-back controversial referee calls and making a clutch free throw. NB beat West Block (WB) by one point in the first-to-30-points contest.
“That was a good game,” said Tith Ton of WB.
The championship match was held up by NB’s Upu Ama singing the national anthem – in its entirety. Some players placed their hands over their hearts and other took a knee like SF 49er Colin Kaepernick has done.
NB needed one more point to win, after taking a 29-22 lead. But Rafael Cuevas started a WB comeback by nailing two free throws, making the score 29-24. Then he stole the ball and launched it down court to WB guard Phirank Kim for a layup at 29-26.
NB’s Upa Ama missed a shot that Cuevas rebounded. The ball shifted to Zitsue Lee’s hands. Lee took a shot and missed. His teammate Vadim Zankarchenko rebounded the ball and scored at 29-28 as the crowd erupted with cheers.
Kim stole the ball from NB and led a three-on-one fast break down the court. Kim went up for the layup with the outstretched arm of a NB defender blocking the basket, so he passed from the air to a wide-open Charlie Srey right under the rim. Srey gathered himself for the easy potential game-winning layup, but a referee called traveling, leaving the score 29-28 NB.
“They won by my team’s mistakes,” said Zankarchenko.
On the other end, WB’s Lee aggressively guarded Adnan Khan and the referee called foul. That sent Khan to the free-throw line, where either one of two attempts would win. Khan nailed the first, winning the game and keeping Becky in North Block for the third tournament.
“That wasn’t a foul,” said Lee. “But I accept the results.”
“That was the ugliest win,” said Khan.
“We came out and played and did our best,” said Kim.
Becky, made of carbon, wrapped in glossy-gold paper and topped with a ping-pong sized ball resembling a miniature basketball, became the grand prize since its creation for a Labor Day tournament where NB beat WB. It goes back up for grabs with each new holiday tournament.
For the Christmas tournament, WB brought back Coach Nick Lopez, who managed to guide his team back to the finals again.
“He (Lopez) made a difference,” said Ton. “He knows how to pull people in and out. He’s a good coach.”
“They played hard and I’m hella proud of them,” said Lopez. “They didn’t give up all the way to the end.”
On the NB team was Chau Vi, Khan, Dahvee Sophal, Ama, Juan Meza, Cooke and Alladin Pangilinan.
West Block: Cuevas, Lee, Srey, Bikkar Singh, Kevin Neang, Ton, Zankarchenko and Kim.
Early on, NB was nearly eliminated from the tournament. Six games decided which of three teams made to the finals and North Block was down two losses to one win. One more loss would have put NB out the tourney.
NB stepped up and beat H-unit, 24-15, tying all three teams’ records at 2-2. To break the tie, NB played H-unit in an extra game for a spot in the championship game and won, 24-18.
“I would like to continue this interview, but I have to go find Becky,” joked Upu after the game.