Category Archives: PBA

Hon. Hontiveros

Dondon (center) with (from left) Manny Villaruel, Raffy Uytiepo, Girlie Garces, John Pages, Edri Aznar and Caecent Magsumbol during the 37th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards held last February 2020

Donaldo is his first name and Dondon is his nickname but we’d call him by the moniker “Cebuano Hotshot.” He studied in Don Bosco, USJ-R, and as college heartthrob, the University of Cebu. When the Cebu Gems was formed in 1998, he stood as the shining gem. 

From the MBA, he hopped to the PBA, playing 17 quality years with Alaska, Petron, Tanduay, Air21, and San Miguel. Among his achievements include being ranked fourth in the list of most 3-point shots made in PBA history, behind Jimmy Alapag, Allan Caidic and Ronnie Magsanoc. He also netted three PBA championships, one with the Aces and two with the Beermen. 

In a list of superstars that played in Cebu that include Abet, June Mar, Jojo, Ramon, JR, Aldrech, Greg and Arnie, the name “Dondon” is, on a first-name basis, recognized.

Last year, Dondon Hontiveros played a different game. He dribbled into politics, shooting for a slot as Cebu City councilor. Long accustomed to being a top-scorer, Dondon was the highest pointer among the 16 elected councilors, garnering over 161,00 votes. The tallest stood tallest.

“Basketball is a team game and each player has a role to play,” he told me a few days ago. “But it’s your attitude that helps when facing a challenge. In a game, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll win but when you put in the work, you give yourself a chance.”

The 43-year-old Hontiveros has a different role to play these days, given the Covid-19 pandemic. A few months back, he was inside the Cebu Coliseum — the same arena where he’s spent hundreds of hours assisting and playing basketball — but this time, he was assisting with the relief goods distribution, playing leader as the city helped prepare food kits.

“When I was in-charge of the repacking,” he said, “I was able to get a workout everyday because, with the help of my coaches, we helped carry the boxes of canned goods. I also tried to bring the team some energy.”

Hon. Hontiveros is busy these days, going out almost daily to help with the Normal Oasis for Adaptation and a Home (NOAH) Complex. 

“I am the logistics coordinator at NOAH under Atty. Joy Pesquera. Our quarantine facility at the SRP was able to discharge over 306 asymptomatic clients. Currently, we have over 270 at the facility,” he said.

When I asked for advice to his fellow Cebuanos, he had these “positive” words: “Use your energy to make a positive impact. It might be lending a hand, encouraging a person going through a difficult time or saying a prayer. You rise by lifting others. You find fulfillment when you were able to help. We can a make a difference bisag unsa pa na kagamay. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit, what matters is we make a conscious effort to help.”

Finally, I couldn’t end my interview without asking him one thing.

“I am excited with the return of the NBA,” he said. “I was cheering for Kawhi (Leonard) when he was still with the Spurs and Raptors. But LeBron has been amazing, as well as Giannis. My pick: any of the L.A. teams and the Bucks.”

Football and basketball

Harry Roque, the often embattled spokesman, said this (in Filipino) last Friday: “Practice and conditioning are now allowed in basketball and football, in accordance with the request of the PBA and other football associations.”

This brings bad news and good news.

Bad news because basketball and football are “anti-social distancing” activities. Both games are close-contact sports. Apart from wrestling, I can’t think of any other sport that requires more body-to-body action than soccer and basketball. Scary? Yes. If a player is Covid-19 positive and he plays 5-on-5 basketball, we know the end result. Everybody gets infected.

Good news because the authorities are confident. While Cebu City is stuck in ECQ mode, the outlook in Metro Manila is different. They’re opening up. This is good news because the world needs sports. Amidst all the negativity and hopelessness, the world of sports brings hope and (pun intended) positivity.

How will the PBA do this? The Board will meet soon to lay out their plans for practice sessions. They also hope to plot options for a date for the PBA’s full return; a single conference season is targeted to end 2020. 

Willie Marcial, the PBA commissioner, said that a “bubble” will be enforced to ensure safety for all. In an interview, he said that all players and staff will be tested three days prior to the first practice session. After that, they’ll be tested every 10 days.

Tim Cone, the coach of Barangay Ginebra, told the Inquirer: “(There are still) so much details (that) needs to be worked out.” And SMB coach Leo Austria added: “We’re still far from what we all long for, which is official games. But the mere fact that we’re making such progress gives hope to the people.”

June Mar Fajardo

Two years ago during the 35th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards, I had the privilege of sitting beside Fred Uytengsu, Jr. (the Sportsman of the Year awardee) and, to my right, the country’s most famous athlete not named Manny Pacquiao.

Standing 6-foot-11, is there a larger-than-life figure than June Mar Fajardo? That afternoon in SM City Cebu, the Pinamungajan-raised sports giant was quiet and almost shy, despite all eyes and cameras transfixed to his 250-lb. large frame.

Alongside Gabriel Elorde and Mon Fernandez, June Mar ranks among the greatest of Cebuano athletes. And with his PBA records that include being a five-time MVP, talks are circulating that he can be the all-time greatest Pinoy cager.

Last Wednesday, June Mar did it again. I watched most of Game 7 of the Philippine Cup between Magnolia and San Miguel and the colossal figure was unstoppable. He scored 17 points (only) but pulled down 31 rebounds, beating the previous record of 29 rebounds set by Marcelo Simbulan in 1975. Thirty one rebounds!

The game was a thriller. Down by as much as 17 points, the Beermen looked tentative and uptight — made worse when they scored a miserly five points in the 2nd quarter.

But SMB rebounded back — thanks to the rebounds of June Mar, erasing the lead and winning when the buzzer sounded, 72-71, for a fifth straight All-Filipino crown for Ramon Ang’s team.

“All the championships are hard,” said June Mar, “but this series ranks among the hardest.”

The game was not without controversy. There appeared to be several non-calls (fouls) that went against Magnolia. I thought that June Mar’s bump against Marc Barroca was an offensive foul — which could have reversed the outcome in favor of Magnolia. Even in the last play of Jio Jalalon, it looked like he was fouled and, with a couple of free throws, would have cost SMB the win.

“(The game) went down the wire, it was anybody’s ball game,” said Rafi Reavis of Magnolia. “But we all know who got the short end of the stick.”

I sympathize with Magnolia but also understand the referees; in those last few moments of a Game 7, the natural tendency is not to blow the whistle and decide the outcome by intervening.

Controversy or not, what’s unquestionable is the supremacy of June Mar, who picked up his third Finals MVP award. What’s also indisputable is how kind and humble June Mar has remained.

Recalling a chat that I had with Atty. Gus Go many years ago, the owner of the University of Cebu had this to say about his prized student:

“Before the PBA Rookie Draft, when he was selected by Petron as the top pick, he came to my office in UC. He was so thankful. But I told him, ‘No, it is I who should say thank you for all that you have brought to our school.’”

Only 29 years old, June Mar will continue to dominate. He might pull down 40 rebounds and score 40. No human being who can stop him except…

Spider-Man. Ha? Confused? Google that crazy May 10 incident that almost injured The Kraken.

What’s the stand on Standhardinger?

The smallest stood the tallest. Lewis Alfred “LA” Tenorio scored 26 points en route to pocketing the Finals MVP trophy as he led the Ginebra Gin Kings to their 10th overall title last Friday. I watched the YouTube highlights and, like in any winner-take-all and with 54,086 watching inside the Philippine Arena, that Game 7 was electrifying.

Greg Slaughter, our fellow Cebuano, was, literally and figuratively, a tall factor for Ginebra. I chanced upon meeting Greg at the Mactan airport last August when his team played the Alaska Aces at the Hoops Dome. Despite his superstar status, Greg has remained very friendly and polite. We chatted about his PBA stint and recovery from injury.

In the 7-game Finals, Greg averaged 11.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. And after leading UV and Ateneo to collegiate titles, it was his first PBA championship.

CONTROVERSY. Today at the Robinsons Place Manila, it’s the PBA Draft. It’s that once-a-year gathering when the 12 teams choose new players. The main squabble involves Christian Standhardinger. He’s 28 and was born in Munich to a German father and Filipina mother, Elizabeth Hermoso. Out of the 44 players who have offered their services to join Asia’s first pro basketball league, some popular cagers include Jeron Teng, Kiefer Ravena and Raymar Jose. But the undisputed No. 1 pick, given his height and international exposure, is the Fil-German. Standhardinger, who stands 6-foot-7, is expected to follow in the giant footsteps of Slaughter and June Mar Fajardo.

The PBA has 12 teams and, in the spirit of fair play and “giving chance to others,” the weakest team gets to pick first in the Draft. This is common sense. This team is Kia Picanto and they’re expected to choosae Standhardinger, right? Wrong. In a baffling move, they’ve exchanged places with San Miguel Beermen (the second-to-the-last to pick) so that SMB will pick the Fil-German in exchange for a slew of non-superstar players. This prompted Fred Uytengsu of Alaska to complain, “It clearly doesn’t make basketball sense for the weaker teams, unless there is another consideration.”

In simplest terms, why would a team that has the chance to employ the best give up that opportunity? Can someone please enlighten me?

Bobby Motus, my fellow sportswriter from The Freeman, in his usual funny but on-target manner, said it best in his column the other day: “We are all aware of that abnormal trade proposal dropped at the PBA office where KIA will give up their first pick to San Miguel for three practice players. Hoooowaw! Upon getting the one-sided proposal, the PBA league commissioner should have immediately thrown that into the shredding machine and then to the incinerator instead of letting it sit and say that many factors are being considered before deciding on it. And did he say something like everything is all for the good of the PBA? Yeah right.”

But life, as we know, is never fair. And the PBA is following the path of the NBA. Imagine Standhardinger joining Fajardo? Like the Warriors, OKC, and the Cavs, SMB is becoming the super “super team” of the PBA. Too unfair? 


June Mar Fajardo

Atty. Baldemero “Merong” Estenzo, the Dean of the University of Cebu (UC) College of Law, sent this text message yesterday to the PBA’s best player: “Congratulations, June Mar, on your BPC award. Ayaw ka contento ana (don’t be contented), keep improving. Practice spin move when denied sa low post. Also, your hook shots and three point shots. On defense, ayaw palayo sa imong tawo ug ipataas daan ang imong kamot opposite sa shooting hand sa imong tawo (don’t stay far and raise your hands). Again, congratulations.”

Ever since Atty. Estenzo spotted the San Miguel Beermen giant who was born in Compostela and who studied at the Pinamungajan Central School over a decade ago, the two have developed a father-and-son, counsellor-and-protege relationship.

“He is an exceptional person. His sense of loyalty is extraordinary,” said Atty. Estenzo, who recalled that Fajardo was offered to transfer to Manila several times while he was in UC (including an offer from Manny Pangilinan, in a letter handcarried by Pato Gregorio, to play for Gilas) but “June Mar turned down the offer knowing that he was still raw as a player then.”

The trait that impresses Estenzo the most is Fajardo’s humility. “He is very close to his parents and brother. He is religious,” Estenzo said. “He does not complain about how tiresome his training might be. He is usually the first to arrive and the last to leave during practice.”

June Mar with Joy Tabal (SunStar photo)

Estenzo watches all of the games of “The Kraken” on TV and, when he’s in Manila, is gifted a ticket and gets to sit beside Fajardo’s girlfriend. They often talk or send messages. Estenzo adds: “One time, he was not able to control himself and wanted to retaliate after a player elbowed him whenever he cuts for the basket. I called and told him not to do it again as it will mean fines and penalties and might result in his suspension. Also, I told him, they will always do it to him knowing that he gets distracted by such foul tactics. I told him to just take it as part of the game. He promised not to do it again and he has lived up to that promise up to this time. I am so proud that success has not gone to his head. He is still the same June Mar that I have known before.”

UC owner Atty. Augusto Go, in a past interview, echoed those words when he recalled a visit from Fajardo before his PBA stint: “When he was selected by Petron as the top pick, he visited me in UC. Buotan kaayo. You cannot find a more humble person. June Mar was so grateful and thankful but I told him, ‘No, it is I who should say thank you for all that you have brought to our school.’”

Fab@40 by the PBA


The Philippine Basketball Association is Asia’s oldest pro basketball league. It started 40 years ago this week — to be exact, the first PBA game was played at the Araneta Coliseum on April 9, 1975. Worldwide, the PBA is reportedly “the second oldest continuously existing basketball league,” next to the 69-year-old NBA. (Our family is proud to call one of our own as a PBA alumni: my uncle Rey Pages donned the green Crispa Redmanizers jersey in the ‘70s.)

To commemorate the PBA’s entering its fifth decade, it announced a set of awards: “The 40 Greatest PBA Players of All Time.”

In a glitzy affair last Wednesday — at the Newport Performing Arts Theatre in Resorts World Manila where, two years ago, we watched the musical, “The King and I” — the Top 40 were introduced to the public.

But first, a rewind: Back in 2000 during the Silver Anniversary of the league, the “25 Best Ever PBA Players” list was introduced. Who were the names included then? Led by Cebu’s pride Ramon Fernandez, the list included Robert Jaworski, Alvin Patrimonio, Bogs Adornado, Abet Guidaben, Benjie Paras, Atoy Co, Freddie Hubalde, Philip Cezar, Ricky Brown, Johnny Abarrientos, Ato Agustin, Francis Arnaiz, Hector Calma, Jerry Codiñera, Kenneth Duremdes, Bernie Fabiosa, Danny Florencio, Jojo Lastimosa, Lim Eng Beng, Samboy Lim, Ronnie Magsanoc, Vergel Meneses and Manny Paner. My favorite shooter Allan Caidic made the cut.

Fast forward this week, the PBA Board, in their “Ruby Anniversary,” called the party, “Fab@40.” Who additional 15 honorees were included? Jimmy Alapag leads the list. He’s joined by James Yap, Danny Ildefonso, Willie Miller, Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, Kelly Williams, Jayjay Helterbrand, Jimmy Alapag, Mark Caguioa, Arwind Santos, Jayson Castro, Marc Pingris, Kerby Raymundo, Chito Loyzaga and Marlou Aquino.

Our friend Pato Gregorio, who used to head the Waterfront Lahug hotel and who’s now the PBA board chairman, led the deliberations, saying:“Forty will never be enough. We’ve had so many great PBA players since 1975. But to celebrate our 40th season, we had to do the difficult task of naming the 40 greatest PBA players – the pillars of the league. Mga idolo ng bawat Pilipino.”

The party last Wednesday was special not only because it brought the awardees together in formal wear — everyone wore suits except the Barong Tagalog-wearing Codiñera — but also because it was a show: ballplayers walked the ramp wearing various summer and informal wear and the league launched new products including the PBA credit card, the Life magazine and a video game.

As celebrated as the 40th Anniversary was, there was a problem: People are complaining. My colleague Rommel Manlosa, in his piece, “El Presidente’s No-Show,” talked about Mon Fernandez skipping the Awards Night as a sign of protest. Mon said, “I will not say who are not deserving, but I’d rather question why Abe King, Nelson Asaytono, Olsen Racela, Danny Seigle, Bong Hawkins, among others were not included.”

Valid point. This, of course, is the danger with presenting any “Best Ever” awards. With hundreds of players to choose from, there will always be some deserving names who’ll be left out.

What was the criteria used to select the Top 40? The panel listed four items, summarized as follows: the player must have played at least four full seasons, must have been a major awardee (MVP or others), must have made a major impact and contribution towards basketball.

The criteria seems fair. But some are questioning the selection process. It appears that the panel (back in Dec. when the names were released) did not consult a wide range of experts and did not meet at length and on several occasions.

For now, the Top 40 list is out and nobody can reverse the names. (Jayson Castro, the youngest recipient, offered the best response: he buried eight treys and scored 27 the night after the awarding.)

My take? The PBA should have been more patient and waited for the Golden Anniversary. To this, I urge you to read “Lessons for the PBA’s 50th” by Bill Velasco.

Greg Slaughter: Proud to be Cebuano

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Greg towers over Manny Pacquiao as (from left) Raffy Uytiepo, Jun Migallen, John Pages, Jingo Quijano and Raffy Osumo look on during the 2009 Cebu Sports Awards

I spoke to the No. 1 draft pick of the Philippine Basketball Association yesterday. Standing tall at 7-foot-tall, he spoke with soaring confidence.

Greg Slaughter was ecstatic. “I first dreamed of becoming a PBA player in Cebu,” said Greg. “It was in 2004 when I first watched the PBA. It was an All-Star game. From then on, I knew I wanted to be like those guys.”

Right now, Greg is one of those guys. Not just one of them — but THE number one — having been chosen first by Barangay Ginebra San Miguel. “Dream come true,” Greg added.

When we talked, he was inside a gym. Noise rebounded off the background.

“I feel really good,” Greg said. “Very happy with the new team.” I asked Greg if he had met his Ginebra teammates and it turned out that they already had a practice session. Yesterday morning at 9, one of this nation’s most popular teams gathered. For three hours, they practiced. But it wasn’t only a time to do drills; it was a moment to welcome the rookies, especially their prized star, Mr. Slaughter. (The PBA ought to be thankful that our island has produced Twin Towers in Greg and Junemar Fajardo.)

Of his hometown, Greg said, “I hope to be back in Cebu soon. But with the compressed PBA season, it might take sometime. We might play a game in Cebu. Or, if not, in-between the season.”

I asked what he misses most about Cebu and the place where he earned triple-honors (back in 2008, when he led UV to its 8th crown, Greg was the CESAFI season MVP, the All-Star MVP and the Finals MVP — an unprecedented, may-never-be-broken feat).

“Oh man, definitely my family,” said Greg, whose mom, Emma Fuentes, met his dad William here before they moved to Ohio where Greg was born. “I miss them. That’s where my family is, in Cebu.”

MOA’s Arena

I was in Manila over the weekend. Attending the 32nd national anniversary of the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP), the 4,000+ attendees crowded the SMX.

What else did I see at SM’s Mall of Asia? A giant, glass-covered dome that will soon be one of the most hi-tech and applauded of coliseums in this continent.

Mall of Asia Arena gleamed and sparkled when lighted by the summer sun. Workers installed roof beams. Maintenance staff wiped the see-through walls. Construction is at full speed.

The reason? Barely a month is left before the long-awaited “We’re Open!” sign is hung from the entrance. On May 19, the 16,000-seating-capacity gymnasium will open. Two nights later, on May 21, it’s the concert of the concert queen herself, Lady Gaga.

Sports? Ahhh. NBA exhibition games? Check. Nadal-Djokovic? Double-check (meaning, we’re hopeful!). UAAP and NCAA games? Check.

This sports arena is long-overdue in Manila. The Smart Araneta Coliseum is 52 years old. That’s grandfather-age. It’s time for a world-caliber venue for sports and concerts.

According to details I obtained via Google, the venue… “boasts of floorings by Robbins Inc., Spalding basketball goals, Daktronics scoreboard—similar to what the NBA is using—and LED ribbon boards surrounding the 3rd and 5th floors. There are press rooms… and four dugouts. Another feature is the Corporate Suites—private rooms with their own restroom, mini bar, sofas and a private gallery with cinema seats. Occupants will be entitled to a season pass for all the shows.”

They have 31 of these Suites for rent. How much? They offer one- to 5-year leases between P9 to P12 million. Wow.

Live at the Hoops Dome: Petron v. Alaska

Never mind the torrential rain and the bumper-to-bumper traffic last Saturday night heading towards the old Mactan Bridge, I traversed the main island and hopped towards Lapu-Lapu City.

The destination? Hoops Dome. The occasion? “Fuel” against “Milk” when the Petron Turbo Blaze Boosters faced the Alaska Aces.

Entering the 8,000-seater Hoops Dome right before the end of the First Quarter, the entire arena was filled. It was bumper-to-bumper seating. The fully-air-conditioned stadium was cool and warm. It wasn’t Cebu Coliseum-warm; yet, because of the jampacked setting, it wasn’t as cold as the SM Cinemas.

Alaska and Petron are two of the league’s most famous teams. The 25-year-old squad named Alaska, owned by the Uytengsus of Cebu, is the owner of 13 PBA championships—including a rare 1996 Grand Slam. Recently, the Aces were made famous by the abrupt departure of Coach Tim Cone, who’s led his men for the last 22 years (he still had years left in his contract before he moved to B-Meg Llamados). Shocking? Absolutely.

Petron? They’re the reigning champs. In the last conference, they were underdogs against Talk ‘N Text. Aiming for a Grand Slam, TNT was denied the feat by Petron and Coach Ato Agustin.

Last Saturday, what made the battle a must-watch was because this was a bearing game. Unlike previous exhibitions, when players wouldn’t jump their highest, this time, it was for real. Petron was on a three-game losing streak; Alaska lost five of their first six games. A Cebu victory was all-important.

What happened? Arwind Santos of Petron was unstoppable. The Mark Magsumbol lookalike reaffirmed his MVP status; he’s lanky, quick, confident, well-rounded. I call him Spiderman. He pivots. He blocks shots. He fires the bulls-eye on that three-pointer. He’s the best man on the parquet floor.

I liked LA Tenorio of Alaska. Diminutive at 5-foot-8 (compared to the 6’8” Jay-R Reyes), he would sprint from baseline to baseline looking like Ronnie Magsanoc. My only complaint? He’s not offensive. Not until the last few minutes did he shoot. Yes, a point guard’s first role is to pass—but when you’re a spitfire like LA, you’ve got to contribute.

By half-time, Alaska led, 44-43. Yes. I hoped they’d win. But, it wasn’t to be. The entire second half was Petron’s.

Joseph Yeo scored 27 points. Like Tenorio, he’s from La Salle. Eric Salamat, a hero of Ateneo, played for Alaska.

The problem with Alaska is this: nobody wants to shoot. When they neared 80-82 with less than two minutes to play, nobody wanted the ball. Lack of confidence—that’s it. It was unlike Petron who had too many options: Yeo, Santos, Miranda, Ildefonso, Cabagnot.

Alaska? Sonny Thoss was productive during the first half. Tall at 6-foot-7 (I thought he was Greg Slaughter, with the same looks, build, moves), he could have been their superstar. Could have been… because he faded. While he top-scored with 19, he could have exceeded 30.

Highlights? The one that excites the crowd most comes in-between plays. It’s the teasers. One is when a gift item is hurled towards the crowd via a slingshot. The spectators go on a frenzy. Another was a man who was blindfolded and given a ball to shoot. As expected, he missed and missed as Cebuanos laughed and laughed. One more was when two men played tug-of-war. Each was given a ball and, opposite each other, they’d push forward, trying to draw closer to their goal so they can shoot. It was fun.

The only “dark” episode happened with 7:46 left in the 4th quarter. That’s when, amidst the blazing lights and reverberating music, all of a sudden… there was a blackout. It lasted about five minutes. Boos filled the dome. Cellphone lights flickered. This was, of course, a live TV5 telecast game. Oh no, we gasped. “There was a trip-off because of the additional ceiling lights,” Councilor Harry Radaza later explained. Nothing to worry, the lights switched on but not before a fan shouted, “Gituyo sa Alaska kay pildi na sila!” With the game on, Petron cruised to milk Alaska, 86-80.

Petron slams TNT’s Grand Slam

The Japanese poet Kenji Mijazawa once wrote: “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” Figuratively, this was true for Talk N Text as Petron “burned them with their fuel.”

What a PBA finale! The drama started in Game One. The Talk N Text Tropang Texters, winners of the first two PBA conference finals, aimed to win the third and final leg. This victory would have given them a rare ‘Grand Slam.’ In the 36-year history of the oldest professional basketball league in Asia—the PBA—only Crispa, San Miguel, and Alaska have achieved a Grand Slam.

Talk N Text attempted. In Game 1, they won—and lost! Leading by a score of 84-75 with 5:11 left, the Texters also led by one point with three seconds left. But two-time MVP Danny Ildefonso calmly sank a 12-footer to win that crucial Game 1 for Petron. Score: 89-88.

Since that game two weeks ago, the PBA Governors Cup Finals has been a yo-yo, roller-coaster-ride-like series. TNT tied the contest, 1-all. They led 2-1. They trailed 2-3. Then, they equalized at 3-all.

Last Sunday, I watched Game 7. When I switched on the TV set, Petron led at the end of the first quarter, 28-17. They would not relinquish that lead. Even with Jimmy Alapag, the league MVP, dribbling the ball as point guard, the Tropang Texters trailed all the way. Even with MVP—that’s Manny V. Pangilinan—cheering from the bleachers, it wasn’t to be. Even with Monico Puentevella, the POC chairman, seated beside Mr. Pangilinan, history was not meant to be celebrated two nights ago.

Petron, fueled by a blaze, put a brake on TNT. Petron won Game 7, 85-73.

No loss is painless but this was excruciatingly painful for Talk N Text for several reasons. One, the rare Grand Slam bid was crushed. Two, they were expected to win. In the semifinal round, reports say that TNT purposely lost in one game to avoid a Final showdown with the Barangay Ginebra Kings. “Pinagbigyan nila kami at nagkamali sila,” said Ato Agustin, Petron’s head coach. Third, Petron had plenty of injured players: Jay Washington, Lordy Tugade, Rookie of the Year Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and Joseph Yeo.

The pressure, possibly, was too much for the Texters. Trailing in the 4th quarter but with plenty of time left, they hurriedly threw 3-point desperation shots. They were jittery, intimidated, startled. They panicked. I guess this was to be expected: when a year-long Grand Slam bid trickles down to the last few minutes, one plays petrified.

Petron? Petrified? No. The Blaze Boosters were relaxed and loose. They played to win—while TNT played not to lose. Petron’s import, Anthony Grundy, was dazzling. He top-scored with 26 points (after scoring just five in Game 6). But the best player was Mark Magsumbol. I mean… Arwind Santos, who looks like Mark Magsumbol. He scored 16 points. To top that, he rebounded 16 times! Imagine… 16 rebounds in one game. With 37 seconds left in the game, he even slammed the ball with two hands. That slam extinguished the Grand Slam dreams of TNT and MVP.

Why was this Petron team no lightweight compared to the heavyweight, TNT? It’s because this team’s DNA is spelled S-A-N  M-I-G-U-E-L. Yes. Starting only this season, San Miguel Beer relinquished its name (for the first time in PBA history) and gave way to the fuel company they own.

Good move. And so, while this was a “first” for the rookie Petron, this was also the 19th championship of the team owned by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr. You can also conclude that, in a battle between sports titans (MVP v. Boss Danding), the older, more experienced sportsman won.

Ato Agustin is the happiest Filipino today. He scored one of the league’s all-time biggest upsets—and did it as a rookie PBA coach.

Above all, the biggest winners are the basketball fans. I, myself, admit to not watching closely the PBA. But with this series, I followed. It was a contrast in coaches, team owners, imports; an intriguing Grand Slam Quest versus Underdog’s Upset Try contest. In the end, between gasoline or SMS, fuel wins.

From San Miguel Beer to Petron? Why?

Last Friday, on board Cebu Pacific and flying to Manila, there was turbulence in the air. My head shook. My face frowned. My mind trembled. It was hard to believe. No, the sky was clear and the wind did not howl–the jolt came from the Philippine Daily Inquirer article I was reading.

Ronnie Nathanielsz wrote a stellar column last Friday entitled, “Big risk – why the name change?” Born in Sri Lanka, Nathanielsz has since resided in Manila for many decades now. He’s an icon in sports media: in print, in boxing, in TV, in tennis, basketball…

“While we recognize the inherent right of San Miguel Corp. to change the name of its San Miguel Beer team in the Philippine Basketball Association to Petron, we are certainly baffled over the name change,” wrote Nathanielsz in the very first paragraph.

Starting next season, the SMB franchise has requested the PBA Board of Governors to change its name to Petron. There’ll no longer be San Miguel in the PBA. Why this perplexing move when the words “San Miguel Beermen” are not only the most famous but also the most historical?–leaves SMB loyalists baffled.

“To millions across the nation who love the sport of basketball with a passion,” Nathanielsz continued, “San Miguel Beer was—and will always remain—a team they could identify with through the years as the flagship representative of San Miguel Corp. It was inherently Filipino and carried the San Miguel Beer name with remarkable distinction. To change the name to Petron and to expect the same dedicated following is a tremendous risk that the corporation is taking.”
Ronnie has a point. Although SMB has a losing record in today’s PBA second conference (one win/four losses), this short-term negativity has nothing to do with its positive, winning name. San Miguel to Petron?

“Simply put, there is absolutely no synergy between beer and gasoline,” added Nathanielsz. (Well, Ron, there are indeed similarities: Gasoline fuels the Toyotas, Hyundais and Mazdas; Beer fuels the body.)

Studying further this issue in a few more websites, I noticed that this appears to be a purely business-driven decision. Phoenix Fuel, a Petron competitor, has purchased the Barako Bull franchise and wants to enter the PBA. This move by SMB (which owns a major stake in Petron) to change its PBA name to the oil giant will disallow Phoenix from joining the oldest professional basketball league in Asia. Why? Because the PBA rules, if I understood them well, state that no direct competitor of an existing team be allowed to join the league.

But Ronnie counters this analogy. “Surely Petron cannot consider Phoenix a competitor in the accepted sense of the word because it is basically a small player in the Visayas and Mindanao regions,” he said. “What is even more perplexing is the effort to keep out Phoenix when the firm, to its credit, has invested in the PBA by sponsoring the out-of-town games which serve as one of the major boosts to the acceptance of the pro league in the provinces.”

Truly, this is an unusual move by Danding Cojuangco, Jr., Ramon Ang and San Miguel Brewery, Inc. Digging further into history (thanks to Wikipedia), the SMB franchise has been in existence since 1975. This was when the Philippine Basketball Association started. This was 36 years ago. In all, SMB holds the record for the most number of league titles at 18. To delete “San Miguel” from the pro league is bewildering. It’s like saying the L.A. Lakers will quit the NBA or the Celtics will change its name to the Boston Green Horns. It’s implausible. San Miguel is Pinoy basketball.

“We believe that with San Miguel Corp.’s right to rename its team, it comes with the need to exercise responsibility in relation to the millions of fans of the San Miguel Beer basketball team,” said Nathanielsz. “The Beermen have a storied history and San Miguel Beer epitomizes a Filipino product of unmatched quality. We will grieve to see it removed from our cherished PBA memories.”

I’ll drink to that.

Will Michel Lhuillier finally join the PBA?

Next year, his basketball franchise will celebrate its Silver Anniversary. That’s 25 years of dribbling and scoring trophies. It will be a mega-milestone for this team labeled as “the most successful Philippine basketball squad in history”—outside of the PBA.

Will the year 2011, to celebrate its 25th birthday, be the moment when M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala sends a remittance letter to PBA Commissioner Chito Salud with the words: “Money ready. Count as in.”?

We hope so. For Michel Lhuillier is Cebuano. He represents our land. Of French descent (he’s the Honorary Consul of France), the billionaire sportsman loves one city more than any other on earth… Sugbu.

“I’ve been offered to put up a PBA team. But it’s not for my business. It’s too expensive,” he once told me. “You need P100 million to maintain a team. Now, they’re offering me P40 to P50 million for a PBA franchise. With those amounts, I have better use of my money. I’d rather have a strong enough team that can play once-in-a-while with the PBA.”

That conversation was 10 months ago. Today, has the business tycoon’s mind changed? Yes, Cebu hopes so. Because if M. Lhuillier does enter the PBA, it will be a first. A first for a Cebu-based company to battle—on the basketball floor—the big boys and multinationals of Philippine business.

The PBA currently has 10 teams. These are Air21 Express, Alaska Aces, Barako Energy Coffee Makers, Barangay Ginebra Kings, B-Meg Derby Ace Llamados, Meralco Bolts (new team), Powerade Tigers, Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, San Miguel Beermen and Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters. Add the words “M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala” to this list?

I called Yayoy Alcoseba. This was two nights ago. Ever the serious and disciplinarian maestro on court, he was light-hearted and relaxed in our talk. He has reason to smile. Last Sunday, his Kwarta Padala team won again. That’s nothing new. They always win. But this was different.

“That was the most difficult championship we’ve ever won,” said Coach Yayoy, who’s collected for the team hundreds of golden trophies. The Cebu City Councilor, now on his third and final term, explained how difficult it was winning the Tournament of the Philippines (TOP). “We had to go and fight in Cagayan de Oro… we had a thrilling Game 5… it was our most satisfying victory,” he said of the 78-76 tournament-ending win of the Cebu Niños against the MisOr Meteors at the Cebu Coliseum.

Now that you’ve won again, will it be the PBA this time? “There’s a good chance,” said Councilor Alcoseba. “More than at any other period, the timing might be right this time. We have a strong team, a ready-to-play team. And the Kwarta Padala brand nationwide is getting even stronger.” Plus, of course, the significance of the 25th anniversary…

“Are you ready to move to Manila?” I asked.

“I’ll just be team manager!” he said, laughing.

I told him, “No way will Michel ask anybody else to coach his team but you!”

That’s true. From the moment the M. Lhuillier team was formed, one man was there.

“Coach Yayoy. Councilor Yayoy. Businessman Yayoy. I don’t know what to call him anymore,” Lhuillier told me before. “He’s been with me for more than 23 years. What can I say about him? I believe in him. He’s good. He’s outstanding. He has a knack for it. He feels for it. He’s so involved in the game and some misunderstand it when he reprimands players. He loves the game. He also knows all about the NBA and the PBA. In terms of scouting, he knows what positions to shop for when the team has weaknesses.”

As to The Boss’s own formula for success? Michel Lhuillier once explained to me: “I keep on trying and trying. I’ve had defeats but, because of determination, I’ve had more victories in life. It’s by trying and trying and trying that I get to succeed.”

Sir: Time to try the PBA?

SMB’s beer vs. Alaska’s milk: Who’s winning?

The Philippine Basketball Association is the second oldest basketball league in the world, next only to the NBA. Since its inception on April 9, 1975—coincidentally, my third birthday!—it has become the most revered of games in our basketball-crazy nation.

Last Sunday, I watched. Not at the Araneta Coliseum, nicknamed “The Big Dome”—but at home. For two hours starting at 6 p.m., two of our most famous brands played ball: the San Miguel Beermen versus the Alaska Aces. It was Game 2 of the 2010 PBA Fiesta Conference. (The league has two conferences per season; this is the one where one import is allowed per team.)

In Game One of The PBA Final played last Friday, Alaska was supposed-to-be tired and weary, having just escaped Talk ‘N Text in a seven-game semifinal. It didn’t show. They beat San Miguel, 89-83. What a shocker. And for several reasons: (1) The SMB squad are the defending champions; (2) Alaska lost to them twice during the regular season (95-89 on April 11 and 85-74 last June 26); (3) Alaska had not beaten SMB in their last six tries, dating back to 2007; (4) Alaska was on a losing streak in The Finals: six straight defeats. Yet, Alaska prevailed in round one.

Then, Game 2. Two nights ago. San Miguel Beer—an original member of the PBA since 1975 and the winningest club in history with 18 PBA titles—fought to avert a 0-2 deficit. Their coach, Siot Tanquingcen, only 37 years young, deployed Joseph Yeo and import Jay Washington to produce the numbers. They did, scoring 20 apiece. But the Beermen played catch-up all night. Alaska led in the first quarter; SMB tied the game. Alaska took the lead; again, SMB crawled back. It was the same back-and-forth, see-saw pattern.. until the last minutes when Alaska—having gulped milk instead of beer—sprinted towards the finish line first, winning, 94-90.

I enjoyed the game. LA Tenorio, only 5-foot-8, was savvy and alert. Arwind Santos banked several against the board. My favorite play was the one of the tattoo-laden Alaska import Diamon Simpson who, at the end of the third quarter, backed up against his defender then leapt for a monstrous, in-your-face slam of a dunk.

All these must have thrilled the most famous spectator at ringside: Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra, who’s in Manila to conduct basketball clinics. “I was worried earlier,” said Alaska coach Tim Cone, quoting yesterday’s Phil. Star story entitled, “Charity throws give Aces close win, 2-0 lead.” “I just felt our energy in practice yesterday was very low. But thanks to coach Eric when my players heard he’s in the stadium, their eyes grew big and said ‘wow.’ They’re motivated.”

Alaska played inspired basketball. And when the pressure intensified in the game’s dying moments, they were relaxed and composed, especially at the free throw line—making seven of eight in the last 77 seconds and, for the whole game, shooting 84 percent—an extraordinary statistic that would shame Shaq.

“We didn’t expect this,” said Cone in yesterday’s Phil. Daily Inquirer article, “Unbelievable Aces halfway through Fiesta Cup crown.” “But you know, we have played two A-plus basketball games.”

Cone, now 52 years old and the winner of 12 PBA titles for the Fred Uytengsu-owned company, is hungry for this win.

Quinito Henson of The Phil. Star, in an August 6 piece, “San Miguel’s size worries Cone,” made this excellent analysis: “(Cone)… is due for another one as Alaska has been a bridesmaid in two of the last three finals. He hasn’t captured a crown since the 2006-07 Fiesta Conference. Alaska is in its 25th finals appearance entering its 25th anniversary next season. Those numbers don’t happen to come together by accident. Are the Aces destined for a championship?”

Despite the lead, he’s not overconfident. “It’s only 2-0,” said Cone. “It takes four games to win it for a reason. I’ve lost 2-0, 3-1 and all the leads that you can think of. We have to make sure we come out and put the pressure on them… It’s definitely not over.”

Abangan ang susunod na…

PBA Finals

Thanks to the controversy last February 5, when Talk ‘N Text walked out of their game against Barangay Ginebra, my interest in the Philippine Basketball Association has intensified.

Remarkable showing by the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants. Having been down 1-2 in their best-of-seven semifinal series against San Miguel Beer, the Giants won three games in a row and, thus far in the KFC PBA Philippine Cup Finals, they’ve won another three straight. That’s 6-of-6.

Will it be Lucky 7 when Game 4 is contested tomorrow? Alaska Milk, highly-touted to have provided tough resistance to Purefoods, has faltered. In Game 2, they shouldn’t have lost. Leading by 13 points in the third quarter, they stumbled. Now they’re in a deep, dark hole. Can they win their first game? And, after that, maybe one more? To seize the momentum? Can they score four straight when no team ever in PBA history has come back from a 0-3 deficit?

Improbable. That’s as unlikely as Joshua Clottey scoring a knockout win versus our Filipino flag-bearer next Sunday.

But here’s a fact: A former University of San Jose Recoletos star player, a Cebuano named Roger Yap, has been the playoff’s best.

“‘He was really the brightest star who played with an incredible will to win,’ said Gregorio of Yap, who was named the undisputed KFC/Accel-PBA Press Corps Player of the Week for the period Feb. 15 to 21, quoting the official website

Talk ‘N Text walkout: Was it right?

The PBA was founded in 1975. Since then, of the thousands of games played the past 35 years, no team, except one in 1990 by Añejo Rum and Robert Jaworski, has ever walked out.

Until last Friday. Barely 11 minutes had passed in the first quarter when the Talk ‘N Text player Ranidel De Ocampo elbowed the head of a driving Ronald Tubid of Barangay Ginebra. The referee blew the whistle. In that Game 4 of the best-of-five quarterfinal series (with TnT leading 2-1), De Ocampo was charged with a Flagrant Foul-2 (which means “any hard contact above the shoulder”). He was ejected and would not play, if ever there was, a Game 5.

Chot Reyes fumed mad. The head coach of TnT could not accept the decision. He concluded that the referees were biased against his squad–not just in Game 4, but in all the previous games. After that foul was reviewed on videotape and the decision upheld by the referees, Reyes, having consulted team owner Manny V. Pangilinan, who was in attendance, collared his team and marched towards the dugout.

Negotiations ensued. The PBA commissioner, Sonny Barrios, pleaded for their return. Minutes passed. Finally, when it appeared that Chot Reyes wanted to play, it was too late. The PBA ruling states that any team that leaves the court is given only seven minutes to return; otherwise, they forfeit the game. Game over for Talk ‘N Text.

Two days later, the Tropang Texters reluctantly came back for Game 5 and, possibly feeling deflated, lost 113-110. Ginebra advanced to the semis and last night played (and lost Game 1 to) the top seed, Alaska Milk. In the other semis, it’s San Miguel Beer versus Purefoods Giants.

Why did MVP’s team walkout? They argued that De Ocampo should not have been meted a flagrant foul-2. (I reviewed the replay on YouTube and, true enough, the decision was questionable.) But more than that episode, TnT believes the overall officiating was biased. One specific complaint was Ginebra having been “awarded” too many free throw attempts (from Games 1 to 3, Brgy. Ginebra had 42 vs. 28 from TnT). Biased officiating, they protested.

But here’s the question: Was their form of protest the correct thing to do? From the viewpoint of the fans–the thousands inside the Araneta Coliseum that evening who only saw 11 minutes of game time to the tens of thousands more watching on TV–it was upsetting.

Dennis Guillermo, a top U.S.-based Filipino journalist, wrote in last Feb. 8: “There are a thousand ways to protest and voice out your displeasure against officiating or anything in general. Injustices are prevalent in the world, but let me ask you this: What about those fans who paid to see that game? What about that father who took out a couple of hundred pesos from his hard-earned money to take his son or his family to watch a game of exciting, spirited basketball? Did they deserve to be jiffed like that?”

Good point. Adds Bill Velasco of in his piece, “Notes on walking out,” last Monday: “A walkout upsets the fans… In this case, however, fans were treated to an abrupt cessation of what many consider a regular treat: an exciting PBA game. For those trying to jumpstart their weekend with a heavy dose of basketball action, it was a disappointment. As in any form of entertainment, spectators are often there to forget their problems, not to be affected by a whole new set of them. Fans paid good money to watch a basketball game, regardless of the internal conflict within the organizing group, in this case, the PBA. Some fans don’t really care that much who wins, as long as the game is thrilling.”

I agree with Dennis and Bill. The biggest losers, apart from TnT itself who, despite a 2-0 lead, lost three straight games (and were fined P1.25 million), were the PBA fans. TnT’s act was emotional. It was reactive, not objective. It was an outburst derived from their sense of outrage. They were exasperated.

But was their exit justifiable? No.

Missing James Yap, Purefoods was unexciting

Vacationing in the paradise island of Hawaii with his wife Kris Aquino and children Baby James and Joshua, the former Most Valuable Player was absent in the PBA vs. Cebu basketball game last Monday night at the Cebu Coliseum.

James Carlos Yap, Sr.’s team, the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants, was up against the Michel Lhuillier-owned M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala-Cebu Niños. Having not watched a live PBA encounter in over a year, how did I find the ballgame?

Exciting. Unexciting. Continue reading Missing James Yap, Purefoods was unexciting

PBA Finals: an astonishing Game 7 statistic

I’ll make an admission: I don’t follow the Philippine Basketball Association like I used to. I’ve watched several out-of-Manila, here-in-Cebu games. Back in the 1980s, I adored Allan Caidic’s three-pointer and reminisce his rivalry against Samboy Lim. Even my dad’s younger brother, Rey Pages, donned the Crispa Redmanizers jersey. And so, yes, I did follow the PBA—but not anymore.

That changed a couple of nights ago when I watched the most awaited finale of the season: Game 7 of the Motolite-PBA Fiesta Cup Finals between Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer.

I missed the first half and watched starting the third quarter. The game? It was, sad to report, unexciting. After a 13-5 burst in that 3rd quarter, the Beermen—led by an import aptly-named Freeman—took a double-digit lead and never relinquished it. In the end, the former Cebu Gems star, Dondon Hontiveros, and his Men In White were champions, defeating the MVP Jayjay Helterbrand-led Men In Red, 90-79. It marked the 18th time that San Miguel were champions of the PBA. Continue reading PBA Finals: an astonishing Game 7 statistic