He is the owner of the most dazzling and victorious basketball organization outside of the PBA. The team that carries his name, “M. Lhuillier,” has won just about every single regional tournament among our 7,107 islands. Yet, for all the trophies the M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala-Cebu Niños has accumulated, Michel Lhuillier himself he has not watched—in person, live—an M. Lhuillier ballgame in a long time.
“It’s been four or five years since I’ve seen my team play,” he said. “I get nervous. And I don’t want to die of a heart attack!” We laughed.
Michel Lhuillier, the business tycoon who owns the most extensive fleet of pawnshops in the nation, sounded overjoyed when we spoke yesterday. He has reason to be. In the 2009 Smart-Liga Pilipinas Super Leg Conference 3, his team won a record 21 games—undefeated—including an 89-54 annihilation job on the Misamis Oriental Meteors in the championship game last Sunday at the Cebu Coliseum.
“We feel very good. Fantastic,” said Lhuillier, who is also the chairman of the Cebu City Sports Commission. “We worked hard for it. If feels good when you prepare and work hard and win. I congratulate our team. It was a team effort and it was not an easy thing to do.”
Lhuillier credited his players, the Cebuanos, his support staff and, above all, one person. “Coach Yayoy. Councilor Yayoy. Businessman Yayoy. I don’t know what to call him anymore,” said Lhuillier. “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.”
Do the players ask for your advice? I queried. “Me? They call me ‘Mr. Bonus.’ Because, after the team wins, the players expect a bonus!” Again, we laughed.
How about the future of the M. Lhuillier outfit? Unbeatable in the Liga Conference 3, is it true that, having conquered the regional basketball scene all over the nation, it’s time to try the PBA?
“It’s getting to be difficult now. I don’t know of many teams who want to play with us anymore. That’s why we’ve got to play the PBA teams in exhibition games. And, of course, they’re much taller and bigger and their salaries, heavier,” he said. “I’ve been offered to put up a PBA team. But it’s not for my business. It’s too expensive. You need P100 milion 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.
“The PBA is definitely a money game. I’ve spoken to Manny Pangilinan about this. It’s how much you have. It’s a money game. You buy the players. The one who spends the most, wins.”
His favorite sports? “I love basketball. But basketball was not for me. I’m not tall. I only played in the Intramurals. But I’ve always loved basketball. In La Salle, where I studied, I tried-out and came in only as the 20th player. I never made the cut. Instead, I became the ballboy. Also, the one who gives the orange juice and towels to the players. That’s why I told myself, ‘When I have enough money, I’ll put up my own team!’
“In La Salle, you have to join sports. I made the soccer team. But the sport I enjoyed the most, because of the self-discipline, was track-and-field. I aimed to be the best in college. My event was the 400 meters. I trained for 12 years and aimed to be No. 1. But, in the end, I only came in No. 3. Never mind if I trained so hard. This, compared to a guy named Nacho who barely trained but came in No. 1. Well, he had the physique of an athlete.
“But I kept on striving. I keep on trying and trying. Up until today. I’ve had defeats but, because of determination, I’ve had more victories than defeats in life. It’s by trying and trying that I get to succeed.”