Like millions of Filipinos, I had been and will always be a fan of Barangay Ginebra in the Philippine Basketball Association. From the Jaworski era to the bygone days when it started to be identified with the “never-say-die” attitude, Ginebra is my team. I have witnessed its good and bad days. I was among the fans who had to bear the tag kangkongan while the team was at its lowest.
After Marlou Aquino was traded and after the gang of Noli Locsin, Vince Hizon, Bal David, Jayvee Gayaso, Leo Isaac, and Dante Gonzalgo retired, the barangay went on a tailspin losing one tournament after another. Not even the addition of Allan Caidic, Jay-Jay Helterbrand and later, Mark Caguioa can bring back the glory days of the barangay. Sure, the multitudes remained loyal, cheering “Ginebra! Ginebra!” every time our favorite team played. But, the old spirit was gone. The old character that has defined the team as “never-say-die” slowly lost its luster. Victories came seldom with championships far and between. The last I can remember was in the second conference of the 2008 tournament when the team was bannered by an American giant named Alexander. Then, there was a drought for almost nine years.
Until, the management made a rigodon of sorts. No less than Ramon Ang, the head of the San Miguel Group of Companies, ordered that the best coach in the land, Tim Cone, be appointed as the head coach of Barangay Ginebra. I rejoiced to high heavens thanking God for this blessing. Finally, my team has a respectable yet assertive coach, who has won more games than any other coach had. He has a double grand slam in his resumé to backup his superiority. He is the awaited messiah, the primus inter pares, who will lead my team to the promised land. I started counting with my fingers the number of championship rings the players of Barangay Ginebra will wear. Not one, not two, but maybe a dozen – a small token considering the reputation of Tim Cone. For sure, he is going to achieve for Ginebra and its legions of fans what he had achieved for all the other teams he coached for in the past.
I might have been proven right when, in the final conference last year, Ginebra won the title against the gallant Meralco of Norman Black, compliments of an iconic last second shot by Justine Brownlee. After years of waiting, the barangay was again on top of the heap. This, I assured, is when I will start counting the championships.
Then, came the result of the latest edition of the All-Filipino tournament. Ginebra was seeded number eight. It had to go through four “do-or-die” games to reach the finals. Bucking all odds, it did the impossible. It beat the mighty Alaska in two gritty games. After that, it had to overcome the equally resilient Star Hotdogs in seven down-the-wire games. All of those games were suspense thrillers. The first to blink will die. My team did not blink. It towed its way to the finals against the San Miguel Beermen.
Game 1 began with San Miguel winning by a large margin. Game two saw a slim victory by Ginebra in overtime. Game 3 was disputed until the last four minutes when the barangay made a monumental collapse. Game 4 was a walk in the park for San Miguel. Game 5 was a neck and neck duel. My team had no answer for every play that they executed. Ginebra was simply overwhelmed.
San Miguel shot from afar with the accuracy of a marksman. They had the ferocity of a lion. When their shooters were covered, they dumped the ball to June Mar Fajardo who bullied his way around the basket. Every time he made a shot, I had a guilty conscience hoping that Arthur Lascañas will falsely squeal the next day that June Mar is being hunted by the Davao Death Squad. Maybe, it will keep him off the court. But, he stood the tallest, literally and figuratively. He dwarfed them all. He dominated like no other. There was no one who could match up with him. It made the jobs of Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos and Marcio Lassiter so much easier.
Not even the presence of the living legend Robert Jaworski, can sway the outcome. My team was beaten black and blue. San Miguel smelled blood and they went for the kill. I was so sad as all other Barangay Ginebra fans were. But, that is how the game is played. It is like life – sometimes you win, most of the time you lose. It is, however, in losing that we learn and it is in learning that we are able to cope with life. We rise, look back and aspire to be better. I am sure Ginebra will do this.