Why I cheer for the PBA: Watching the ageless Asi Taulava

The PBA is one big roller coaster ride. Just last season, the league has experienced highs (record-breaking attendance numbers in the Governor’s Cup Finals) and lows.

Even with all the controversies and issues, the fact still remains: the PBA is our ride, it’s our league.

To hype up the start of the 43rd season of the league, the SLAM PH writers have teamed up to write about how why they’re cheering for the PBA.

From Danny I and SMB to Johnny A to Manila Clasico and this year’s rookies. These are the reasons why we got started. These are the reasons why we’re still here.

Time hasn’t always been on the side of Asi Taulava.

His first bitter taste of playoff elimination came via game-winning buzzer-beater from Bal David, with an unforgiving Barangay Ginebra crowd providing the deafening soundtrack to the painful loss.

Taulava’s team at that time, Mobiline Phone Pals (a Top 5 PBA team name), held a one-point lead and was only two seconds away from the semifinals, but David banked in a running jumper, leaving no time on the clock. Had there been two more seconds, Taulava would’ve, could’ve, should’ve answered with a big basket of his own at the other end.

Instead, David’s shot was the shot that ended the playoff run of Taulava and top-seeded Mobiline. The stunning upset left Taulava devastated at the bench, his face buried in his hands as he absorbed defeat. This was 18 years ago. Taulava was a rookie.

(Years later, he had a chance to avenge the loss when he hit his own buzzer-beater against Ginebra, but the field goal, which clearly should’ve counted, was waved off. In this case, luck wasn’t on his side.)

Taulava, now 44 years old, is close to playing two decades in the pros. From that sorry loss to Ginebra, Taulava became a household name in the league through his intensity on the court and charisma off it. His humility and sense of humor had made it difficult for fans of opposing teams to cheer against him. As a PBA icon, it’s now difficult to imagine a PBA without an Asi Taulava. (He did spend a year in the ABL in 2013, messed around, and got himself an MVP trophy and a championship).

He is a product of the old PBA and a survivor—along with Danny Seigle—of the Fil-foreigner controversy in the 2000s. He has played under five different PBA commissioners and have seen God knows how many names changes of the Purefoods franchise.

So much of his life, he has given to Philippine basketball. And he’s still giving.

His role in his current team, the NLEX Road Warriors (also a Top 5 PBA team name), is obviously different from the role he played during his Mobile/Talk ‘N Text days, when he was the go-to guy in the paint.

Today, Taulava plays mentor to a new generation of teammates, the likes of Carlo Lastimosa, Kevin Alas, and Rabeh Al-Hussaini. And in what could be the most Tito Asi thing yet, he gets to be teammates with a second generation Ravena, whom he aptly calls “nephew.”

Staying healthy in the league after all these years was something that didn’t just magically happen for Taulava. There was a turning point somewhere, perhaps sometime past his prime, maybe one postgame recovery that took longer than usual, when he decided to switch to a healthier lifestyle. No more parties in BGC; more sleeping hours. A new diet and a new training regimen—all these rejuvenated the 2003 PBA MVP.

The leaner Taulava paved the way for another MVP award as a member of the champion San Miguel Beermen squad in the ABL in 2013. The year after that, he was awarded the PBA Comeback Player of the Year and made it to the Mythical First Team. He was named to the Mythical Second Team in succeeding seasons, becoming the oldest player, at 43, to be selected in PBA history.

Then there’s his relentless competitive spirit. It’s simply electrifying to watch. It never wavered through the years, and it fueled the guy they call “The Rock,” whether he was playing at 275 pounds or 240 pounds. The competitiveness wasn’t part of the trimming down. If anything, it kept growing. Like a metamorphic rock, Taulava is solid due to pressure.

We saw it at the Busan Asian Games in 2002, when Taulava, at 6-foot-9, attacked Yao Ming, at 7-foot-6, every chance he got.

We should expect more of it once the season starts. He’ll need it at 44—with a teammate like Kiefer Ravena, 20 years his junior—as he continues the pursuit of that one thing that has remained elusive since his return to the PBA: a championship.

And again, time isn’t on his side. The Rock is still in the building, but he only has one year left in his contract.

His upcoming 2017-2018 run with NLEX somehow feels like one of those heist films where the lead takes on “one last job” before retiring and riding off into the sunset. This version of Taulava, quite possibly the last one, feels a lot like those heist films, like Nicolas Cage in Gone In 60 Seconds. His last job in the PBA? To carry NLEX all the way to the PBA Finals and steal the spotlight from the San Miguel Beermen, from Barangay Ginebra, from the Meralco Bolts, from the TNT KaTropa.

So is this beginning of the end? Are we nearing The Asi Taulava Farewell Tour? Who knows what’s in store for us in an unpredictable league filled with so much drama and uncertainty. But if ever this season is indeed Taulava’s last stab at a title, then it makes watching the 2017-2018 PBA Season even more special. Give us the Kiefer-Asi pick-and-rolls.

The bad news is that time is about to run out; the good news is that—unlike in ’99 when his dreams can be crushed instantly by one Bal David jumper—Asi Taulava, one of the most respected players in the PBA, has already won.

READ: PBA 43rd Season hype articles

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