There are three things that you should know about my father as a basketball person.
First, he’s such a deadly shooter. Over a decade ago, I saw him make shots from deep at their inter-office league while he’s at his 40s. Have you ever seen a streak shooter who can string together three, four straight jumpers? He’s that type of baller. Maybe if he hadn’t given up so much just to secure his family’s future, he would still be ballin’ like hell, and youngbloods would be calling him Uncle Eybee.
Second, my dad is the most animated basketball fan I know. He has such a normal demeanor on the court as a player, but he never fails to let his emotions out as a spectator. He shouts “YES!” and claps his hands with every basket. He screams “FOUL REF!” with every call he thinks the referees missed. He smiles from ear to ear whenever the team he favors wins, and scratches his head in frustration when they lose. It doesn’t matter if it’s a local tournament or a televised professional game, he will let his feelings out almost play after play.
Third, he idolizes Alvin Patrimonio so much. Ever since he saw The Captain at Mapua, my dad never stopped following Alvin’s career ftom college to the pros.
That last thing. It was the first thought that popped into my mind when the Magnolia Hotshots contacted me and invited our family to meet Alvin in person. I grew up hearing my dad’s stories about how he saw Alvin play at practices, or at venues during his NCAA, PBL and PBA days. But not once did he talk about the possibility of meeting his idol in person.
I could only imagine how excited he was. He works seven days a week, and there’s no way he would free up his busy schedule if not for something important. Yet, he instantly agreed to watch the game live without any hesitation. I guess that’s how important meeting Cap was to him.
First quarter: My dad finally meets his idol
“Sana manalo,” my dad said as we were walking just outside the Araneta Coliseum.
It wasn’t just an innocent expression of wishing the Hotshots to win. You see, our family might be bad luck to the Purefoods franchise whenever we watch the game live. We witnessed how the TJ Hotdogs were drubbed at a semis game versus Coca-Cola in 2002. We saw how the Mixers lost a finals game to Talk n Text in 2014. We witnessed how the Hotshots won in the quarterfinals against Globalport in 2015, only to find out weeks later that it was Tim Cone’s last W with Purefoods franchise.
The hint of despair when my dad said that was understandable. In the past, I heard him say that it might be better for him to stay at home because he might be bad luck for the team. But this time, no amount of possible malas to his favorite team could stop him from finally meeting his idol.
Before the game started, my dad and I were invited to go to the locker room. I saw the look on my dad’s face—the excitement, the nervousness, the effort to hide everything he felt at that moment. Maybe I knew him for so long that I could tell how he feels. Maybe he’s just not that good at hiding emotions. I totally imagined him freaking out or grinning like a child who was given a bag of treats the moment he sees Alvin. But boy, was I surprised at what happened when we came in to that room.
Alvin, who was comfortably sitting at a bench at the center of the locker room, immediately stood up and shook hands with us. My dad started talking about how he began idolizing Cap, to which Alvin replied with recollections of his own. “Parang magkaibigan lang na matagal na hindi nagkita ah,” Miss Reena of Magnolia told me in jest. She was right. We watched on the side as they talked about college, vintage PBA, the semis game, Chito Victolero’s hometown, literally anything they thought about at that moment.
It’s like they already met before, and were reconnecting the dots, catching up lost time. I knew my dad would share a part of his life to Alvin, but I never thought Cap would share a part of his life back to my dad. I was in awe all that time as he talked to my dad, a person he never met before, like he was talking to a friend. Maybe that’s part of Cap’s magic. Maybe that’s the reason why he’s so beloved until now.
Their conversation went on for about 15 minutes. We left the locker room to let the team prepare for the game, but not before Alvin had some words for me. “Good job! Thank you so much. Keep up the good work.”
I definitely will.
Second quarter: Here comes the malas
“What the freaking hell was wrong with the rim?”
I asked that to myself a couple of times while I was throwing brick after brick during a quarter-break shootout contest at the arena. SEVEN. STRAIGHT. MISSES. I lost to the other contestant—my brother—because of that. Having a better shooting performance at the Big Dome is gonna be his bragging right for the rest of our lives.
How I shot (and missed) was comparable to how Magnolia did offensively in the first quarter. They can’t seem to buy a bucket. The malas might had already kicked in. Short, wide, in-and-out—the ball can’t seem to consistently find its way to the hoop. In spite of all the missed chances, Magnolia somehow kept it low and close at the end of the first quarter.
Things looked bright for the Hotshots during the second quarter. Their shots started to fall. Led by PJ Simon, Magnolia battled toe-to-toe with their opponents. But NLEX just had an answer to everything that was thrown at them. The Road Warriors withstood Magnolia’s impending surge as they the entered the half up by five.
The second half was a lot more different. Magnolia, which looked sluggish in the first half, found a way to shoot better, move crisper and defend tighter. Although the lead was small, it was obvious that Magnolia was somehow in control. The excitement of the players, coaches and fans can be felt across the venue. Seriously, it’s so hard to watch a close game behind Magnolia’s bench. The players stood up from time to time as they observed the game from the sidelines. Whenever they stand up all at once, it’s like some impulsive leader built a wall to forbid a neighboring country from seeing his land from the other side.
But I didn’t mind. They were leading the game, and the bench felt alive after a long while. Our side of the arena was ecstatic as the team took the driver’s seat.
But the mood changed when something bad happened.
Third Quarter: Ping went down, Alex went in
Off the drive, Ping looked like he lost control. The next thing I knew, he was lying on the floor. He held his knee as he rolled from side to side in pain. The excitement was replaced by deep gasps and uncertainties. The silence grew louder and louder. Or maybe I just couldn’t hear a thing as I watched Magnolia and NLEX players circle around Ping.
I swear to the basketball gods I heard Ian Sangalang say this just moments after checking on his fallen teammate. If there’s anyone within my proximity who should know about that injury, it’s him. He had it before, and he certainly knew how a torn ACL felt like.
I patterned my game after Ping -—his intensity, hustle, emphatic rebounds, even his post-shot celebrations where he acted like he’s gonna bring the house down. He’s one of my favorite players, which is why seeing him go down in pain was a torture for me. That was the worst basketball scene I witnessed up close ever in my young life.
But the basketball game had to carry on. Ping was carried out of the court, sent away with the applause both from the Magnolia and the NLEX crowds.
It was obvious that the life was somewhat sucked out on the Magnolia side of the coliseum. NLEX pounced on the chance to get back to the game. What was once a game led by Magnolia became a see-saw battle as the lead went back and forth. Teams traded baskets until the final seconds. Then, on one of NLEX’s final plays, Kiefer, with nowhere to go, kicked the ball out to the top of the key for an open three.
It was Alex Mallari.
I always liked how Alex played, even when he was still at the D-League. He was a walking mismatch with his towering height at the guard position, and his quickness to blow by defenders. I liked how he brought his emotions to the game. There was a time when he hated Petron for discarding him. That’s what he channeled to something useful to help San Mig Coffee win the 2014 Grand Slam. Or it could be that Coach Tim pushed the right buttons for Alex to work. Either way, he was a key contributor to the franchise’s success four years ago.
But at that moment, it was his time to prove to his previous team that he’s worth something.
So, he took the shot. Ball went straight up the air. Ball went down. SWISH. The former Hotshot hit a big three to put his new team ahead by two.
How fitting it was for Alex to fire a bull’s eye against his former team. With 15 seconds left in the game, things went south for the Hotshots.
Fourth Quarter: The loss, the visit and the night to remember
It was a long 15 seconds.
Off a timeout, Paul Lee managed to free himself for a wide open attempt from deep. But it was a tad strong. Kiefer grabbed the board out of sheer will, and was fouled. He sank the two free throws to put NLEX up by four with 6.8 seconds left in the game.
But Magnolia wasn’t ready to give up yet Even if they were down by two possessions. Again off a timeout, Paul Lee took a quick three. This time, he made it to cut the lead to one. It was redemption for him, since he missed his previous three which could have put the Hotshots back on the lead. Instead, they had 4.5 seconds to work on a miracle.
On the final play, Rafi managed to steal the ball. However, Kiefer stopped what could have been a breakaway layup for Paul Lee. He stole the ball back to NLEX. Magnolia was obliged to foul, but the time wasn’t enough for them to make another play. The second free throw was missed, and the game clock expired.
I couldn’t help but stare blankly into the air out of frustration. Between Ping’s injury and Magnolia’s loss, I started to think that my malas is real.
Despite the loss, we were still invited to Magnolia’s locker room to meet the players. My family was introduced to the team. I can still remember Rome approaching us to shake hands and say thanks for the support. Rafi and Justin were visibly affected by the loss.<
After we took a group picture, I reached out to Rafi and Justin. I always looked up to these guys. Rafi may be old for a professional baller, but he’s a really wise player. He knows how to play his game and to contribute to his team. No wonder he’s still at the league at age 40. As for Justin, I instantly became a fan when I discovered that he has a master’s degree in Commercial Photography. I’m such a huge fan of athletes who value education even if they found success in sports.<
“Good game, man. Keep fighting. It’s a seven-game series,”
“Yeah, sure thing, man,” were the only words he replied as he smiled back at me. He sure knows how to fight a long series. This one ain’t an exception.
So, we went home with a loss. But that’s basketball. No two teams can win the same game at the same time. One should lose. On that day, it was Magnolia who tasted defeat.
“Babawi yan,” my father exclaimed. Like in 2002, like in 2014, Purefoods found a way to bounce back and eventually win it all. We’re hopeful that it will be the same case in this series.
As for the malas? Maybe it’s there. I missed seven straight jumpers in front of the Araneta crowd. I witnessed Ping get injured. I saw Magnolia lose a close one, thanks to Alex Mallari (and Kiefer Ravena).
But no amount of malas can make me regret the fact that after over three decades since following Cap, my dad finally shared a moment with Alvin Patrimonio—my father’s idol, my basketball hero’s basketball hero.