“Last day”: The last dance of Dondon Hontiveros and Tony Dela Cruz

 

PBA - Alaska vs Kia - November 11 2014 - 4

All I wanted was to see Dondon Hontiveros knock down a three-point shot.

I was sitting courtside at the Ynares Center with my commentary headset on. It was one of the more pressure-packed games I had called in my young career. It was one of those games that I really hoped I do justice to how significant it was.

But it wasn’t the Finals. It was only the elimination round.

The Alaska Aces had even been eliminated from playoff contention. The Rain or Shine Elasto Painters needed the win because to gain ground in the race to the top four, but that wasn’t the reason for the pressure either.

Earlier in the morning, I saw Mico Halili’s tweet saying that was going to be Dondon’s last game in the PBA. And as if that didn’t make it an occasion, a couple of hours before the game, Tony Dela Cruz entered the TV Production room and greeted us with two words: “last day.”

Two of the players I grew up watching in the PBA were about to retire. I was there to witness it. I was even given the opportunity to immortalize the freaking game.

But Alaska would lose to Rain or Shine by 30 points. No exaggeration. They lost, 112-82.

Tony started and had a decent game of 12 points, six rebounds and a couple of trey bombs. Dondon, on the other hand, had a difficult time. He just scored two points and could only make one of his eight attempts.

Pretty sure it was how people – Dondon and Tony included – hoped they would say goodbye to the PBA. But that was the situation. That was what they had to be at peace with. After all, ‘acceptance’ has been the key word in the longevity of their careers.

I remember watching Dondon back in the Metropolitan Basketball Association where he played for the Cebu Gems. Boy, was he a big deal. To get a crowd going, all he had to do was walk up to the official’s table.

When I was younger, before I started screaming “Kobe!” on jump shots, I swear to you I was shouting “Dondon!”

(READ: What was Dondon Hontiveros able to bring to Gilas 3.0?)

My best memory of Tony Dela Cruz would be how easy basketball seemed to him. He had that extremely consistent mid-range stroke. Give him some space and he’ll burn you. And he was also a threat from deep.

PBA - Alaska vs Rain or Shine - December 18, 2014 - 4

Looking back, I think Tony was ahead of his time. He was a stretch big even before stretch bigs became a thing.

Dondon eventually moved to the PBA where he continued his legacy. Tony became a fixture for the two teams he played for – Shell and Alaska. Both of them would win championships and individual awards on their own before coming together to take home the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup.

Over time though, their minutes and their roles inevitably began to dwindle. Their legs no longer worked the way they used to before. Younger guys started coming in.

Tony and Dondon had to accept smaller roles off the bench. But instead of just settling for that, they looked for other ways to contribute and stay relevant.

Tony became Alaska’s apparent leader on and off the court. He embraced the role of kuya. In practices, Dondon continued to put in extra hours in the gym. But this time, it was to serve as shooting partners to the next generation of hoopers like Carl Bryan Cruz.

(READ: Tony Dela Cruz on coaching the next generation in the SLAM Rising Stars)

Up until their final moments as Alaska Aces, as PBA players, Tony and Dondon found ways to impact the game.

Late in that game against Rain or Shine, after missing a bunch of his first few shots, Dondon finally knocked down a jumper from top of the key. It wasn’t a three. He was a step inside the line. But it was okay. At least, we all saw him make one last shot.

Dondon Hontiveros and Tony Dela Cruz have had the rides of their lives as PBA players. Could it have ended better? Sure. Do they wish they had made it to the playoffs, get a few more games in and maybe add a little to their career totals? My guess is yes.

But I also know that they’ve accepted their fates. At least, they spent 17 years playing the game they love.

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