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Sunday, May 26, 2024

From the vault: The Jaworski and Ginebra mystique

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(First of two parts)

By Dr. Michael Rico B. Mesina

Late-bloomer. That’s who I am with regards to being a basketball fan. While other kids are pre-occupied in their free time with playing hoops in goals attached to trees or in barangay and school courts, I busy playing patintero, tumbang preso, teks and family computer (or NES) with my friends.

The author’s collection of Scoreboard Magazine and Sports Weekly that came out with a feature about Gordon’s Gin and Jaworski.

Perhaps my earliest memories of basketball include seeing Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the television (and asking my titos if they can switch the channel to cartoon shows) and my grandparents telling stories about Robert Jaworksi and his team, Ginebra.

Jaworski, who? Ginebra, what? In time I will be introduced to them, in more ways than one.

Year 1995.

During that time we were living in an apartment complex in Mandaluyong, and through the window I can see the Reyes Gym across the street.

The gym is owned by the family of a PBA player at the time and is the venue where most of the PBA teams hold their practices. During school vacation, my tito used to bring me to the gym to watch team practices, and thus started my basketball fascination and education.

He would point to certain players and tell me: “See that fast guy? That’s Johnny Abarrientos” or “Yoyoy Villamin, he’s a bit old already but still very effective”. Slowly, I became hooked to the game watching the practices, from the squeaking sound of sneakers while they are running their plays, to the swishing sound of a perfectly made shot, to the grunting made while they are battling for rebounds.

I then started playing basketball with my friends, looking for courts around the block and beyond. I also started to watch basketball, particularly the PBA, to learn more about the players that I get to see regularly during practices.

During these viewing sessions I got to observe how big of a deal basketball is for Filipinos, seeing how most games are packed and hearing the cheers and jeers of the crowd.

I also noticed one thing: when this “Ginebra” team comes to play, the crowd appears to be much thicker and the game commentators less easier to hear (especially when this Robert Jaworski, who’s apparently the team’s playing coach checks into the game and scores a bucket or two). What gives?

1996.

In front of the Reyes Gym parking complex is the commissary of a baking company, with basketball goal made up of a metal hoop attached to some planks of wood. By then I would practice shoooting there quite frequently or play hoops with the workers there. At times the gates of the complex are left open because the players and coaches will be leaving the facility, so we occasionally stop the game to watch and do a “basketball show and tell”.

But there are also times that we are not able to play because of hordes of people surrounding the gate and filling up almost the entire road.

Asking some of the onlookers what the commotion is all about, their universal answer is “Practice ng Ginebra e”.

Again, what gives?

My personal research about Ginebra’s history and mystique then began.

I watched PBA games more religiously, and started saving up for weekly local basketball magazines (e.g. Scoreboard Magazine, Sports Life Magazine and Sports World Magazine). From what I have read, I was able to piece together for myself an extremely summarized version of the team’s history, as follows:

The “Never Say Die” spirit started with Robert Jaworski Sr., who in an October 1985 game against guest team Northern Consolidated Cement (also the national team at the time), had to leave the game with a busted lip sustained due to an elbow from Jeff Moore.

He was rushed to Makati Medical Center to get stitched up, only to return and play in the fourth quarter to overcome a sizeable lead by NCC and escape with the win.

The team has been experiencing a multi-year title drought, in which the last title was won way back in the 1991 First Conference, where the team scratched and clawed from a 1-3 deficit (and with a last second clutch basket from Rudy Distrito to boot) to claim the championship.

The past few years, ever since that 1991 championship, the team went into the doldrums, likely due to the following reasons: (1) retirement of the team’s stalwarts, (2) stinginess of the management with regards to paying star free agents, and (3) some boo-boos in their draft choices (E.J. Feihl, anyone?).

What fascinated me is that despite being the whipping boys of the league, people still went in droves to see them play. And in watching the games, even though they are most of the time in a disadvantage, you can the players’ constant effort and intensity which gave you that spark of belief that if the stars are aligned properly, they might have a chance.

Millimeter by milimeter, inch by inch, Ginebra was taking me in, hook, line and sinker. Talking about stars aligning properly. (To be continued)

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