December 01, 2020 at 07:15 pm
Robert Jaworski played until he was 52 years old and became the first local playing coach in PBA history. At 42, he would still crack the league’s Mythical First Team and lead his squad, Ginebra, to its first championship in the 1986 Open Conference.
At 44, Jaworski was still able to make it to the Mythical Second Team and once again led his squad to yet another championship in the 1988 All-Filipino Conference against the young and powerhouse Purefoods.
In the 1991 Open Conference, the Big J at the age of 47, helped steer the Gin Kings to another championship as he ended up with 13 points, seven rebounds and eight assists after his team pulled off one of the greatest come-from-behind victories in a championship series, battling back from a 3-1 deficit before nipping Shell in Game 7.
Asi Taulava was 41 years old when he made it to the Mythical Team of the 2014 PBA season and nearly led Air21 to a finals’ stint in the import-laden conference. While he fell short of winning the league MVP, he became the hands down choice for the Comeback Player of the Year by the PBA Press Corps.
At the age of 45, Taulava became the oldest member of the Philippine squad, playing for the Rain or Shine-backed national team to the Jakarta Asian Games two years ago.
In the NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became a member of the back-to-back champions Los Angeles Lakers in 1987 and 1988 at the age of 41, while Vince Carter, an eight-time All-Star, became the first player in the league to have played in four different decades before retiring at the age of 43.
There were several notable players who indeed made their mark even in their past 40s. They’re ageing like vintage wine, preserved for a long time and tastes even better with age.
Reynel Hugnatan is the latest player who cracked the elusive list of players who had gotten better past their 40s.
There’s still no slowing down Reynel Hugnatan, now 42, as he remains to be the best big man playing for the Meralco Bolts. He proved it time and again during his team’s grueling five-game semifinal series against the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings as he nearly led the Bolts to a championship stint.
In Meralco’s 83-80 victory over Ginebra that allowed the Bolts to force a sudden-death encounter for a championship berth, Hugnatan finished with 19 points on a steady 3-of-4 shooting from the field. He delivered the game-winning triple in the dying seconds and was once again close to replicating that performance in Game 5 when he knocked in the equalizing trey.
Unfortunately for the Bolts, Scottie Thompson bailed out the Gin Kings with his own version of a game-winning trey to send his team to the championship round.
Hugnatan’s performance can be considered as a mere footnote, but his performance took everybody on notice as to how well he was able to keep himself in tip-top condition, especially at the time of the pandemic when training is limited.
Baser Amer, Meralco’s starting point guard, was way out of his playing condition when he showed up at the Bubble and the bulk he was able to develop was not an ideal way to do in a Bubble set up. So were the rest of the young players who came in not in game shape.
Hugnatan entered the Bubble with his same beach-type body, the same body type when he was still considered as one of the toughest interior players in the PBA. With players getting bigger and stronger, the 6’4” veteran was able to reinvent his game, developing a deadly three-point shot and adding it to his arsenal. That deadly weapon was the one that nearly carried the Bolts to the finals.
It won’t be surprising if we see Hugnatan coming back for next season. I wouldn’t be shocked as well to see him hitting the gym as of this writing and preparing for the next season. His contract may have ended, but one need not be a genius to have the lefty grizzled warrior back for another tour of duty.
Hugnatan made a strong case that age is just a number. Performance is still the basis of what greatness is all about—and his legend has just started.