I will always cherish the memory of my last game in the PBA. After a less than stellar performance of our team this season, I honestly thought of just sitting out the last game, being able to already hit my career-high score twice in the last 3 games. At least I could take some pride in that, and not end my basketball career on a low note. That was the plan. But I guess God sometimes has other plans for us – most of the time, even better than the plans we have for ourselves.
It wasn’t so much about the number of points I scored that day, but really it was the appreciation shown by my wonderful teammates and coaches. The feeling of them wanting me to exit on a high note really moved me. I had intended to announce my retirement immediately after the game, through my friends from the press. But I thought it was better to postpone it until I had spoken to our team owners, as boss Raymond Yu and Terry Que politely asked me to stay on.
In all honesty, I took to heart their words and seriously reconsidered playing another season or at least just one conference. The messages of encouragement and even an open letter I received, thereafter, from friends, colleagues, and basketball fans to continue playing certainly made me feel appreciated. Several tributes were written detailing every phase of my career, even as early as my grade school days in Xavier School and these made me emotional. I tried to personally reach out and thank each of those writers, not really for the praise, but more so because they shared my story and the values I espouse as an athlete. I felt like somehow my efforts to serve as a sort of inspiration, especially to the youth, were not futile.
I am immensely grateful to our Lord for my basketball journey, 4 years as a member of the Gilas Pilipinas pioneer team, 6 years with Rain or Shine in the PBA. That’s 10 years as a professional and 5 years in college basketball. There were certain turns of events which landed me at the 7th pick with ROS in the PBA draft. For several years, I learned to accept my new role playing as back up to Paul Lee and tried to contribute to the cause of the team by doing the little things. In spite of that, I feel I could not have asked for a better team to spend my PBA career with. What struck me most about Rain or Shine was the sense of family within the organization, which allowed us to enjoy playing the game even more. Another is its simplicity, giving proof that an underdog can stay competitive, even without the glamour.
BASKETBALL IS LIFE
Basketball was my life. I fell in love with it watching Michael Jordan when I was 5 years old. It is also a metaphor of life. The championships, won games, best player awards are definitely rewarding. But more often than not, we fall short and get frustrated. Until today, I don’t take losses well and lose sleep. Over time, I’ve learned to just enjoy the journey regardless of result or circumstance and used the opportunity to always learn something new – partly about basketball, but more so about life and people! Despite the emotional and physical drain, I am grateful for these challenges because they taught me the value of perseverance, among others.
No doubt basketball has opened many doors for me and allowed me to make so many new friends, meet individuals from all walks of life, including my idols. The most memorable I have to say was meeting Pope Francis, when I was invited to give a talk about sports in the Vatican. I also got the chance to meet and compete with our NBA idols (and I can one day brag to my kids that I beat them in 3 point shoot-outs)!
Basketball also served as a powerful platform to communicate my advocacies, from youth leadership & formation, sports & fitness, to education, to being kind to the environment, pure love, and even anti-bullying. In fact, that was one of the deciding factors for me to pursue a career in the pros.
One of the things I will miss the most about being a basketball player in the Philippines is having that unique ability to be able to bring joy and happiness to the fans, most especially the youth, the sick, those with special needs and the marginalized who look up to us athletes, even just through a selfie or a short conversation.
To be honest, I think I have at least 1 or 2 more productive PBA seasons left in me. But at the same time, I want to channel my current energy and enthusiasm into other projects that are sustainable and have positive impact to the community, some new and some which we have started years ago. I believe it’s about time I start a career as a full-fledged businessman and live up to my commitment to the family. At the same time, we have an infant and a toddler who are growing incredibly fast. I want to cherish every moment with them and give them my full attention while I can, which is very challenging to do with basketball where I am overly particular with my training and resting routine.
There are so many people I want to thank. I’ve had the privilege of working with world-class coaches and mentors, who have molded me and my leadership style (I will pay tribute to them in my Instagram page in the next few days). I’ve had so many teammates over the years with different personalities, some have become great friends and I’m happy to see our families growing together. I’ve learned a lot from each of them! I’ve worked with many utility and support staff who can barely make ends meet and rely on us for won game bonuses, yet are so committed. Utmost appreciation goes to the various team owners, sports benefactors and leaders who have trusted and supported me. Thank you for keeping Philippine basketball alive and competitive. To my very accommodating doctors and hardworking PTs who I have to call at the oddest hours, we’ve become friends and you guys are behind-the-scenes heroes. To the Ateneo, Gilas Pilipinas and Rain or Shine supporters, you encourage me to keep pursuing excellence day in and day out. To fellow basketball enthusiasts, I salute your passion for the sport! To my beloved Tiunatics, more than serving as my cheerleaders and inspiration, what makes me happiest is when I see many new friendships among you guys created over the years. To my critics, thank you for challenging me to constantly improve! To fellow PBA players, it was an honor competing against you guys! Never take for granted this blessing, stay healthy and all the best in your careers. To my friends in media, thank you for making Philippine basketball accessible and entertaining to the fans!
To my family and friends, thank you for sharing my triumphs and sorrows in sports and outside, as well as being understanding when I am absent in gatherings. To my loving parents, for allowing me to pursue my passions and always making sure that the backend is taken care of so that I can focus on my jobs and my family. More importantly, thank you for constantly instilling in us important values and always setting good examples.
To my wife Cla who has shared my basketball journey with me for around 18 years now, since we were in high school. She shared all my emotions and this retirement is her retirement as well. She holds the fort at home and makes sure the kids are well taken care of despite holding a fulltime job and being an entrepreneur. She makes sure I get my 9 hours of sleep on game days (plus a short nap) and personally prepares my pasta diet so I don’t feel heavy during games. (I will share her beautiful letter to me separately) And to my two daughters Amanda and Mari, who bring so much joy and meaning to my life, they will just have to watch me play next time on YouTube. I love you all so much! J
THE DIVINE HAND
By nature, I sometimes want to control situations, and thought it is possible to be in the driver’s seat of my life. But basketball has taught me to let go and trust in God’s plan. We get frustrated with tough breaks and losses. But what I learned from successful individuals is we should simply work hard and always give our best, irrespective of the circumstances.
And just like in my last PBA game on November 3, 2018 vs NLEX, I poured out everything, and God really did the rest. What transpired that day, and at every step of the way in my career for that matter, was certainly a result of His divine plan. He surprised even me, and gave me more than I hoped for in a final appearance. To top it all off, I was honored with the chance to represent the National Team once more in the recent Asian Games after 6 long years away from the Pilipinas jersey. This has always been my dream. If that isn’t full circle, I don’t know what is. So truly, I could not have asked for a more beautiful journey and ending.
Thank you Lord, and thank you all for your support! AMDG!
Posted Jan 9, 2019