He who is still searching for his first PBA Championship doesn't believe in the easy way. For this PBA Playoffs Legend, winning the hard is not just the right way. It's the only way.
- by Carlo Pamintuan (for Slam - May 2013)
It was a scorching hot Friday afternoon and Gary David was driving his car around Cubao. The semi-finals of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup was scheduled to start that afternoon and El Granda was again not part of it.
“Di naman one-way dati yun, saan kaya tayo dadaan nito?,” he asked as he turned left to an unfamiliar street. After about five minutes of traversing obscure side streets and tiny eskenitas, Gary finally found his way out of the maze and what welcomed him was a familiar sight.
The Smart-Araneta Coliseum greeted the player as he continued to drive forward. There was a slight traffic jam as cars were already starting to turn right and line-up at the South Gate parking entrance. Gary steered to the left and went straight ahead instead of in.
It would have been nice to be on that same line, to park his car on the basement and carry his gym bag upstairs. It would have been awesome to dress up and shoot around, to prepare for the first game of the semis. But, at this moment, none of that is in Gary itinerary.
Instead Gary parked his car a block away from the arena right in front of the Cubao market. He turned off his stereo which was blaring Andrew E music for most of the trip and stepped out of his car.
Gary stole a glimpse of the coliseum as he crossed the street. In a couple of hours, the Barangay Ginebra will be facing the Talk ‘N Text with the Kings were doing their version of Gary David’s Tigerella run from the year before.
“Manonood ka ba sa Araneta mamaya?” I asked him. “Sa TV nga ayaw ko nang manood e, live pa kaya,” he answered. “Masakit masyado. Nakaka-inggit. Bakit ko pa sasaktan yung sarili ko di ba?”
Just last year, it seemed like things were finally falling into place for Gary David and his Powerade Tigers. They finished eighth after the Philippine Cup elimination round then they went on a magical run upsetting the powerhouse B-Meg and Rain or Shine teams. They lost to Talk ‘N Text in the finals but the Tigers knew they were only a piece of two away from getting a championship.
Then the team committed what could be considered as franchise suicide. They traded Marcio Lassiter to Petron. Then they allowed Doug Kramer to walk away. Powerade then sold the franchise which led to trading Sean Anthony for a draft pick and letting JVee Casio. The result was this. Gary David walking into the Cubao market instead of the Mecca of Philippine sports.
“Nag-request kasi yung mga anak ko na magluto ako ng kare-kare. Paborito nila yun kaya mamamalengke muna ako,” Gary said as we walked past flower vendors. “Tuwang-tuwa kasi yung mga bata pag nagluluto ako kaya habang marami akong oras ngayon, pinagbibigyan ko sila.”
Eyeballs started to turn when they saw the 6’2’’ player heading in. Shouts of “Idol!” soon followed as he walked down the steps towards the meat section.
“May tuwalya ka ba?,” Gary asked his suki. “Meron, idol, basta ikaw,” the vendor replied. “Bigyan mo na rin ako ng baka yung may taba,” he added while he explained how fatless beef can be easily overcooked. The wrong ingredients, Gary said, could ruin the entire meal.
“Import talaga yung naging problema namin e,” he said. “Yung Air21 naka-jackpot kay (Michael) Dunigan. Ganun rin yung Meralco kay (Eric) Dawson.” GlobalPort Batang Pier had a 2-1 win-loss record to start the Commissioner’s Cup with import Justin Williams. The 6’9’’ player was not an offensive threat but he did the dirty work for their team filled with potent scorers. When the losses started coming, the GlobalPort management panicked and replaced Williams with Walter Sharpe who was unceremoniously dumped after he was caught sleeping in a parking lot. After they replaced Sharpe with Sylvester Morgan, it was already too late. For the second straight conference, GlobalPort was the first team to be eliminated, following up their one-win Philippine Cup with a two-win Commissioner’s Cup.
“420 lahat idol,” the vendor said. Gary handed him a 1,000 peso bill and said “400 na lang ha?.” The vendor smiled as he handed the player 600 pesos in change.
After Gary finished buying his meat, a guy holding a pen and a piece of paper approached him. “Pa-prima naman idol,” he asked. Gary took the pen and signed the paper. He turned it over to see a list of bets for that night’s PBA game. “Listahan pala ng pusta yung pinapirma mo sa akin e baka naman sabihin nung natalo ako yung malas,” Gary joked. “Hindi idol. Akong bahala. Kung gusto mo tumaya ka na rin,” the fan shot back. Gary laughed as he walked towards the vegetable section.
He still needed to pick up talong, sitaw, and pechay so he walked towards his other suki. Gary examined the vegetables closely, choosing only the best kind. Instead of allowing the vendor to pick for him, Gary chose the vegetables himself because he likes to take charge. He wants to be a part of the choosing because he wants to be responsible for the result.
“Ang tagal naming hinintay yung 2011 Draft kasi dalawa yung pick namin sa first round,” Gary told me. “Bago yung draft nag-usap talaga kami ni coach Bo (Perasol) kung ano yung gagawin. Sinabi ko sa kanya na mas okay kung si JVee Casio yung kukunin namin kasi kung si Paul Lee baka magkapareho kami ng posisyon. Si JVee kasi nakita na natin kung paano maglaro na point guard talaga dahil sa Gilas.”
GlobalPort also had the fourth pick the the top-heavy draft filled with Smart-Gilas products. “Kung hindi si Chris Lutz, si (Marcio) Lassiter lang talaga kaya kung sino yung maiwan para sa amin, yung ang kukunin,” Gary said. “Pero ako gusto ko talaga yung Lassiter kasi magaling dumepensa at may tira rin sa labas.”
Gary David chose the ingredients he wanted to cook with and made a brilliant dish. He selected pieces that would compliment him because he knew he had it in him to win a championship. The dish was great but it wasn’t perfect. It might have needed a dash of salt or a pinch of pepper. It might have needed more time to cook over Gary David’s flaming hands. But the powers that be nonchalantly threw the dish away, stepping on Gary’s dreams, spitting on his hard work.
“Nasa Subic ako noon kasama ko sila Will (Antonio) at Celino (Cruz). Tapos nabalitaan na namin na magkasama sila boss JB (Baylon), si Marcio at si Charles (Tiu),” Gary recalled. “Kinutuban na kami noon kasi ganun yung style ni boss JB e. Mag-di-dinner muna kayo tapos sasabihan kang mate-trade ka na.”
“Ang ganda na nung core nung team,” Gary lamented “Napatunayan na namin na kaya nang abutin yung finals. Yung championship, isa o dalawang player na lang maaabot na rin namin.”
But again, it wasn’t meant to be. El Granada also got close before. In the 2008 PBA Fiesta Conference, the Air21 Express held a 3-2 series lead against the Barangay Ginebra Kings only to lose the final two games. Air21 then had Gary David, Arwind Santos, Ranidel De Ocampo, Doug Kramer, JC Intal, Nino Canaleta, Gabby Espinas, and Wynne Arboleda. If they kept that core intact, it’s not hard to imagine them winning championships and staying competitive until today.
This was why Lassiter’s trade hurt Gary. He already felt this pain before and he knew there was only one ending. Air21 gave away Santos to the San Miguel Beermen. They also traded De Ocampo to Talk ‘N Text. The two players went on to play vital roles in champion teams. Gary had no such luck.
“Sobrang nanghinayang ako kasi akala ko yun na yung pagkakataon ko,” he said. “Pero wala naman akong magagawa e. Player lang ako. Masakit lang kasi bumalik na naman ako sa ibaba. Ang tagal ko na doon e. Akala ko oras ko na, hindi pa pala.”
A kargador carrying a freshly slaughtered pig then approached Gary. He tried to wow the player with a crude but spirited impersonation of James Yap while the animal was still on his shoulders, its blood trickling down his shirt. Gary let out a quick smile and continued walking. The slight limp he had that morning was no longer noticeable.
Earlier that day Gary was at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center to get treatment on his left foot. He was lying on a bed with his heavily iced foot resting on a pillow. Two physical therapists alternated in massaging and stretching his mildly swollen foot.
He was wearing a Shohoku jersey with 14 printed in front.
“Binibigyan ako ng Sakuragi pero sabi ko ayoko,” Gary said. “Di naman ako duma-dunk e. Sabi ko Mitsui na lang. Mas bagay sa laro ko.” The super scorer finished the Commissioner’s Cup eliminations as the second highest scoring local, with 22.14 points per game, only behind Mark Caguioa. He also ranked third in statistical points behind LA Tenorio and Calvin Abueva and he did this with almost no bonus points for won games.
“Sabi sa akin ipahinga ko muna daw para mabilis gumaling,” Gary said. “Pero ayoko namang magpahinga kasi sayang yung chance ko na makasali sa Gilas.” With his team already out of contention, Gary has focused himself with the task at hand and this is is to help the Gilas squad perform well in the upcoming FIBA Asia competitions.
Gary knows that there is no greater honor than winning for the country but he also knows that for him to cement his legacy he will need to win a PBA championship.
The people in the market don’t remember what he did for the Philippine team in the Jones Cup. What they remember was when he torched B-Meg and shot his way to the PBA Finals. To be remembered by these people for a long time, he’ll need to do that again and this time do it all the way.
He walked out of the market with plastic bags in both hands. He popped his trunk and placed his ingredients inside. He turned on the engine together with the stereo to give Andrew E the chance to continue his story after this girl said “Andrew, let's eat some pizza and Andrew let's drink some beer."
Preparing dinner for his family was next in Gary’s to-do list. The time he needed to be Gary David the basketball player and Gary David the PBA ambassador is now over. He’ll head home and perform a role that he’s also really good at. And that’s being Gary David the husband and Gary David the father.
El Granada has never won a basketball championship. Not in the NCRAA where his Lyceum Pirates made the finals three times only to lose to St. Francis of Assisi bannered by Yancy and Ranidel De Ocampo. Not in the PBL with the Montaña Pawnshop Jewelers. Not with the Coca-Cola Tigers nor the Air21 Express. Not with the Powerade Tigers and obviously not GlobalPort Batang Pier.
At this point of his career. Gary has two choices open for him. The first is to ride it out with his team, hope they surround him with enough talent, and win a championship before his career is through. The other choice is to demand a trade to a championship contending team so bring him that much closer to his goal.
But to Gary, this is really no choice, or better yet, the choice is not his to make. “Player ako. May kontrata ako kaya maglalaro ako,” is his mantra.
“Pero kung ma-t-trade man ako, isa lang naman yung hinihingi ko….” Gary said.
This was it. This was what I wanted to know. You want to be trade to an elite team, right? A squad with a higher chance of a championship? The Aces, Mixers, Kings, or Texters of the world?
You want the sure thing, right El Granada?
“Sana yung mga kapalit ko, magawa yung di ko nagawa.”
This, I figured, was why Gay David was Gary David. From being an unknown college student from Dinalupihan, Bataan, he rose and became one of the most famous players in the PBA today by always doing the right thing. Basketball rewarded him because he understands the concept. He knows the secret. Basketball is and will always be about the team. He may be a vital cog in it but in the end he’s just one part. This late in his career, he could pull a Ray Allen who dumped the Boston Celtics for a sure thing in the Miami Heat.
But that’s just not him. He still the loyal guy who passed up on a chance to transfer to FEU and stayed with Lyceum. The same guy who signed yearly with Montaña without looking at offers from other teams. The exact same guys who told coach Bo Perasol that he will stick with him in Powerade even the future was cloudy.
Gary accepts the fact that trades are part of reality in basketball, that no one is exempted from being traded, not even a player who has poured his heart and soul for a franchise.
“Willing naman ako maging role player ulit e. Yung mga awards, di na importante sa akin yan,” he admitted. “Wala naman kasi sa akin yung pagiging star e, nag-umpisa naman ako sa wala, sa pagiging reliever kay Renren (Ritualo). Kung kailangan kong maging reliever para sa ibang player, tatanggapin ko.”
If he is to be traded, Gary has one simple wish.
“Kung i-t-trade man ako, sana yung makuha nila mas magaling para madala sila sa championship. Sana hindi sila magpa-lugi sa pagtrade sa akin.”
The thought of winning a championship with a stronger team will be much easier for Gary. It’s enticing because it does not take much time. However, there’s this lingering feeling for Gary. He knows that winning a championship with another team is a cop out.
“Mas maganda naman talaga kung manalo ako ng championship na masasabi kong sa akin talaga. Yun na lang yung ginagawang kong inspirasyon ngayon,” he said. “Kung masali ka sa Talk ‘N Text, okay rin, masaya rin na mag-champion pero kung GlobalPort yung nag-champion, doble siguro yung tuwa ko.”
He has his doubts. You can’t take that from a person who has been here before. apparently, all Gary needed to hear was one simple sentence from GlobalPort owner.
Sabi ng boss Mikee kaku ‘E ka migaganaka, aku rin bisa kung mag-champion,’” Gary said. “ Ang sabi ni boss Mikee sa akin, ‘Huwag kang mag-alala gusto ko ring manalo ng championship.’”
“Ing sabu ku kaya e ku paynawa hanggang e ku makatakman championship,” Gary replied. “Ang sabi ko sa kanya di ako magpapahinga hanggang di ako nakakatikim ng championship.”