Never Say Die. In a basketball community in the Philippines, who does not know this motto? You don’t have to be a basketball-crazy to recall this. You’re right. It’s about one of the most, if not the most, popular ball club in the first play-for-play basketball league in Asia, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel. It passes from generation to generation. But with a five-year title drought, is it really evident that the “Never-say-die” spirit still exists within the players? Not before the pony-tailed Coach named Alfrancis Chua took over the head coaching chores from the three-time champion (2 with Ginebra and1 with then-San Miguel, now Petron Blaze) Bethune Tanquincen.
The fiery coach was designated as Team Coaching consultant of the SMC-controlled ballclub a season ago. Is he the best coach to replace Tanquincen? For a team with the largest fan base in social media, it takes a lot of guts to accept a head-coaching job. He only had one finals appearance in PBA in his resume. Aside from being a reklamador, what do we know about him? He is the best fit for the job. Believe it or not, he is.
Ginebra was what after Jaworski, who instilled the Never-Say-Die attitude among its players and the legion of fans, left the team? They won 3 championships. But after that, it has never been the same-old Ginebra. Different players. Different coaches. Different systems. And it’s all management’s call. Who would have thought, Joseph Uichico, after serving more than two decades with SMC, will leave the team to join the MVP-owned team? Who would have thought? Coach Ato Agustin, a nemesis coach of Mark Caguioa, will be transferred to Ginebra? I never imagined that.
So let’s go back to Coach Al. He is a motivator. He may not be the designer of the greatest plays during crunch time, but this long-haired coach is the one who can bring out the players the best out of them. For coaches, the pressure to win is like holding a live hand grenade. Please hold it. Don’t drop it. It’s a maddening set-up. Coaches are expected to win with whatever roster they have.
After starting 0-4 in the Commissioner’s Cup, I never expected that fans will still support this coach. I was expecting that I would read, “Bakit yan pa kinuha?”, or “Ibalik si Siot!”.With fans hungry for a championship celebration, this is a love for a coach. Wala pang coach na hindi na-trashtalk pag natalo ang Ginebra. But the Barangay kept the faith. With a depleted line-up, Ginebra managed to overcome the twice-to-beat advantage of Rain or Shine and dispose the grueling Norman Black-mentored Talk ‘n Text. With a crippled line-up, Ginebra managed to book a finals showdown to the eventual-champion Alaska Aces. We saw how Jayjay Helterbrand rejuvenated his MVP years. We saw Kerby Raymuyndo proved that he isn’t at the twilight of his career. After being swept, the legion still chanted the old but classic “Gi-Ne-Bra! Gi-Ne-Bra!” after the ceremony.
Kasalanan ang umasa. Kasalanan din ang umasa. Yang ang mahirap sa may mga mabisyon. Sila ang may kakayahan na maging inspirasyon. Sila na may kapal ng mukha para sabihin sa tao na “kaya natin to” ang sisisihin pag nabigo ang lahat. Now we have to face the painful reality. Yan kasi. Lumaban pa kasi kayo. Olats din sa huli.
I'm proud of myself and what I stand for. It just hurts to say it out loud right now. But I am. Because right now, I can't help but feel these: how we ruin the dream for ourselves when we all believe we could. We say and do stupid things when we're heartbroken. Like punch the wall and break our fingers in the process. Gains convince us to believe. Losses in the most cruel of ways, discourage us from even trying. Yet the alternative is even more tragic. To not dare. To not dream. Patience, in some cases, is an anomaly. Process, in some instances, is an afterthought.
Now, coach Al resigned due to “personal reasons”. Who would have thought? After steering a team with a depleted line-up to a Cinderella-run last conference, why would he leave the team? Rumors say it’s about management. He is the players’ coach.
I’m hurt. Paano na ang team? Siya pa naman nagbalik ng never-say-die spirit. No coach has received a love like this after the Living Legend. But then, no player or coach is bigger than the team itself. I will still be a Ginebra fan no matter what happens. I will still be even Mark Caguioa retires. I will still be whoever takes over what Al Chua left. I will still be and forever will be.
Five years of title drought is haunting the fans. But I'm positive enough to wait for dreams to materialize and dreamers to finally make it happen. Dahil, kahit sa pang-araw-araw na buhay, mas okay na sa akin ang maging hibang kaysa ang maging takot.