After burning up the Philippine Cup playoffs, Gary David, slingshot in hand against the league’s goliaths, can finally lay claim to superstar status.
But without a PBA championship to his name, David remains a king without a crown.
“Minsan nga nag-uusap kami ng misis ko, sinasabi ko nga sa kanya na baka ako talaga yung malas kasi yung mga dati kong teammates sa Air 21 na naglipatan na, halos lahat nanalo na ng championships, samantalang ako wala pa rin,” said David.
David came closest to winning a title in the 2007-08 Fiesta Conference, but the Express fell short in an epic seven-game series against Barangay Ginebra.
Apart from David, Air 21 had a star-studded cast that included Arwind Santos, Ranidel de Ocampo, and KG Canaleta. All of them have been traded away by the squad.
De Ocampo has won three championships with the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters. Santos and Canaleta have won one apiece while playing for the Petron Blaze Boosters and Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants, respectively.
Unlike the other three players, who were traded to winning teams, David found himself traded back to the Coca-Cola Tigers, his original team which had become a moribund franchise since his departure. Despite an ambitious offseason buildup that saw the team, which had since been renamed Powerade, draft elite rookies JVee Casio and Marcio Lassiter, not much was expected of the team heading into the season.
But David literally took matters into his own hands, shooting the Tigers past the top-seed B-MEG Llamados in the quarterfinals before carrying the team against Rain or Shine in an intense seven-game semifinals duel.
Now the crown that David has long been seeking is within reach, but the Tigers are up against are the defending champion Tropang Texters, who drew first blood in the first game of the series, 116-100, in large part by holding him to a tournament playoff-low 19 points.
Still, the former Lyceum hotshot remains unfazed.
“Andito na tayo, so i-grab na natin yung opportunity,” he said. “Bihira dumating yung ganitong pagkakataon kaya bubuhos talaga natin lahat ng pwedeng gawin para makuha yung championship.”
David has had a torrid shooting run, rattling off six straight games with at least 30 points. But more than the scoring, Powerade has been winning — it is the first eighth-seed to reach the finals in PBA history — which is why everyone has taken notice.
For Powerade coach Bo Perasol, the attention is long overdue.
“Gary David is a star, no doubt about it. He didn’t get the recognition he deserves before because he doesn’t play for a winning team,” wrote Perasol in a text message to InterAKTV.
“Now, he has proven that with ample support from his team, he can help bring it to the championship. Filipino fans love a winner when they see one. Gary is a winner, no doubt about that.”
Talk ‘N Text coach Chot Reyes, whose team now stands in the way of David’s quest for championship glory, ironically was one of the first believers in David. The fashion-forward coach drafted the scorer with the last pick of the first round in 2004.
“I think he’s already a superstar and he should win the Best Player of the Conference hands down and I’m very happy for him,” said Reyes.
B-MEG coach Tim Cone, whose team was ambushed by David and the Tigers in the quarterfinals, also believes that David has been the best player of the tournament.
“The recognition being given to him is well-deserved. He’s played better than anyone and every team has to account for him when they play Powerade,” said Cone.
Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio said that he has been impressed with David’s run, but thinks that the Powerade guard has to lead his team to a championship to cement his legacy.
“With his performance this conference, he definitely established himself as a legitimate star, and not just a trigger-happy shooting guard who is just content in leading the league in the scoring department,” said Gregorio.
“However, he still might not be in the same level as James Yap, Mark Caguioa, or Willie Miller. He must be able to tow his team to victory and win a championship. If he does that, he will be recognized as one of the best shooting guards to ever play in the PBA.”
Tigers just getting started
But even though he hasn’t won a championship yet, David believes that he will have more opportunities in the future.
“Sa palagay ko marami pa akong tsansa, kasama na yung ngayon. Pero pipilitin naming makuha na yung titulo. Marami na akong nakakatulong sa team at kung magiging sama-sama pa rin kami, maraming pagkakataon pa ang dadatign sa amin,” said David.
Even though he will turn 34 this July, David actually has relatively little wear and tear on his legs. Prior to the start of the conference, David had played in just 264 games in seven seasons in the league. To compare, B-MEG’s Yap, who was drafted in the same year as David, had played in 351 games prior to this season.
And now, David believes his team finally has the right pieces to win a championship.
“Napakalaking bagay ni JVee sa amin, pati na rin si Marcio,” said David. “Madalas na sinasabi ng mga basketball fans kami yung Big Three, pero bukod dun, maganda rin yung suporta ng mga beterano like Celino Cruz and Romel Adducul, kasi sila yung may championship experience, tapos nag-iimprove pa sina Doug Kramer and Sean Anthony. Tingin ko, we’re in the right direction.”