Editor’s Note: Air 21 Express center Rob Reyes will be writing a regular column for InterAKTV. This is his first piece.
As I enter my fifth year in the PBA, I have that feeling that I’ve had every year since my rookie year. You’d think that recurring feeling would be What do I plan on building on from last season? or perhaps I’m looking forward to going to battle with guys who I’ve built a comfortable relationship with. But the familiar feeling I have is How will I fit in with my new team?
I am beginning my fifth season on my fifth different team. I know I don’t have the record for most teams in least years, and I know being traded is just “part of the business,” but every time it happens, it is a new beginning and a new opportunity.
There are many emotions that are involved with being traded. On the positive, you have the fact that there was a team that was willing to give up their players or picks to attain your services. There’s the possibility for more playing time, more wins, or better chemistry.
Then there are the negative feelings: for whatever reason, I wasn’t good enough for the previous team to keep me. After spending a lot of time and effort learning one system and developing chemistry with one team, that whole process has to be repeated with a new coach and new teammates. Thankfully, because the PBA isn’t a provincial league, or a city-based one like the NBA, moving to a different city is not a part of the equation.
For those who are unfamiliar with my PBA story, I was drafted in the first round by Talk ‘N Text and won a championship in my very first conference. But early in the second conference, I was injured in practice and had to have surgery. I was recovering and rehabbing in the offseason when I received a call from Coach Chot Reyes at about 1 or 2 a.m. to find out I’d been traded to Barako Bull.
The first time to get traded was the most emotional. I had just recently found out my wife was pregnant with our first son, and I was still recovering from my injury and not yet ready to play. During my rehab I had been engulfed with dreams of a second championship and a more involved role. Now, I was confronted with the bitter reality that I’ve been traded.
I was excited about the opportunity to be assured of a bigger role on offense, and in general. But being that I was still new to the league, and about to start a new family, the uncertainty that came with being on a new team with a new coach was very scary.
I started playing with Barako Bull midseason once I was cleared to play. It was a difficult transition at first. The difficulty wasn’t basketball-related, though. There were definitely some growing pains associated from getting my timing and confidence back after an injury, and the standard adjustments to a new system and practice style.
But the real adjustment was that I was then only one of two Filipino-Americans on the team; Talk ‘N Text had five. I got along OK with my teammates at Barako Bull — I wouldn’t say I felt any real animosity because I was a Fil-Am — but let’s just say no one was inviting me to lunch after practice.
That season was particularly long. We didn’t win very often and I was away from my wife who was working in the States while pregnant with our son. The losing was frustrating, especially after having won championships in both the PBL and my rookie year in the PBA.
As hard as it was, though, I really learned a lot about myself, and as I got through my different struggles that year, I felt like I became a better person and a better player for it.
Before my third season, Barako made a few adjustments to the roster. I had built up my confidence in the summer with some good offseason training and was looking forward to really taking advantage of the good playing time I was sure to get. Then, while taking a nap one afternoon, I found out from Harvey Carey via text that I had been traded to Powerade for Asi Taulava.
I have to say, it does boost your ego when you’re traded for one of the best PBA big men of all time. Even more exciting was the opportunity to work with my longtime friend, Powerade assistant coach Alex Compton. I knew and trusted him, and fully expected him to get the most out of my game.
We won our first game, and I was thinking championship. But we finished the all-Filipino without making the playoffs.
But as strange as it sounds, I was having fun. I wasn’t playing as much as I’d have liked behind Dennis Espino, but I made a lifetime friend in Will Antonio. We’d share rides to and from practice, and do all the immature, goofy things that teammates do when they get along with each other. Plus we had scoring machine Gary David and energetic rookie Sean Anthony. I felt like good things were in the future for us.
When the season ended with Powerade, I was at a crossroads. The team was going through some internal issues and didn’t want to commit to any long term contracts. I had lived away from my wife for most of three years — I’m sure many Filipinos can relate to being far away from loved ones — and my son was growing up without me there.
I wanted my wife to quit her job and move to Manila with me while I played. But I wasn’t prepared to ask her to quit her stable job on a gamble that I could earn something more long-term in the future. At that point, three teams in three years wasn’t exactly making me feel confident about my chances at a long-term contract, even though personally, I’d only scratched the surface of my potential as a PBA player.
So with all that going on, I packed my things as if I was done and boarded a one way flight to Florida.
While in the US, Powerade tried to work with me. They were trying to offer me a one-year deal that I would have been happy to take under different circumstances. But the timing just wasn’t right; I wanted to be a husband and a dad, and I didn’t feel like I could do that halfway around the world. I needed a longer deal. So for a while I was in limbo.
In all honesty, I was slowly accepting that my playing career was over. I accepted a coaching position at my old college — but I told my coach that if I got the right deal to return to the PBA I’d take it.
In Florida, I wasn’t playing in front of thousands of fans at night, but I was doing something I hadn’t been able to do: I was tucking my son in at night, and waking up to my beautiful wife in the morning. I know I’m biased, but she is very beautiful. I’m a lucky guy.
At the time, the 2011 Governors’ Cup finals was going on, and I was keeping an eye on the series between Petron and Talk ‘N Text. Rabeh Al-Hussaini got hurt before the start of the finals, and I had this weird feeling that if Petron didn’t win, I might have a shot with them next season. But of course, Petron went on to upset Talk ‘N Text in a thrilling seven-game series.
I figured my door back to the PBA had closed. I tried to dive in to my work and family time, and to be honest, I didn’t miss Philippine basketball all that much. I played in a Fil-Am tournament, and got the itch a little bit, but the phone wasn’t ringing so, I put it past me. I figured I was done.
Now if you’re reading this, you know it wasn’t over. Eventually, my phone did ring. To my surprise, Petron was interested.
But it wasn’t as simple as me saying yes. They were interested, but they were also offering me a one-year deal. I had said I wouldn’t take a one-year deal, but I had some time to think about the reality of not playing anymore.
And to be honest, this was Petron — the old San Miguel franchise. This team seems to end up in the finals once a year, and they had a history of taking care of players that performed well for them. I knew if I got the chance, I could perform. So there were a couple sleepless nights, and some very hard discussions with my wife. But in the end we decided that this was a risk worth taking. So just like that, I was back in the PBA, and like every year of my career I was on a new team.
The transition to Petron was very easy. They had several veterans who were very willing to bring me along with the system.
There was no problem with chemistry — I had known J-Wash, Alex Cabagnot, and Joseph Yeo for a long time, and Chris Lutz and I became quick friends. I felt like it was a perfect fit.
I earned some good playing minutes, and I had what many have told me is a breakout conference. I don’t know about that, but I felt like I was playing well and helping the team win.
Playing for Petron had other perks: the fans. I have to give myself a pat on the back for coming up with the name “Petroniverse”, but I can only thank the fans for how nice and supportive they were. It felt like everywhere I went, everyone was a Petron fan, and we were hot so I was feeling good.
I felt like we should have beaten Talk ‘N Text in the semis but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. But I figured when some guys got back from injury and when we sign our imports, a championship was just around the corner.
I was able to extend my contract, and before the year was up, my family had moved here to be with me. It was a dream come true!
That championship never materialized. But I was confident at the end of the season that big things were on the way with Petron.
The team was likely to draft June Mar Fajardo, another center, while I spent the offseason rehabbing an injury. I was keeping an eye on the draft and coaching change rumors.
When I found out Rajko Toroman would be putting in his system and Olsen Racela would coach, I was looking forward to how I would fit in.
But then, the day before I was set to fly back, I read on Twitter that I’d been traded. I was devastated.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy to play for any team in the PBA. I just want to compete, and I realize I am very blessed just to even be in this league. But I so wanted to be settled in with one team. I felt like I could be a part of Petron and help them win another championship, but it wasn’t meant to be.
When I got back to Manila, I received some more news: My injury was worse than originally suspected and I had to undergo minor surgery.
So now, I couldn’t even get started acclimating to my new team. I had to spend at least four weeks in therapy. I won’t lie, the first few days after surgery I was down.
But after a while I reminded myself that I’m in the PBA and this is part of the job. I met Coach Franz Pumaren, and I was excited about the opportunity to play with such a successful coach and learn from him (I played for his brother Dindo briefly in the PBL).
I was also excited about my new role, and simply the fact that they wanted me and thought I could help. At the end of the day it’s very nice to be wanted.
So with the season right around the corner I’ve got that familiar “unfamiliar” feeling again. Other people in my position might end up becoming bitter, and look at this life as a PBA player as “just a business.” I’ve dealt with that emotion, but after five teams in five years, I’m not bitter at all. It isn’t exactly how I planned my career but I still love basketball, I still feel blessed to be in this league. I’ve learned to accept that there’s only so much I have control over.
Also, for the first time in my five years, I’m starting a season with my family here.
This isn’t my first rodeo, and this isn’t a new game. It’s still basketball, and I still get paid. My closet is like a PBA jersey rack at Toby’s because of all the different teams.
But if my son ever asks why I played for so many PBA teams I already know what I’ll say. “Come on son, back in the day everybody wanted to have your dad on their team!”
For more PBA discussion, follow Rob on Twitter @theREALrob22
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