Basketball

The legend of Alvin Patrimonio

Even after retiring, Alvin Patrimonio remains the face of the Purefoods franchise. InterAKTV/Markku Seguerra

On Tuesday, the Philippine Basketball Association announced that Alvin Patrimonio, a four-time Most Valuable Player and one of the most popular Filipino personalities to ever take the hardcourt, will be joining the league’s Hall of Fame. As a tribute, we are posting this profile that originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Baller Magazine.

WHEN WE FIRST CONTACTED ALVIN PATRIMONIO for a profile feature, we suggested that we could perhaps take some photos of him at his office, showing him in action as team manager of the B-MEG Derby Ace Llamados, a role he has played since retiring in 2004. He didn’t seem too keen on the idea, so we shot him instead at the San Juan Arena, where his team was holding that morning’s practice.

It wasn’t until Patrimonio posed at the 15-foot line and displayed his textbook-perfect free throw shooting form – you know, the one from all those old posters from early ‘90s local sports magazines like Scoreboard and Sports Weekly – that we realized the error of our original idea. The hardcourt, 94 feet long and 50 feet wide, has always been, and continues to be his office. That room in the San Miguel Pure Foods headquarters, with the desk and the filing cabinets, is just a place where he kept his paperwork.

The team manager of a PBA ballclub ostensibly takes care of administrative matters for the team – contracts, negotiations, logistics, and all that other boring stuff. But calling Alvin Patrimonio a team manager is akin to calling Clark Kent is a journalist; while technically true, it tells a very small part of the story.

Patrimonio’s role on the team goes beyond the usual trappings of a desk job. He remains, to this day, the face of the Purefoods franchise, the only team he ever played for in the course of 17 seasons in the PBA. His achievements in a Purefoods uniform ranks up there with any other Filipino who ever played the sport: four MVPs, more than 15,000 points scored (3rd in the all-time PBA list), more than 6,000 rebounds hauled (4th), five championships including three All-Filipino crowns, and 596 consecutive games played.

Even more remarkable than his on-court achievements, however, is his off-court rapport with fans, who have remained loyal to him and his team. His popularity has hardly waned even though it has been six years since he last donned his #16 Purefoods jersey. These days, he continues to spend hours signing autographs and posing for photos for admirers who camp out after the games outside the arena. In fact, during out-of-town trips, B-MEG team officials have had to physically drag him away from fans back to the team bus, just so they could leave for the airport and not miss their flight.

He is on the team to continue being an icon, the model everyone is expected to emulate. It’s a role that he embraces gladly. “I’m here to guide [the next generation of players], to remind them, to inspire them,” he said. He is the living, breathing template on how to be a PBA player: work hard in practice and continue to develop your game, play with your heart and soul on the court, and show your appreciation for the fans who support your career.

Ryan Gregorio, who coached Patrimonio at the end of his career, said that having him around has served the organization well. “The character of the Purefoods team is a mirror image of Alvin,” Gregorio said.

Alvin Patrimonio isn’t so much a team manager as he is an ideal. If B-MEG ever published a job description for him, here’s how it should read: “The man everyone wants to be when they grow up.”

Alvin Patrimonio's free throw form was the plastered on millions of walls in his playing days. InterAKTV/Markku Seguerra

PATRIMONIO HAS BEEN a larger-than-life character for so long that it’s hard to imagine him as anything other than a hardcourt superhero. Even the circumstances of the beginning of his basketball career mirrors the typical origin story for caped crusaders found in comic books: As a gangly teenager, he tried out for the varsity team of De La Salle University, but was cut; he went to Mapua, where he became a dominant player en route to becoming a basketball superstar.

But anyone who digs beyond the myth knows it wasn’t quite so simple. In fact, controversies seemed to hound Patrimonio all throughout his career. Even before he played his first game as a professional, he was the subject of a tug-of-war between Swift, his Philippine Amateur Basketball League team, and Purefoods, which had signed him along with other top rookies Jojo Lastimosa, Jerry Codiñera, Glenn Capacio, and Jack Tanuan in 1988. The dispute delayed his entry into the PBA until the season’s second conference, which doomed his chances for the Rookie of the Year award, eventually won by Lastimosa.

“That was a great lineup, the core of the Tanduay team plus the top five rookies,” noted Patrimonio. The squad made it all the way to the finals of the All-Filipino, where they lost to Añejo, the series that spawned the Purefoods-Ginebra rivalry.

In the wake of the loss, Purefoods management accused Ramon Fernandez, the team’s playing coach, of dropping games, and promptly traded him to San Miguel in exchange for veteran center Abet Guidaben. It was an ominous sign for Patrimonio’s career, as he would end up playing for Cris Calilan, Baby Dalupan, Ely Capacio, Ding Panganiban, Chot Reyes, Eric Altamirano, Chito Narvasa, Derrick Pumaren, and Gregorio – a total of ten coaches, a staggering number for someone who spent seventeen seasons playing for a single team.

But the issues that surrounded Patrimonio weren’t just limited to the team. Over the course of his career, his name has been in headlines for reasons other than what he does on the hardcourt: disputes with associates, unsavory rumors, and other issues. Throughout all these, he took to the basketball court as a sanctuary, his very own of a Fortress of Solitude.

“Distractions will always be there,” he said. “I might as well just pour it out on the court.”

These experiences, according to him, allow him to give advice to players on the team about dealing with problems off the court, and channeling the energy into playing well.

While the constant turnover on the sidelines and the off-court distractions didn’t seem to affect his play – he was already a member of the PBA’s Mythical Five by his second year – winning didn’t come easy for Patrimonio. In fact, he lost in each of his first three trips to the PBA finals before finally winning his first championship, the 1990 Reinforced Conference versus Alaska.

Today, twenty years later, one could still hear the strain in Patrimonio’s voice when he talks about how hard it was to get over the hump for his first title.

“We played the fifth game with only one import [Darren Queenan], because Rob Rose had an injury,” he recalled. The frustration had been mounting for him and his young teammates. “We were killing ourselves just to win that first championship,” he said.

Purefoods would end up winning, but the losses before that were just as valuable to him. “Those [losses] tested our characters, told us to work harder, told us to be more patient,” he said.

But no event threatened to rock Patrimonio’s career as much as when he signed a 5-year, P25-million offer sheet from PBA cellar-dweller Pepsi in 1991, several months after winning that first title. The reactions were mixed, to say the least. While some people were happy for his success, others took it as a sign of ungratefulness to his mother ballclub. Still, others pointed to Patrimonio as the poster child for a new generation of spoiled, entitled young stars who cared only about money.

He was himself surprised when Purefoods decided to match the offer, which was then the most lucrative in the history of the league. There are personal reasons for signing the contract that he refuses to discuss to this day – superheroes, after all, are known to keep secrets – although he candidly admits that as an immature young man, being paid the most money in the league played a part in his decision.

Still, he was grateful to Purefoods management for matching the Pepsi offer sheet. Unlike other players who rest on their laurels once they bag a lucrative long-term deal, the big contract only served to motivate Patrimonio to perform better.

“I wanted to prove to everyone that Purefoods was getting their money’s worth,” he said.

“Everyone was watching me, one wrong move and they would blame me. Ayokong may masabi sila sa akin. [That’s why] I always gave my best.”

At the end of the five-year deal, Patrimonio had won three MVP awards on top of three championships for Purefoods. More than that, no one could say anything bad about him, not with the way he played. He killed himself for a victory every night, and he always left everything on the court.

The P25-million contract, which had seemed so astronomical when Patrimonio first signed it, looked like an absolute bargain by the time the deal ended.

PATRIMONIO SPEAKS in carefully measured words punctuated by long pauses. He is a man given to reflection before talking. It comes as little surprise to those who followed his career, because there was always something cerebral about the way he played the game.

Purefoods plays would usually begin with him camped out in the low block to receive the entry pass. Force him to the middle, and he would drop in a soft baby hook. Overplay him to the baseline, and he’d hit you with a nice little jumper. Double-team him and he’d usually skip a nice little bounce pass to Codiñera at the key for an open 18-foot jumper, or he’d find Rey Evangelista cutting backdoor for an easy reverse layup. Triple-team him, and he might beat you anyway with one of those impossible turnaround, fadeaway jump shots that had become his trademark. Or he could just bully his way to the ring to get fouled.

Patrimonio was a chess player during his teenage years at the Manila Science High School, a public school renowned for its advanced science and math programs. He says that his background as a chess player affected how he approached the game.

Robert Jaworski had a famous quote about how people who didn’t like getting hurt ought to just stick to playing chess. But this particular chess player, more often than not, was the one putting the hurt on his opponents for most of his career. He used his brawn as much as his brains.

Patrimonio developed his toughness early on, playing with his uncles who didn’t mind roughing up the youngster during games.

“They wanted to teach me how to be brave,” he said. His father also took him to play in leagues in Manila where rough, and often dirty, play from opponents were the norm.

“I played against some scary-looking players,” Patrimonio added, “but I got used to all the contact.”

That toughness allowed him to become the league’s iron man, setting the PBA record for most consecutive games played. Patrimonio battled nagging injuries and was battered with constant punishment in the paint every night, but he never took a game off.

“I wanted to live up to the expectations of the management and the fans,” he explained.

There was no tougher game in the Purefoods schedule than the one Patrimonio played on Friday, June 7, 1998, two days after his father Angel succumbed to lung cancer.

Patrimonio describes his father, a former varsity basketball player for Jose Rizal University, as the “guiding light” of his career. When Alvin was still a budding college player, Mang Angel would attend most Mapua practices not just to give support, but to pick up his son. They remained close even as his star grew bigger, and the elder Patrimonio rarely missed his son’s games.

With his heart still bleeding from the loss of his father, Patrimonio suited up for Purefoods’ Sunday night game against San Miguel. He scored 19 points in a rousing come-from-behind victory over the Beermen, and was named best player of the game. He would dedicate his performance to his father in the post-game interview.

Twelve years later, Patrimonio still gets emotional when talking about his decision to play while grieving the death of his father.

“There was nothing I could do, my dad passed away,” he said. “I might as well play, to give him a tribute.”

His eyes started to well up. We decided to move on to the next topic.

TODAY, PATRIMONIO HIMSELF is a doting father to elite athletes. His teenage daughters, Anna Christine and Anna Clarice, are top-ranked Filipino tennis players, and he is a constant presence at the sidelines during their games.

His daughters inherited not just his athletic genes, but also his work ethic and fiery competitiveness.

“They’re perfectionists, they always want their shots to be perfect,” said Patrimonio. “They hate losing, and after a loss, they’ll cry.”

He sees similarities between his basketball career and his daughters’ drive to become tennis stars.

“During game days, I was so focused on the game that nothing could distract me,” he said. “They’re the same way.”

But while he’s no tennis guru, he’s still able to give his daughters advice both as a father and as a sports hero. He pays particular attention that his daughters behave well on the tennis court and not throw tantrums – a difficult adjustment for their competitive natures.

He explains to his daughters that they’re not just tennis players, but role models for people.

“The tennis community and the people who watch tennis look at them, so they have to be careful about their attitude,” he said.

Patrimonio takes the same tack with his daughters as he does with younger PBA players. More than all his accomplishments, he is proudest of his attitude – the way he carried himself throughout his career.

“That’s my legacy,” he said. “I have to pass on that baton to the next generation.”

Jaemark Tordecilla is the managing editor of InterAKTV.

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