Glorious Balkman comeback for Alab
From heel to hero.
Renaldo Balkman completed this dramatic reversal of roles by sparking San Miguel Alab Pilipinas to the Asean Basketball League (ABL) championship at the expense of Mono Vampire of Thailand last Wednesday at the Sta. Rosa Multi-Purpose Complex in Laguna.
The 33-year-old import from Puerto Rico, whose lifetime ban from the Philippine Basketball Association was lifted only last month, opened and closed the scoring for Alab to finish with 32 points in a 102-92 rout of Mono in the deciding Game 5 of the championship playoffs.
Held to 18 points in Game 4 won by Mono in its home court in Bangkok, 88-83, to tie the series last Monday, the 6-foot-8 Balkman surpassed that output with 21 in just the first half of the rubber match which Alab took at 54-45.
The lead went up to 25 at 81-56 late in the third period behind a seven-point Balkman burst.
Justin Brownlee, who is hoping to give Barangay Ginebra a third straight PBA Governors’ Cup title this season, also shone with 24 points, while Bobby Ray Parks Jr., unstoppable in Game 3 which Alab won, 99-93, when the series shifted to Mono’s Stadium 29, added 13 before fouling out midway in the fourth quarter.
Parks was later named Finals MVP. But there was no doubt Balkman was the man of the hour for Alab, which rewarded Jimmy Alapag the honor of claiming an international title in his rookie stint as head coach. The title was the third for the country since the league started in 2009 and the second for San Miguel, which prevailed in 2013.
Balkman, who set a playoff scoring record 46 points in Alab’s two-game sweep of defending champion Hong Kong Standard Eastern in the semifinals, struck with a putback following successive misses by Brownlee and denied Mono a win at the start of the title playoffs. Balkman’s decisive follow-up sent the game to overtime, 121-all, and with Mono’s 7-foot-5 import Sam Deguara earlier fouling out off Brownlee, Alab coasted to a 143-130 win.
Mono escaped with a 103-100 decision in Game 2 but only after Brownlee, hobbled by a slight hamstring injury that kept him on the bench for most of the last quarter, blew two three-point shots in the dying seconds.
It was Alapag himself who tapped Balkman to join Brownlee as import replacement following a 0-3 tournament start. Balkman, representing Puerto Rico, had played against Alapag during the 2014 Fiba World Cup in Spain and later told the then Gilas Pilipinas guard he would be available if Jimmy decides to coach when he retires.
The stint with Alab also gave Balkman the opportunity to wipe out the black mark in his record as a player. Playing for the then Petron Blaze Boosters in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup, Balkman had erupted in rage against officiating. He refused to be pacified by officials and teammates and even choked Arwind Santos at the height of his rampage.
He was later fined P250,000 on top of the first lifetime ban the PBA imposed.
Although he had apologized for his misdeed, Balkman again asked for forgiveness in his return to the country. This time, former commissioner Chito Salud, incumbent commissioner Willie Marcial and Santos decided to give him a second chance.
With top SMB officials joining Alab during the victory celebration, a return to his old PBA team seems only fitting and timely for Balkman.
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