Jimmy Alapag finds normalcy in big-time shotBy Francis T.J. Ochoa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—One by one, Talk ‘N Text coach Chot Reyes rattled off the names of his wounded warriors, the ones he said “shouldn’t be here in the first place,” the ones he felt he would be remiss if he didn’t give a shout-out to.
Kelly Williams, broken facial bone. Ali Peek, broken hand. Donnel Harvey, broken nose. Jimmy Alapag, broken heart.
“It’s a culture we’re proud of in this team,” said Alapag, the cat-quick playmaker. “We play with all our hearts and give everything we can no matter what.”
If ever there was a person who needed to remind himself of that culture and clutch on to it tightly, it had to be Alapag. Playing through pain has been part of the warrior code for as long as sports were around. But playing through the distraction of problems you had little control over? It can take its emotional and mental toll on even the toughest competitor.
Still, in the darkness of his last two weeks, it made perfect sense that Alapag would be here: At the top of the key, launching a three-point shot that lit the wick of a dagger run that ultimately led to Talk ‘N Text’s dismissal of Barako Bull’s upset aspirations—a 101-90 victory in Game 5 of their PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinal series.
It made sense that that Alapag would be here: In the middle of his teammates, who extended him every form of congratulatory gesture for his late-game heroics.
“It was a struggle for me the past two weeks,” Alapag said. “But my teammates had my back. It meant a lot to me to get everybody’s support. It’s a blessing for me to be part of this organization.”
Before the semifinals rolled around, Alapag had to leave for the US to attend to his father, who was diagnosed with cancer. And as if that were not enough, a day before the series against Red Bull started, his brother suffered a stroke.
“It was tough,” Alapag said. “There was a lot going on the past two weeks but I didn’t want to use that as an excuse not to show up.”
It was against that backdrop that all that Alapag got into that much discussed tussle with Ronald Tubid in Game 3, where he responded uncharacteristically on two occasions. He was slapped with a technical for each response, the second of which banished him to the showers.
He could have said that he simply lost it. Tubid had been pushing the limits of physical defense the whole game while trying to get into Alapag’s head with a little smack talk. Still, the reigning MVP refused to blame the spunky Tubid for his ejection.
“I should have known better [than to react that way],” he said. “Ronald’s one of the best defenders in the league and that’s how he plays.”
Better yet, Alapag and Tubid patched things up after the final buzzer. The two were part of the last few significant plays in the knockout match. Alapag’s triple gave Talk ‘N Text an eight-point cushion before Tubid breathed life into Barako Bull’s gasping bid with four straight points.
Eventually, Alapag found Ranidel de Ocampo in the deep left corner and the versatile big man knocked in a hope-crushing four-point play off a triple and a foul by Danny Seigle. Tubid later congratulated Alapag as the players shuffled out of the court and just like that, the feud was over.
“We talked after the game,” Alapag said. “Ronald and I have had our run-ins in the past but what happens on the floor stays on the floor.”
Reyes later said that knockout games are decided by the big shots. “It’s a 50-50 proposition and the team that makes the big shots wins,” he explained in the post-game interview. But while it was De Ocampo’s four-point play that sucked the life out of the Energy, Alapag’s shot was equally crucial and maybe even tougher to launch considering the weight on his shoulders.
“Seeing that shot go in and knowing that it helped the team meant a lot to me,” Alapag said, long after the lights had faded at the Araneta Coliseum. “I’m just glad to be able to knock down a big shot for us.”
“And now, here we are, in the Finals,” he added.
Reyes and the rest of the Texters management may send a thank you note to Alapag for stretching the team’s run to five straight championship appearances. But deep inside him, Alapag felt that his heroics were just a means of extending gratitude to his team.
“I love my team. It’s an honor and a blessing for me to be able to step on the court with guys who just want to give everything they have and fight,” he said.
It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? When his world was jolted out of its normalcy, Alapag found respite within his team, in a clutch moment where—all things being normal—he has been often called to deliver.