In Huddle

Bobby Parks: basketball’s gentle warrior

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TALK ‘N Text coach Norman Black stood there, his gaze fixed at the lifeless body of former fellow import Bobby Parks in the white casket.

Outside of Bobby’s family, Norman must have been the hardest hit by the death of  the PBA’s seven-time Best Import awardee, although he said he had been prepared for this eventuality.

“Bobby’s health had rapidly declined since January and he had been in and out of the hospital,” said Norman, who had personally recruited the import from Memphis, Tenessee, 24 years ago in 1989.

Norman recalled: “To find out how good he really was, we played two-on-two. I was so impressed I had him sign a contract to play for San Miguel Beer right then and there.”

That year, with the Beermen led by Parks, Norman won his very first PBA championship as a coach, while Parks  clinched his first Best Import award.

* * *

The next season, Norman faced a dilemma. He had to choose between two equally talented imports for the Reinforced Conference. One was Bobby; the other one was himself. Norman would be performing the dual role of player and coach. Norman chose himself.

Bobby was acquired by Shell.

Norman obviously made the right decision. San Miguel went on to win the Reinforced title with him as import, while  Bobby copped his second Best Import award.

“We won the title not really because I was the better import, but because San Miguel had a stronger lineup than Shell,” Norman said. He and Bobby eventually became the best of friends.

* * *

When Bobby returned from the United States about three years ago to join son Ray, who was recruited to play for National University in the UAAP, I bumped into him at the Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan and we had a long chat.

I wanted to know what he was doing. In particular, I wanted to find out his health condition.

Bobby said he and Ray’s mother, Shane, had been separated for years and she is now permanently based in the United States with their daughter. Bobby got custody of Ray.

Bobby said he has remarried since and has a 12-year-old son named Mark, with second wife Jazmine.

After a long battle with throat cancer, the disease was now in remission, he told me. He felt great and could speak well, he said. He also told me that he would work in the sports department of National University.

I don’t remember communicating with him after that, although I was kept abreast of his career moves. He was coaching San Miguel in the Asean Basketball League when cancer caught up with him again.

* * *

“The cancer had metastasized to his lungs, liver and kidneys and the doctors could do nothing anymore at this stage to save his life,” said his wife Jazmine who introduced me to their son Mark when I stopped by Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig to pay my last respects to an exemplary cager.

“He (Mark) wants to be a basketball player just like his father,” Jaz said.

Ray’s mother Shane had also flown in from the United States to attend Bobby’s wake. Ray was barely recovering from the death of his girlfriend over a year ago when the  second tragedy struck.

That Monday night, several sports personalities came to pay homage to an import who was one of a kind in talent, attitude and discipline.

Even Robert “Sonny” Jaworski was there to say goodbye to the import he dubbed “The Gentle Warrior,” whom he had played with, admired and respected.

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