We are brothers
The video is only 33 seconds long but has (as of last night) already registered close to 25,659,000 views on the video-sharing site YouTube. It’s a short clip that captures the unique friendship of two men who initially saw each other as competition and how it has evolved.
It starts with Jayjay Helterbrand, fresh off a championship victory with the rest of the Ginebra Gin Kings, signaling to lower the volume of the speakers as if to indicate that something bigger than the dramatic scenes earlier was about to unfold.
And as soon as Mark Caguioa got down on one knee to pop the question to his longtime girlfriend Lauren Hudson at Smart Araneta Coliseum, Helterbrand went nuts as he punched the air in delight.
Helterbrand playfully pushed Caguioa’s head, before letting out a roar as Hudson said “Yes” to Caguioa.
Helterbrand’s reaction may have been over-the-top, but it’s hard to pinpoint anyone who shared Caguioa’s happiness at that moment more than his teammate, backcourt partner and best buddy for more than 15 years.
When the hashtag #friendshipgoals and #bromance were coined, they may have thought about these two guys, who are also the faces of the PBA’s most popular ball club.
“It’s super deep,” Caguioa says of the bond he shares with Helterbrand, who is three years his senior. “I can talk about it for days and most probably, it won’t be enough.”
“A lot of people say he’s my teammate, he’s my best friend,” says Helterbrand. “But he’s more than that. He’s family. He’s like a brother to me.”
From championships to heartbreaking defeats, to MVP awards to monicker changes and, of course, bad hairstyles, no current tandem in the PBA has stood the test of time than the duo they call “The Fast and The Furious.” Helterbrand entered the league as a direct hire in 2000, a year before Caguioa was taken fifth in the draft.
“He didn’t even look like he could play ball,” Helterbrand says of Caguioa. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy with the blonde hair, seashell necklaces and the floral shirt?’ I said, “Man, they picked a surfer guy.”
Caguioa was his usual competitive self the first time he saw Helterbrand. “I’m taking this guy’s spot,” Caguioa said to himself the first time he joined the Gin Kings’ practice.
Their first impressions never really lasted. Sharing rooms in out-of-town games, they became one of the most exciting backcourt duos in the history of the league. Off the court, their bond was strengthened by long hours in the gym, playing video games and shopping for sneakers together.
“We had so many things in common, especially because of our situation (being Filipino-Americans away from their families). It was like we knew each other before. The connection was weird,” Helterbrand says.
The two teammates would spend interminable hours playing video games against each other during their downtime. One only needs to ask what console they’re using to determine how long they’ve been the best of buddies.
“We started out with the old consoles like Dreamcast,” Caguioa says with a laugh. Their current favorite is the war-themed game Black Ops on the X-Box. They battle against each other online up until the wee hours of the morning when there’s no team practice.
“Talking with each other is an everyday thing,” Caguioa says. “Me and him are always in communication whether just to joke around or whatever. We’re just being kids. Our time together, we haven’t changed since the beginning.”
As Caguioa and Helterbrand stood on the podium holding their fifth championship trophy after Game 6 of the title series last Oct. 19, there was a tinge of sadness on their faces.
Just before the season started, Helterbrand announced that it could be his final year in the pros. He turned 40 last week.
“If this was the way it was going to end, you cannot script it any better,” Helterbrand says, referring to Justin Brownlee’s buzzer-beating trey to win the game, 91-88, and the series 4-2 for Ginebra.
The duo had waited eight years for another title. And although their best years were behind them, they found a way to make their mark in the series against the upstart Meralco Bolts. Their opportunity came in Game 4, when the Gin Kings fought back from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the series. That victory tilted the momentum in the Kings’ favor.
No less than the iconic Robert Jaworski acknowledges the contributions of the duo at a time when the Gin Kings’ backs were against the wall. “Those guys had their shining moments,” the Ginebra legend says. “When the older fellows perform, the other guys regain their bearings.”
But more than Tim Cone’s brilliance on the bench, the Kings rallied around their leaders—Caguioa and Helterbrand—to overcome a tough Meralco team which won two of the first three games in the series.
“You wouldn’t be talking to me right now about this championship if it wasn’t for those two guys,” Cone says. “I think it meant everything to them because they are all about the fans, and from the very beginning all they talked about was winning it for the fans.”
Helterbrand became more vocal in practices during the finals because “I didn’t want the guys to regret getting this close and not winning it.”
“We’re so adamant because this is one for the Ginebra fans,” he says.
To say that the duo has etched its niche in the league is an understatement.
“Everytime Jayjay approaches the scorers’ table to sub in, the crowd just goes wild,” says PBA Media Bureau chief Willie Marcial. “After Jaworski, they embodied the never-say-die spirit that the fans loved about Ginebra.”
Marcial says the two players always went out of their way to give back to the fans. “Whatever request the league made, whether it’s mall tours or guestings, they were always willing to help out. I sometimes wish they could play in the league forever,” he says.
While Helterbrand says his retirement plans are on hold after the win, Caguioa can’t help but to publicly issue a plea to his best friend.
“He better not retire, man. That’s what I’m saying,” says Caguioa.
“It’s so awesome to share this [championship] with him,” Helterbrand says. “Me and him we’ve been through so much and we thank this organization for allowing us to stay here. We show our appreciation by giving it all for the organization and the fans.”
The only thing certain for now: Helterbrand will be Caguioa’s best man in his wedding.
“Yeah,” Caguioa says, holding up his drink and looking at Helterbrand as they partied the night away with their teammates the night after their victory.
And so goes another chapter to a friendship that not only endured through the losses but got stronger at each big life-moment shared together.