As PBA becomes young man’s league, veterans shine in All-Star kickoff
PJ Simon burst into a smile of relief as he watched a challenger’s final shot rim out. Beau Belga also broke out a grin that showed just how close he came to losing his crown.
Rey Guevarra, exhibiting the patience and restraint of a veteran competitor, won with plenty to spare—his final dunk a mere ceremonial display that showcased more style than athleticism.
In a league that is getting younger with every season, the veterans showed up to compete: Guevarra became just the league’s second 5-time dunk champ. Simon ruled the three-point shootout. Belga retained his obstacle challenge crown.
Combined, the three have logged 35 years in the PBA.
“It’s an honor to win something like this at the twilight of my career,” Simon, the Magnolia shooting guard, said in Filipino during a TV interview.
The 38-year-old veteran had only five points going into his last two racks in the final but missed just once from thereon to finish with 17 points.
But NorthPort rookie Robert Bolick gave a spirited chase in his final rack, coming to within a moneyball of the title. But his final shot rimmed out and he settled for 16.
The other finalist, Philip Paniamongan of NLEX, had 14. Combined, Bolick and Paniamongan have spent just a third of the time Simon, a 15-year veteran, has played in the PBA.
“I’m just thankful,” Simon said. “I didn’t expect this.”
Belga, an 11-year veteran, won by a fraction of a second in the obstacle final, beating third-year big man Russell Escoto of Columbian.
Guevarra’s three final foes have a combined five years of experience in the PBA—almost half of the time the ex-Letran star has been in the league—and it showed.
The Phoenix guard exerted just enough to get him into the final round—and still got there on top of the heap with 95 points. He put pressure on top rival Renz Palma of Blackwater by popping a 50 in his first dunk in the final.
Palma, who entered the final tied with Columbian rookie CJ perez at 86 points, responded with a 50 of his own, jumping over two rows of three crouched players each. But his second dunk, an ambitious attempt at a one-hander off a long Belga pass from the stands, flunked several times and he couldn’t get a safety dunk in.
He finished with a 30, leaving Guevarra needing even the simplest of slams to retain his crown.
He sprinkled his final dunk with a little comedic flair, as his Phoenix teammates line up in two rows from underneath the basket to close to the three-point line—leaving people guessing at what the stunt would be. But as Guevarra sprinted toward the basket, the rows parted, allowing the champ to soar for an easy one-hander.
The nine-year veteran won despite nursing a groin injury a week before the dunk contest.
“Usually, I go for one-leg [takeoffs] so I had to think of dunks where I could jump off two legs,” Guevarra said.
And it looks like the dunk contest could just get a little older next year. A TV report said KG Canaleta, the other 5-time champion, told Guevarra before the contest that should he win this edition, the 37-year-old Meralco forward and 14-year league veteran would challenge him next year.
“Maybe he was just joking,” Guevarra told a TV interviewer, before doing a mock call-out: “KG!”