Phoenix Super LPG’s dramatic, emotional week got capped off by news it has been waiting for for months, and the Fuel Masters are going to be chasing PH Cup glory inside the bubble with its most enigmatic star who was kept on a leash for the last 16 months.
Calvin Abueva finally got the green light from the Commissioner’s Office to return to action, ending the longest suspension on a local in league history as the former Rookie of the Year gets a chance to show how reformed he is and give the Fuel Masters a boost as the elimination round heads into its critical stages at Angeles University Foundation powered by Smart 5G.
This was announced on Sunday, the day that the first suspected positive COVID-19 case on a player cropped up and prompted commissioner Willie Marcial to postpone the Rain or Shine-Blackwater game before declaring that the show goes on—depending, of course, on the health situation in the coming days in the confined zone.
The Blackwater player, incidentally, had a negative antigen test on Sunday night.
Phoenix started the PBA reboot with two straight wins, went down two consecutive times after that and then pulled out a come-from-behind win against Magnolia on Friday that made Topex Robinson emotional during the customary winning coach’s interview.
He described Abueva as “his son,” and that they dedicated a 91-84 nipping of the Hotshots to the 6-foot-3 bruiser.
“It’s been a long (wait),” Robinson told reporters in a chance encounter at Quest Hotel as the Fuel Masters shoot for a second straight win on Monday against struggling NLEX, looking to gather steam and make an assault on the pacesetters.
As excited as he is, though, Robinson was quick to point out that Abueva will just be one piece in a machine. Only time will tell how big of a piece he will be for the rest of the conference, considering the time that he sat out.
“There’s also the reminder that Calvin is not the whole team,” Robinson said. “He knows that. Having him doesn’t guarantee us wins, but putting him in the right place will obviously give us a better chance. And that’s what’s important for us right now.
“He’s not Superman who will save the day for us.”
Abueva went through an ordeal no PBA player before him had to endure.
He deliberately tackled TNT import Terrence Jones in last year’s Commissioner’s Cup before mocking league officials with a sarcastic dance on the floor after the violation.
Compounding that was an episode with Ray Parks Jr.’s girlfriend and the league dropped the ax on him with an indefinite suspension that caused him millions in unearned salaries and the mental torture of uncertainty in a pro career that was tagged as an all-time great’s when it started.
“He said he was thankful and was going to do everything to make the most out of the new opportunity,” Marcial told reporters when asked what he and Abueva talked about before he lifted the suspension. That long suspension also cost Phoenix as it struggled to follow up on its impressive Philippine Cup showing where they wound up as the best team after the elimination round, winning nine of its 11 games.
The Fuel Masters compiled a 4-7 record during the Commissioner’s Cup—when Abueva was sanctioned— and then a sorry 3-8 slate in the season-ending Governors’ Cup. They missed the playoffs both times.
“Everybody’s excited that he’s there,” Robinson said. “Though we shouldn’t be overexcited. He could either hurt us or help us.
“I mean, you have to play your cards right, because if you’re going to look at our team right now, we’re OK. So finding the right time to put him in is what will be crucial for us.”
Abueva will remain under close monitoring, according to Marcial. In a statement released on the PBA website, the league’s chief said he has laid down fines and penalties in the event that the temperamental athlete commits misdemeanors anew both on and off the court.
“We’ll just have to keep ourselves grounded,” Robinson said.
The same goes for Abueva, according to the team’s interim coach.
“And as the Commissioner said: Fate is in Calvin’s hands,” Robinson said. INQ
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