PBA: Three years removed from last crown, June Mar Fajardo savors fresh shot at PH Cup glory
MANILA, Philippines—Standing in front of the Jun Bernardino Trophy he has lifted so many times in the past, June Mar Fajardo spoke of his elation at the chance of once again experiencing the sweet taste of success.
“I miss the feeling of holding that big trophy,” Fajardo said in Filipino before turning his back to have a quick look at the prize handed to the PBA Philippine Cup champion. “I hope I can carry it again soon.”
It’s been three years since Fajardo and the San Miguel Beermen won the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup, their last title to date, a long wait marred by a devastating injury and personal tragedy.
But that didn’t prevent Fajardo from not getting back to the status of arguably the league’s best player, but also exceeding the form he had prior to a shin injury he suffered during one practice in February 2020.
And if he can get the Beermen back to the summit, Fajardo may find that to be the most special among the championships he has won in his storied career.
“What I went through the last three years is no joke,” Fajardo said.
The gruesome leg injury forced Fajardo to miss the whole duration of the 2020 season—eventually delayed and reduced to a single conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His absence coincided with the end of the Beermen’s five-year reign as Philippine Cup champions.
Fajardo made his much-awaited return last season, but had to endure the pain of losing his mother Marites, who died in August 2021. A self-confessed “mama’s boy,” the gentle giant took her death very hard.
His support system, however, enabled Fajardo to get through both challenges, also resulting in a form that may have exceeded his pre-injury level.
“There are a lot of things that happened in the last three years, and I’m very thankful to everyone who was there to help me overcome all those challenges,” he said.
Fajardo also got some help from a roster slightly different from the days of the “Death Five” era, and San Miguel managed to top the eliminations, breeze to the semis and hold off Meralco’s resiliency to arrange a showdown with defending champion TNT for the crown.
The 6-foot-10 center also put himself in strong consideration for the Best Player of the Conference citation after averages of 18.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks going into Game 1 of the title series.
He also pledged to donate money to a charitable institution in honor of mom, raising P171,400 at the end of the semifinals for every basket (P200) and three-point shot (P1,000) made as well as sending San Miguel to the Finals (P100,000).
Now once again “The Kraken” that everyone knows, there’s a perspective Fajardo has realized in his journey.
“It would be special if we win this championship because of the way I was able to get back from injury,” said Fajardo. “But I have to give my best each game and there’s no guarantee when it comes to playing basketball because you’ll eventually get injured. It’s just a matter of when and how.
“Good thing I was able to come back.”