WELL, we’re all 30 years younger today. It was 1990 all over again.
It was a good year in sports.
Pete Sampras became the youngest ever player to win the US Open tennis championship. Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson to win the unified world heavyweight boxing title. Nick Faldo won both the Masters and British Open. Germany beat Argentina, 1-0 for the World Cup of football.
In basketball, the Detroit Pistons were back-to-back NBA champions and Magic Johnson was MVP.
And in the PBA, Paul “Bong” Alvarez made history when he scored 71 points in Alaska Milk’s 169-138 victory over Formula Shell on April 26, 1990.
It was the second highest all-time single-game record by a local player in the PBA next only to the 79 points scored by Allan Caidic on Nov. 21, 1991.
“It was still one of the most memorable games in my life. Hindi ko makakalimutan yun,” said Alvarez, who will turn 52 on June 15, when asked about his greatest game in a colorful PBA career from 1989 to 2005.
“Iba yun basketball ‘nun. Mas mahirap. Saka second year ko pa lang nun. Tapos panalo pa kami (Milkmen) laban sa Shell," added Alvarez, nicknamed “Mr. Excitement" for his high-leaping, gravity-defying acts
Like Samboy “Skywalker” Lim and Vergel “Aerial Voyager” Meneses, Alvarez played the game on a different level.
They belonged to this elite circle of players built to stay up in the air with the ball on their hands, landing briefly to the ground only to re-fuel.
Without doubt, Alvarez was one of the most electrifying players of his time.
Multi-titled coach Turo Valenzona once said that in his prime, there was nothing that Alvarez cannot do on the basketball court -- a twisting, driving move to the basket against a phalanx of defenders, a brilliant and well-timed pass, a quick-handed steal and a gravity-defying slam dunk.
With the ball on his hands, he brought even the most discerning fans to their feet, with smiles on their faces.
He made basketball look as easy as reciting the alphabet.
That’s why Valenzona and the rest of the basketball world are surprised why Alvarez was never included in the list of the PBA’s “25 Greatest Players” and later, “40 Greatest”.
Sure he was honored as one of the “30 Greatest Players” of PBA grandslam champion Alaska Milk during colorful ceremonies at the Bonifacio Global City in 2011.
But in the PBA? His name was nowhere to be found. A basketball blasphemy, if there is one.
“He's really one of the best. Kahit ngayon, iilan lang ang mga players na madami ang kayang gawin kapag hawak ang bola,” explained Valenzona.
Surely, the basketball world is awash with Alvarez stories. Some of them good, some of them bad.
But in a sport where statistics count a lot, Alvarez had enough numbers to validate his claim as one of the greatest PBA players never to be honored by the league.
-- PBA champion (1991 Third Conference)
-- 2x PBA Comeback Player of the Year (1993, 1997).
-- 2x PBA Mr. Quality Minutes (1997).
-- 4x PBA All-Star (1989-1990, 1992, 1996).
-- PBA Mythical 1st Team (1990).
-- PBA Mythical 2nd Team (1989).
Nowadays, Alvarez is doing his best as a father to three lovely daughters. He is also trying to help aspiring players by teaching them in whatever way he can.
And he is serving as one of the selfless frontliners in the fight against COVID-19 by accompanying the Talino at Galing ng Pinoy (TGP) Party List of Rep. Jose “Bong” Teves Jr. in providing support to different barangays in the country.
“TGP is one of the very active party lists and have helped a lot and will help a lot a people,”said Alvarez during a visit to Barangay Bagong Silangan and Barangay Holy Spirit in Quezon City recently.
Now a consultant in the office of Rep. Teves, Alvarez reminds everybody the importance of staying fit and maintaining a good physical condition as a good way to strengthen the immune system against various diseases.
He also regularly joins his fellow basketball legends in playing exhibition matches all over the country and in overseas Filipino communities to make the fans happy.
“Nasa dugo na natin itong basketball. I owe everything to basketball and it's time to pay it forward,” explained Alvarez.
I guess everything will be alright with Alvarez back to provide excitement in people's lives.
It’s what keeping us all young again.
Happy birthday “Mr. Excitement.”
NOTES -- Belated happy birthday to my wife Liza, who celebrated last June 11. There were no celebrations with family and friends at our favorite Gerry’s Grill branch at the Ayala Fairview Terraces or at eat-all-you-can buffet restaurants due to the pandemic, but Liza was surely very happy to spend the time with the family, including our only daughter and three boys...
Happy birthday, too, to my long-time Lyceum of the Philippines University friend and now United States-based Sandra Ona-Tam, who also turned another year beautiful last June 11.
For comments and suggestions, email to firstname.lastname@example.org