CHICAGO - While children his age were playing kids' stuff around the neighborhood, 11-year-old Stephen Padilla was always on the basketball court, sweating profusely under the unceasing heat.
His father, Zosimo, a laborer who preached honest work and tough love, would often restrain Stephen's right hand with a rope so his son can learn to shoot and dribble with his left hand.
Growing up in Duljo, a notoriously rough barangay not far from downtown Cebu City, basketball wasn't just a passion. It was a way of life.
His brother Edwin played with Glen Capacio at Far Eastern University. His cousin Butch Cenabre was a pillar at Mama's Love while the great Willie Generalao, the PBA's 1980 Rookie of the Year, lived in a house directly behind theirs.
With the healthy mix of influence and diligence, Stephen's immense talent eventually allowed him to carve his own path toward basketball success.
He was a high school and college star at the University of the Visayas, the powerhouse that produced Al Solis, Elmer Cabahug and the late Arnie Tuadles. He toiled for the Cebu Gems of the MBA from 1998 to 2002 before being drafted by Alaska in 2003 and then traded to Air 21 in 2007.
Padilla wished his stint in the PBA was longer and he wished his coaches had given him more playing time to showcase his skills. But a man of strong, unbreakable faith, Stephen also believes in kismet or destiny. Whatever it was, was meant to be.
Up until 2010, Stephen was playing professionally with the M. Lhuillier Jewelers in Cebu City. Thanks to nearly three decades of hoops, he had amassed enough cash to build a house in Talisay, Cebu and put some savings away for life's occasional rainy days.
So where is Stephen Padilla these days?
Padilla, now 40, lives in Daytona, Florda. He is married to his longtime sweetheart Jennifer Tan, a looker who can stop rush hour traffic. Both are in the medical field and happily raising their 15-year old twin boys - Steven and Stefano.
"It's a different reality," Padilla told SPIN.ph of life as a regular Joe where work means eight hours a day, forty hours a week.
When he was still a basketball player, Padilla's work day consists of no more than five hours. He didn't have to clock in, the dress code was conveniently casual - shorts with sneakers - and overtime was usually only five minutes, sometimes 10.
His advice to his younger brethren currently in the PBA?
"Save money and invest wisely. No matter how good you are, your playing career will always end somewhere down the road."
Although he can no longer run as fast as he used to, the phenomenon formerly known as the 'Cebuano Cannon' still plays for talay (Bisaya for money) in some rec leagues in and around Florida.
"It's fun and keeps me in shape," he laughs.
Basketball will always be in Stephen Padilla's DNA. But as real life beckons, the game is no longer the center of his universe. It's just a beautiful part of an amazing life.
Author's note: I first met Stephen Padillla in 1993 when I was dispatched by The Freeman to cover the National Inter-Secondary Championships in Baguio City. I've also broadcast some of his collegiate games over at SkyCable TV in Cebu City. Our contact has been sadly reduced into intermittent over the years, but when we spoke on the phone for this piece, we did so with the easy comfort of old friends. Though he is older now and perhaps a little over the calorie cap, "Kabayo" is still quick with his wit and rich with his humor. The more things change, the more they stay the same.