Rudy Distrito says he's starting to see old Ginebra spirit in present-day Gin Kings
"Nakita ko, nanonood ako, nakikita ko yung situation na kahit natatalo sila, andun pa rin yung mga players," former Ginebra star Rudy Distrito of the present-day Ginebra team. Jham Mariano

NOSTALGIA filled the air when Barangay Ginebra San Miguel decided to go ‘throwback’ and wear the retro 1991 jersey for their match against Meralco last May 28.

Memories of that Robert Jaworski and Jervis Cole-led squad which stormed back from a 3-1 deficit against Shell in the Open Conference Finals came flooding back as the Barangay’s new heroes paid homage to the men which sparked the club’s unmatched popularity in the country.

No one was more nostalgic than Rudy Distrito, the hero of that epic PBA Finals.

Distrito etched his name in Ginebra lore when he received the ball near the baseline, down one with five seconds to go, and drove past Ronnie Magsanoc before taking a bank shot over two Shell defenders to ultimately seal that historic comeback.

Now based in Bacolod, Distrito took a trip down memory lane upon hearing the news that Ginebra was bringing back their old jerseys.

Twenty-six years later, the 'Destroyer' vividly remembers that glorious moment.

“Tsamba na lang talaga yun e. Sinabihan lang ako ni coach na, ‘Rudy, pag hinawakan mo yung bola, iscreenan ka ni Chito (Loyzaga) at iscreenan kita, tapos ipasa ko sayo last second, bahala ka na basta ilusot mo. Kahit hindi na ma-shoot basta ilusot mo,” Distrito told SPIN.PH in a lengthy phone interview.

“Hindi ko talaga akalain na papasok pa 'yun. Talagang puso nalang. Pakiramdam ko, para nalang to sa tao, para sa mga sumu-support sa amin. Hindi ko nga nakita yung ring dahil sa laki nung mga buma-blanka sa 'kin, nakita ko lang yung board.

"Pinabanda ko na lang, pag napektus-an ko to at tumama to sa tama ng board, pasok na to. Puso at motivation nalang talaga ni coach yun. I’m happy na pumasok siya,” he added.

Distrito said that he was actually offered to be in the venue for that ‘retro’ match, but turned it down.

“Dapat manonood ako noon. Madaming sumusuporta sakin na mga kaibigan ko, mga loyal na supporters, na sila pa magbibigay ng ticket para makalipad ako doon. Dapat interviewin din ako sa loob ng court. Kaya lang sabi ko sa kanila, next time na lang siguro kung kailangan na talaga pumunta dun,” he added.

Distrito, who spent two years in prison in the US for voluntary manslaughter, said he is happy to lead a simple and quiet life in his hometown of Bacolod - a stark contrast to his high-flying days in the PBA where he was among its most controversial players.

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The former University of the East guard, now 59, consciously stays away from the spotlight, rarely granting interviews. But he can go on and on when talking about Ginebra.

"Simple nalang yung life ko. I’m happy na ganito nalang ginagawa ko, support nalang sa dating team. Basta support nalang sa sports,” he said. “Sa totoo lang, hindi na ako nagpapa-interview. Pero pagdating sa sports, binibigay ko basta Ginebra.

Playing-coach Robert Jaworski, he said, turned that team into the 'never-say-die' team that endeared itself to millions of basketball fans.

“Si Jaworski at that time, ang iniisip niya, hangga’t di binibigay yung trophy, don’t give up. 'Yan ang sinasabi sa amin parati ni coach. Everytime na nagkaroon ng ganyang situation yung nakakabalik kami, dahil sa motivation niya na kailangan pahirapan natin sila. Hindi pwedeng basta-basta lang ibibigay,” said Distrito.

“Tapos meron pa tayong support, may fans na napakarami, hindi talaga namin sila kaya ipapahiya at binibigyan namin sila ng magandang laban.”

After publicly admonishing his old ballclub three years ago for its lackadaisical effort while on the depths of an eight-season winless spell, Distrito said he now sees – and appreciates – the club’s 180-degree turn not only in terms of success but in its effort as well.

[See Distrito urges Caguioa to act like a true leader]

Distrito said he is now seeing the old Ginebra fire in the present-day Kings.

“Nandiyan na. Nakita ko, nanonood ako, nakikita ko yung situation na kahit natatalo sila, andun pa rin yung mga players. Hindi kagaya nung dati na panahon nung mga nakaraan na parang lousy talaga, nakakainis e, parang ayaw mo na manood, nananalo na, matatalo pa, matatambakan pa. Nakakainis noon,” Distrito said.

“Siyempre dati akong player, hindi naman ako nakakatikim ng tambak na ganyan. Yung sa amin noon, hindi naman kagaya ng sweldo noon at sa dati, nagkakaroon ng mga panahon na hindi kagandahan.”

The resurgence of his old club is one of the things that brings him joy these days, Distrito said.

“Ngayon, nakita ko talagang magaling na. Support na lahat. Andyan na lahat. I’m happy na bumalik na yung never-say-die attitude. Tuloy-tuloy na yan. Yung mga fans andiyan na. Masaya ako. At magaling yung coach nila, talagang napakagaling.” 

Who knows? The current revival may give him one good reason to swing back to Manila and catch his old team in action.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @Bassman500