IN all the years Air21 either failed to get past the first hurdle or missed the PBA playoffs entirely, the team’s budget for bonuses has largely remained untouched.
Don’t look now, but with the way the Express have been racking up one big victory after another, team governor Lito Alvarez told Spin.ph that Air 21 owner Bert Lina has given him the go-signal to go all out in giving players the incentives in their dream run.
“All out kami ngayon sa kanila, para mapasaya at mas lalong ma-inspire 'yung mga bata,” said Alvarez, one of the chief architects of the rise of Air21 from a perennial cellar-dweller to a contender in the PBA Commissioner's Cup playoffs.
“'Yung mga budget namin dati sa bonus, bumalik yun sa savings ng company,” he added. “Pero ngayon namin ito nagagamit, kasi maganda ang ipinapakita ng mga players natin. It’s just right to reward them. Sa totoo lang, budget na nga ng third conference ang ginagamit ko ngayon.”
Alvarez, however, was quick to stress that more than financial considerations, it is his players' desire to prove themselves all over again that has carried the Express to within one more victory of a place in the finals opposite Talk 'N Text.
He pointed to players like Asi Taulava, Joseph Yeo, Mac Cardona, and new acquisitions Sean Anthony and Eliud Poligrates who want nothing more than to beat their former ballclubs.
“Sa totoo lang, ang mga players ko ngayon may mga gustong patunayan,” he said. “Mantakin mo karamihan sa kanila galing sa mga malalaking teams. So kung iisipin mong maigi, gusto nilang ipakita na hindi pa sila laos, na kaya nilang talunin 'yung mga dati nilang teams.
“Kita mo sina Joseph at Asi, sila pa namuno sa team against San Miguel. Tapos sina Poligrates at Sean, na-trade sila from Talk 'N Text, pero parehong nagpapakamatay para makarating kami sa finals at makalaban ang Talk 'N Text, ganun din si Asi,” he added.
And as for their chances against San Mig in Game Five, Alvarez was unperturbed.
“Sa totoo lang, before nag start ang conference, sinasabi ko na sa lahat na San Miguel ang pinakamalakas na team. Kumpleto sila sa lahat ng pwesto,” said Alvarez.
“Pero nung tinalo namin yung twice-to-beat nila, sinabi ko talaga sa sarili ko na, ‘Tinalo namin ang San Miguel, kaya naniniwala ako na kaya naming talunin lahat.' eh tingin ko kaya naman talaga,” he said.
Even Talk 'N Text holds no fear for the Air21 boss.
“Tingin ko kaya rin namin 'yun. Kontrapelo kami nun eh,” said the amiable Express official.