AS former PBA stars face the prospect of being without a job when the next season comes around, facing retirement but standing defiant, Nic Belasco and Atoy Co can only commiserate.
They know the feeling.
"It's one of the hardest things," said Co, a former PBA MVP and one of the stars of the fabled Crispa team. "You'll have sleepless nights, you are uncertain (about your future), you are insecure, you don't know kung mare-renew pa contract mo o may kukuha pa sa iyo.
"Masakit run kasi you've been playing basketball half of your life tapos biglang mababago ang sistema mo," said Co.
Co, a league pioneer, retired in 1988 but remembered the pain of saying goodbye as if it happened only yesterday. Belasco was forced into retirement last season so the pain is still fresh.
"At the start it was very difficult. You're not prepared, you wake up one day and unsure of your future. it was a scary moment," said Belasco, the second pick overall of the 1997 draft.
Co said that more than the change in status from active to retired, the struggle to make ends meet after calling it a career will serve as the biggest hurdle for most of the just retired PBA cagers.
"More than the pain of the withdrawal syndrome sa basketball, masakit dyan yung iisipin mo kung saan mo kukunin ipapakain sa pamilya mo," said Co, now 63.
"Buhay mo na ang basketball, masakit alisin sa isip 'yun na wala ka na sa PBA, wala nang glamour, wala nang ensayo. Pero mas mahirap yung hindi ka makakatulog sa gabi asking yourself, 'How am I going to provide food for my family? How will I send my children to school?' Yun ang naging mahirap sa akin," said Co.
The Crispa great advised today's generation of players to save up early, knowing basketball is not a lifetime profession.
"They should start saving. Kasi biglang darating ang time na magugulat ka na lang wala nang interesadong team sa yo," said the Mapua Cardinals coach. "Kailangan kang mag-save para sa future may bubunutin ka. Hindi mo alam ang bukas."
Co also has an advise to players lucky enough to have long careers in the PBA.
"While you're playing, make the most out of it. Hindi ka pwedeng magpakakampante, the more na nasa team ka na, the more you have to work harder, so you can prolong your PBA years," said Co.
"May iba kasi dyan, pag nakakuha na ng kontrata, papetiks-petiks na. I don't think that's the right attitude. Dapat pag naka-sign up ka, the more you have to be aggressive, you work harder.
"(That way), you last longer, you can save more and earn more."
Belasco said PBA players should, as early as possible, start looking around for other options, using the names they earned playing basketball.
They Said It!
“Lahat ng athletes dumadaan sa ganito. This goes to show the passion that they have playing for the sports. But father time is father time. No one is exempted." - John G. Ceromines
"Basketball is huge here, we have a lot of opportunities here in the Philippines. You just have to look around for new roles that will fit you," said Belasco, an eight-time champion.
Even before retiring, the former national player put up the Belasco Unlimited Skills Academy (BUSA) with best pal and fellow ex-PBA star Ali Peek.
Aside from training young players, Belasco also works as assistant general manager for sports and recreation of AlphaLand City Club in Makati.
The BUSA is a player development program that soon founded a basketball team, the Laguna Warriors, who took part in the maiden season of the FilSports Basketball Association.
Among the players given exposure by BUSA was incoming rookie Ryan Wetherell, who once scored 38 points for Laguna in the FBA's inaugural season a few months ago.
It's always nice to have a fall-back option, said Belaso, knowing retirement is inevitable.
"Father time is undefeated. We can play at that same level against the youngsters, aged 25 or 26 years old. But the next day, we wouldn't be able to walk," he said with a smile.
"The young kids can do it every single day, like we used to."