IT was a scenario reminiscent of an epic moment 27 years ago, back at the time when Ginebra San Miguel's never-say-die spirit first took roots.
Mark Caguioa left the court after suffering a cut just above his left eye but returned to the playing court and led this new generation of Barangay Ginebra Kings to an inspiring 104-101 win over defending champion Talk `N Text on Sunday night before a crowd of 12,717 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The reigning league MVP topscored with 22 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and was a perfect 7-of-7 from the foul line despite having to leave the game at the 2:21 mark of the first quarter after being hit by an Ali Peek elbow during a rebound play, although it was the protective goggles he was wearing that caused the cut.
After the cut was bandaged inside the Ginebra dugout, Caguioa promptly returned to the court to a standing ovation by the pro-Ginebra crowd with 4:14 to go in the second period and inspired the Kings to the victory.
Caguioa’s heroic stance brought to mind the same legendary act made by former team playing-coach Robert Jaworski in a classic game between Ginebra and guest team Northern Consolidated in 1985.
Jaworski, the charismatic leader of that celebrated Ginebra batch of the '80s, was badly cut in the upper lip after being accidentally elbowed by NCC naturalized player Jeff Moore.
But after receiving 16 stiches in the hospital, the Big J returned to the ULTRA, put himself back into the game, and led his team to victory – giving birth to what later became known as Ginebra’s `never-say-die’ attitude.
Asked if he’s familiar with the feel-good story, Caguioa admitted he isn’t, as he was only five years old at the time. He was also quick to play down the comparisons.
“Yung sa akin naman kasi hindi naman mahaba (yung cut). Usually naman, pag mahaba yung cut, stitch nila para tumigil yung dugo. Ito naman biglang tumigil kaya tinakpan na lang,” he said.
But he did speak like Jaworski when reminded about the striking parallels.
“Mahirap maglaro ng pa-ganun-ganun lang,” said the 32-year-old shooting guard. “You got this crowd behind you, kahit talunan yung record mo, kahit hindi maganda nandiyan pa rin sila.
“Siyempre para sa mga tao yan. Give everything you got. Kahit may sugat ka kung kaya mo naman, hindi naman mahirap 'yun, e.”