UNKNOWN to many, there is a deep bond between Alaska veteran Dondon Hontiveros and reigning league MVP June Mar Fajardo that goes beyond their common roots.
On the eve of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals where the two Cebuano stars will find themselves on opposite camps, Hontiveros and Fajardo shared moving stories of how their friendship - which was more like mentor-student - was forged during the early years of Fajardo's career.
The San Miguel Beer big man told Spin.ph that during the time when he was still starting out with the University of Cebu Webmasters, Hontiveros, incidentally also a former UC star, would often drop by to extend him favors and try to persuade him to take his act to Manila.
"Lagi niya akong sinabihan nun na, bakit daw di ako magpunta sa Manila. Kaso nahihiya ako nun. Saka natatakot ako kasi wala naman ako relatives dito (sa Maynila)," said the 6-10 third-year slotman.
The soft-spoken pride of Pinamungajan, Cebu also bared how Hontiveros would often visit him at UC when he is in town, bringing him shoes including hand-me-downs from his then SMB teammate Danny Seigle.
"Lagi niya ko binibigyan ng sapatos nun. Galing sa Nike saka kay Danny Seigle. Natutuwa nga ako," said the reigning PBA MVP, adding Hontiveros was the first Filipino player he ever admired and idolized.
"Kasi dati mga alumni ng UC nagbibigay sa akin. Sobrang touched ako 'nun sa kanya. Kasi PBA superstar tapos ako pa ang binibigyan niya ng pabor," he added.
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For his part, Hontiveros said he took a liking for Fajardo because of the humility of the youngster.
"Nakita ko kasi mabait si June Mar. Humble saka napakabait," Hontiveros said. "Saka nakita ko talaga nun na may potential siya. Ang laki niya saka maganda ang galaw."
Fajardo's mother, Maritess, attested to the bond between the two.
"Oo, lagi silang nagkikita nun. Ang alam ko nga may mga binibigay na sapatos si Dondon kay Dong (Fajardo)," said the elder Fajardo.
"Mahiyain masyado yung anak ko na 'yun kaya nga natuwa ako kasi mas naging interesado siya 'nun na tuparin pangarap niya, dahil na rin siguro sa mga payo ni Dondon at ng mga kaibigan niya," she said while mentioning Fajardo's mentor at UC, former Alaska star gunner Rhoel Gomez.
Hontiveros, who is from Guadalupe, Cebu, bared it was after one of the small leagues he helped organized in Cebu where Fajardo was finally convinced to bring his act to Manila.
"Yung isang liga 'run na ginawa namin, charity game yun eh, marami ng nakakitang scouts sa kanya," Hontiveros, who remains in constant touch with Fajardo to this day, said.
"Nakakatuwa nga eh. Kasi that time, kilala na si Greg Slaughter (then with University of Visayas). Kaya lagi ko sinasabi sa mga kakilala ko, 'Abangan niyo, may isa pa 'kong kilala. June Mar pangalan niya.'
"Hindi naman ako nabigo kasi pinatunayan nga niya."
The rest, as they say, is history.