THE import that steered Ginebra to its last PBA championship has retired from playing international basketball.
Chris Alexander, the nimble seven-footer who led the Gin Kings' run to the title in the 2007-2008 Fiesta Conference, said he was forced to quit basketball at the age of 35 after being diagnosed with a rare illness last April.
“April 22nd of this year I went to the emergency room because I was having severe pain in my chest. They diagnosed me with a rare medical illness,” said Alexander in a short chat with Spin.ph.
“Sarcoidosis, it's a non-contagious illness that can attack every organ in the human body. It also attacks your skin... It attacks your respiratory system and it also makes you very tired and fatigued. So the doctor said that I am no longer able to play basketball anymore,” he added.
Sarcoidosis, according to the website of the Mayo Clinic, is the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells in different parts of the body - most commonly the lungs, lymph nodes, eyes and skin.
Alexander bared that he considers playing for Ginebra one of the highlights of his basketball career, so much so that he still keeps to this day his playing jersey from that 2008 title campaign.
“Still to this day I have a burning passion for Ginebra and I always will. All of my basketball jerseys I lose but I never lost my basketball jerseys from the team,” he said.
“Throughout all of the years of me playing and all the locations that I played, I believe that the Philippines is not only the best league I played in but I also believe it's the best country.
“It is just amazing and for that reason I will always consider the Philippines my second home,” added the former Iowa State big man, who also had stints in the Korean Basketball League and in Lebanon.
To this day, Alexander said he still remembers how he felt during his debut with Ginebra as well as the pivotal Game Seven of the 2008 finals against an Air21 Express side led by Ranidel de Ocampo, Gary David and Arwind Santos.
“I still remember my very first game there against Purefoods. Everyone spoke to me about how passionate the fans and how good the team is and I was nervous," he said.
"I remember I had a toothpick in my mouth and I came out of the locker room to prepare to warm up and I almost swallowed my toothpick because I cannot believe that there were so many fans in the stadium rooting for this team.”
After his 2008 stint with Ginebra, Alexander never got the chance to return to Ginebra until 2011 when the pro league brought back the unlimited height format for imports.
But after leading Ginebra to two victories in three outings, management decided to replace Alexander with NBA veteran Jackson Vroman - a decision the American player said hurt him deeply.
“I remember that sad day as if it was just yesterday, it cut my heart and pierced it with knives because I have been dying and dreaming about returning there (Ginebra) for many many years," Alexander said.
"It took a toll on me mentally and it took me a little time to recover from that emotional moment,” he said.
Though he has retired, Alexander said he is still looking forward to returning to the team he has come to love in another capacity.
“Still to this day, I dream about returning to Ginebra as a coach, as a big man coach and show people, other players how to become a true big man that is effective and beneficial to the team."
Alexander is now busy managing his health food restaurant, which he said will soon have a cross-training studio, in his hometown in St. Louis in Missouri. The 35 year old said he plans to open a branch in the Philippines.
Asked about his time with Ginebra's last champion team, Alexander said he is hoping and praying to see the popular ballclub get another title.
From the 15 players in the roster of the 2008 Fiesta conference champion team, only Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand are left in the team.
“(I am) both sad and happy because I (am still) the last import to do that for them. However, I know that Mark and JJ may never play (the same) again and I wish that they are able to get one more championship together,” he said.
“I know that all the 'never say die' fans are dying for that championship. I often check up with the team there and I also try to pull and root for them to win another championship,” he said.