COMING as it did on the eve of the Feast of the Black Nazarene, devotee Ronnie Matias feels his best game in an Air21 Express uniform was providential more than plain good form.
“Talagang pinilit ko na magpakita ng maganda kanina. Kasi fiesta na ng Quiapo,” said Matias after he helped lead Air21 to a stunning 102-100 win over the Talk N’ Text Tropang Texters on Wednesday night in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Air21 new boy, acquired from Rain or Shine in the offseason, had 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go with five rebounds and one block in his breakout game for the Express - just one of the countless blessings he said he has received from the 'Poong Nazareno.'
Matias said his family has been a devotee of the Nazarene for as long as he can remember. Growing up in Tondo, the 6-foot-5 forward recalled how his parents, Romy and Mely, exposed him to the miracles of the age-old image.
“Bata pa lang kami, nagsisimba na kami nun tuwing Sunday sa Quiapo. Isang sakay ng jeep lang 'yun [from] Sobredad, sa Sampaloc,” he said.
The biggest blessing Matias says he has received from the Nazarene was the realization of his childhood dream - to become a PBA player.
“Yun talaga hinihingi ko sa Kanya dati. Ang maging player. Una nga PBL lang hiningi ko sa Kanya eh,” said the 30-year-old dribbler. “Tapos nung nasa PBL na ako, nagdasal ulit ako ng todo. Sabi ko, ‘Sir, baka pwede niyo na pong lubusin. Pag PBA-hin niyo na rin po ako. Kahit saglit lang."
“Ngayon ang pinagdadasal ko … [sana] tumagal naman. (Laughed) Baka nga saglit lang, patay tayo dun!” Matias, one of the resident 'clowns' in the league, added laughing.
To express his gratitude to the Nazarene, Matias said he and wife Jheda have already commissioned a Pampanga sculptor to make for them a six-foot replica of the image which is being paraded around Quiapo and its environs on Thursday.
The image, he said, will be donated to their church in Sobredad in Sampaloc, Manila.
“Nag-order na kami sa Pampanga sa kaibigan ni ma'am Jenny, asawa ni coach Yeng (Guiao). Kasi malaki utang na loob ko sa poon. Kaya gusto ko ng kasing laki ng nasa Quaipo,” said Matias while holding a small image of the Nazarene which has been with him for decades now.
After his breakout game against Talk 'N Text on Wednesday, Matias shared how his teammates likened him to the image of the Black Nazarene inside the dugout.
“Loko yun sila Simon (Atkins). Pagkatapos ng game, nagpapahid sila sa akin ng twalya. Nazareno raw kasi ako. Kasi nga medyo 'tisoy' tayo, di ba? Tall, dark and never mind,” Matias said before bursting into his contagious laughter.
Matias makes it a point to attend the procession whenever he can, but practice with the Express will keep him from joining the masses in Quiapo on Thursday.
“Gusto ko sana pumunta eh. Kaso may practice kami mamaya. Mahigpit ang coaching staff eh, bawal umabsent,” said Matias, who last attended the procession in 2012.