A WEEK after San Mig Coffee’s thrilling Game Five conquest of the PBA Governors’ Cup for the final piece of its grand slam, ballboy Junjun Rillo still can’t get believe the fame he has earned.
“Medyo nagulat nga din po ako kasi ultimo mga website, mukha ko ang laman,” admitted the 57-year-old Rillo.
For so long unnoticed in the company of some of the league's most popular players like James Yap and Marc Pingris, the former Coca-Cola and Sta. Lucia ballboy bared that up to now fans still recognize him and usually ask for a photo-op.
“Nabago nga buhay ko. Sa tuwing lumalabas ako madami pa rin nakakakilala sa akin,” he said, revealing how relatives and friends tell him that a fake Facebook account has already been created under his name.
“Kahapon, birthday ng anak ko. Bumili ako ng pancit, nagpa-picture mga estudyante. Kanina, bumili ako pang sinigang, may mga nagpa-picture rin sa akin sa palengke,” he said. “Ganun pala sitwasyon ng nakikilala.”
But the veteran ballboy admitted the price of fame was high.
It in fact almost even cost his job with San Mig.
Rillo’s brush with fame came in the second quarter of the tightly-fought Game Five when he jumped into the scene while Marc Pingris was pleading his case to the referees after he was called for a baseline violation.
“Wala eh. Parang nasaniban na ako nun. Gustong-gusto ko kasi talaga na manalo ang team namin,” he said. “Kaya nung nagka-tinginan kami ni Ping, para akong daga na tumakbo sa kanya at sinukat ko yung paa niya sa line.”
The ever approachable team staffer admitted getting back to his senses after a tonque-lashing from San Mig coach Tim Cone. The feeling got worse after he was slapped with a technical foul.
“Sinigawan ako ni coach Tim: ‘Jun, you’re not supposed to be there.’ Nung sumigaw siya nun, nahimasmasan ako. Na-realize ko na mali nga ako,” he said.
“Tapos nung nagpi-freethrow si Jeff Chan nun (for the technical foul), nananalangin ako na huwag ma-shoot,” Rillo said of Chan’s bonus shot that went in.
A native of Pasig City, Rillo said he was a nervous wreck in the homestretch of the winner-take-all encounter especially when Rain or Shine threatened to spoil San Mig’s shot at history by cutting down a commanding 16-point deficit and making a game out of it.
“Takot na takot talaga ako nun, kasi anytime, alam ko babalik ang Rain or Shine. Ilang ulit na kaming tinirahan ni AZ Reid ng ganun (tres),” he recalled.
“Iniisip ko talaga nun, baka matanggal ako. Inisip ko talaga nun pag natalo kami sa overtime or by one point, magre-resign na ko,” Rillo revealed.
He was really bent on resigning from the team that Rillo claimed he already thought of drafting a letter while Game Five was still ongoing at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“Balak ko talaga nun, susulat na ako ng resignation letter. Bago matapos ang laro, kung matatalo kami, iiwan ko na lang sa Araneta 'yung susi ng dugout at mga gamit ng team na hawak ko,” he said.
“Kasi (kung matatalo kami nun) nahihiya ako sa koponan ko at mga fans. Siyempre, kung natalo kami nun by one point, sino may kasalanan? E di ako nga,” he said.
So tense was Rillo during the game that he barely returned to the San Mig bench to do his chores of preparing the ice and towels for the players.
“Nung dumidikit ang Rain or Shine (sa game), natakot na ko na pumasok (sa courtside). Nasa isip ko nun patay ako sa team,” he said.
“Lagi ako sa crucifix (near the players’ entrance of the Big Dome). Dasal ako ng dasal nun. Sabi ko, ‘Lord, inilagay mo kami rito (sa Finals). Huwag mo sanang ipaubayang matalo ang koponan (namin).’ Takot na tako ako nun.
“Dati akong referee sa Saudi. Pero hindi ako nakaramdam ng takot dun. Matapang akong pumipito kahit sino pa sila. Pero nung Game Five, yun ang pinakamatinding takot ko,” said Rillo.
To hear full interview with Rillo, click HERE
Fortunately for him, San Mig superstar James Yap gave him a boost during one of the most tense moments of his life.
“Niyapos ako ni James ng mahigpit nun, kasi nangingig ako. Sabi ni James. ‘Kuya Jun, wag ka mag-alala, ako bahala sa yo.' Kaya medyo nawala kaba ko,” he said.
“Pero talagang magaling ang Diyos. Kami pa rin ang nanalo. Iba talaga pag ang Almighty ang kumilos. Nagkaroon ng excitement (yung game), pero lesson sa akin. Next time, just behave,” he said with a smile.
And his message to the San Mig team and its fans: ‘Ang importante, hindi namin nabigo ang fans. Pakisabi (sa kanilang lahat) sorry. Hindi ko na uulitin.”
And here's the final word on this episode.
PBA technical consultant Perry Martinez told Spin.ph the baseline violation called on Pingris was indeed, a good call by the referee.
“Dun talaga sa sahig nag-landing ang paa ni Ping tapos inatras lang niya 'yung paa niya. Kaya nung sinukat nung ballboy, wala na sa guhit,” said Martinez, who acted as the television coverage team’s technical analyst during the Finals.
Martinez said the review was done right after the incident.
“Na-carried away lang si Manong Jun dun. Pero technical talaga yun,” said Martinez, a former technical head of the PBA. “Basta naka-upo ka sa bench (ng team mo) susceptible ka sa technical. Pag nasa bench ka, may ginawa ka, technical ka dun."