LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao did not only unite a nation during his fight against Timothy Bradley, but also reunited former Barangay Ginebra stalwarts.
One-time Ginebra coach Rino Salazar and former player Peter Aguilar watched Pacquiao’s title rematch against Bradley at the MGM Grand and shared a few minutes together catching up on each other’s lives when they met inside the elegant suite of the boxing champion at the 61st of the Mandalay Bay Hotel.
Salazar is now based in Alaska which has been home to him for 14 years now after retiring from coaching in 2000. He came to town to watch the fight and at the same time visit his two grown-up sons, Jeffrey and Justine, who are both working in Vegas.
Aguilar, meanwhile, travelled to the world’s `Entertainment Capital’ from Chicago to see the match using the tickets allotted for son Japeth, who can’t come over due to his commitment with Ginebra in the ongoing PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
“Nakakatuwa dahil dito pa kami nagkita ni coach (Rino),” said the 6-foot-5 Aguilar, who was signed by Ginebra as a rookie in 1989.
Salazar recalled how Pacquiao used to watch Ginebra play during practices and games back in the mid-90s at a time when the pride of General Santos City was beginning to carve out a name as a young world champion.
“Palagi yan sa venue noon, nanonood ng Ginebra games,” said Salazar, now employed by Alaska Airlines, of the boxing great, who incidentally, later on became a product endorser of the PBA’s most popular ballclub.
Robert Jaworski, the acknowledged father of Ginebra and its known mantra of never-say-die spirit, also watched Pacquiao-Bradley II with longtime friend Reli de Leon.
Salazar would have loved to spend some time with his former teammate and coaching buddy, but they failed to get in touch with each other given the limited days the two had to stay in the `City of Lights.’
“Hindi na kami nagkita ni Sonny,” Salazar said in a text message to Spin.ph while in Seattle en route to Alaska.
His coaching partnership with the Big J produced several memorable PBA championships and laid the foundation for the immense popularity the Ginebra franchise is enjoying up to this day.
“Nagkita kami ni Rey Lazaro (former Tanduay player), and it was him who bumped into Sonny dito sa Vegas,” added Salazar, who won a PBA title with Formula Shell but is best remembered for guiding an eight-seeded Ginebra team to the 1999 All-Filipino semifinals after upsetting top-ranked Talk N Text in the playoffs.