By Gabby Alvarado
BY his own admission, Long David rarely watches basketball games now.
However, he looked as excited as a kid on a Christmas morning when he learned that the PBA for the first time ever was headed to his hometown - not just for one game but maybe for an entire tournament.
Long hopes to be there to welcome the PBA family, after all he was once a part of it, if only coronavirus lockdown rules would allow it.
"First time ito kaya malaking karangalan ito sa Bacolor," says Long, a hard-working big man during his time as a PBA player from the late 1990s.
"Actually hindi ko alam kung puwedeng manood pero kung puwede siyempre manonood tayo dahil tagaroon tayo. Saka bilang suporta din at proud tayo.
"Naisip ko nga may nagawa ding maganda itong pandemic, hindi lang puro negative. Kasi kung hindi naging pandemic, hindi gagawin ang PBA sa Bacolor, di ba?"
Long is one of two players from Bacolor, Pampanga, who realized what was then every kid's ultimate basketball fantasy: to play in the PBA. The other is Richard Bognot, who was signed by Formula Shell in 1990. Both of them were first-round draft picks and they stayed long enough to make a living out of basketball. On top of that, they were part of champion teams too.
Now 47, lean and looking not much different from the player he was, Long owes his life of comfort to basketball. So it's surprising to hear that he doesn't follow the games regularly anymore.
"The truth is, hindi na rin ako nanonood ng basketball. Kahit ang misis ko alam yan," he reveals animatedly.
"Dahil naiinggit ako," he blurts out, laughing. "Kasi pag nakikita ko sila parang gusto ko pang maglaro. Pero wala na, lipas na ang time natin."
His time may have passed, but Long does not look like a man who has any regrets. He was that kind of player who managed to squeeze every bit of talent and energy from his 6-foot-5, 220-pound body.
He was not a superstar nor was he spectacular, but Long had a career that most players would die for, the highs far outstripping the lows. And he was a winner.
Consider the highlights: seven seasons in the PBA, including championships with Sta. Lucia Realty in 2001 and Talk 'N Text in 2003; a championship with the Pampanga Dragons in the inaugural season of the Metropolitan Basketball Association, where Long got his mojo back after spending his PBA rookie year mostly on the bench at Sta. Lucia behind Jun Limpot and Dennis Espino; a championship with Burger Machine under coach Perry Ronquillo in the PBL; and back-to-back UAAP titles with the Far Eastern University Tamaraws in 1991 and 1992, where Johnny Abarrientos and Victor Pablo were among his teammates.
And that's not all: Southeast Asian Games gold medals with Philippine teams under coach Tembong Melencio (1993) and Joe Lipa (1995) and stints in the ABC Youth (1992) and Men's Championships (1994).
Not bad for someone who took up basketball at a later age than most players that a career as a professional seemed a longshot, if not implausible.
It all began at St. Mary's Academy, where Long, the son of a tricycle driver, was a working student from his freshman year until his high school graduation. Among his tasks was cleaning up after the chaos wrought in the classroom by restless preschoolers.
"Alam mo naman mayaman tayo nung araw," he jokes as he recalls his youth. "Mahirap ang kalagayan natin, hindi natin ipinagkakaila yun. Naranasan natin ang mga ganung experiences … sampu lang naman kaming magkakapatid."
For his school allowance, Long would sometimes take over his tired father and drive the tricycle after school. "Minsan ang sakay ko classmate ko pa," he says.
Between hitting the books and working, there was little time for basketball. And it wasn't until he was a sophomore that Long tried the sport, encouraged by classmates who saw his size as an asset waiting to be tapped.
"Nakikita ko yung mga kaklase kong maglaro, 'ang gagaling nito kako.' Niyaya lang nila ako," he recalls.
An agreeable person, Long did not want to disappoint his classmates.
So on the school's outdoor court that sometimes turns into a lake during the rainy season, Long, wearing Chuck Taylors, had his first taste of basketball and experienced an epiphany: he liked the game.
"Late na talaga akong nag-start pero sa sports walang late," Long says. "Basta nagpupursige ka, ilagay mo sa puso mo, gusto mong mag-prosper, walang late … although siguro suwerte-suwerte din, para sa akin siguro yon."
Luck certainly played a part in his first basketball contract after college. The Crispa White Cement team in the PBL, coached by Bogs Adornado, had their eye on an FEU player so they scheduled a practice/tryout in the campus. Only nine players showed up after rains and flooding held up the others. So they asked Long to fill in. Crispa ended up taking Long ahead of the player they were initially recruiting. They paid him P12,000 a month. By the time he left the PBL for the PBA years later, Long was earning more than any player in the league.
Thanks to his earnings from basketball, Long is set for life. Together with friends, he is now a contractor for construction projects. He also rents out a home for expats in Pampanga while his wife, Maggie, runs her own business.
"May konting naipundar saka business ni misis," he says. "Disenteng buhay para sa mga bata."
He still enjoys recalling those days when he shared the court, as teammate or opponent, of the top players of his generation: Abarrientos, Limpot, Marlou Aquino, Kenneth Duremdes and the post-PBA version of Ato Agustin, among others.
But the thing that Long and Maggie are now proudest of are the academic achievements of their sons.
Their eldest, Fraser Dominic, graduated cum laude at the Angeles University Foundation with a degree in civil engineering. Their second son, Daniel Angelo, came closest to following in his dad's footsteps. He was co-captain of the Ateneo Blue Eaglets that had featured Kai Sotto. He graduated with honors but spurned offers of college basketball scholarships to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot. Another son, Fritz Darryl, is among the top achievers in his batch at Holy Angel University.
Then there's six-year-old Drake Alton. Long considers him a "bonus." He just might be the next basketball player from the family.
For the David family, however, good education is a priority. After all, didn't Long go through all the hassle of mopping floors and driving a tricycle after school hours to get a diploma?
"Sanay tayo sa hirap kaya dapat madiskarte tayo," he says. "Okay naman ang kalagayan namin. Malaki ang pasalamat ko sa Diyos talaga. Sa mga experience na binigay Niya sa akin talagang matututo ka."
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