YENG Guiao’s lucky charm on Wednesday night came in the form of a tanned figure standing all of 6-foot-3, half his face covered by the bill of his cap.
The NLEX coach happened to pass by former PBA player Terry Saldana as he was entering the South gate of the Smart Araneta Coliseum an hour before the Road Warriors took on the Alaska Aces in the Commissioner’s Cup.
Now 59, Saldana was waiting for a league personnel to hand him his complimentary tickets outside the big Dome when Guiao went over to him and had a little talk with his former player.
Before he knew it, Saldana was already being invited by his ex-coach to come along with him inside the NLEX dugout.
“Pinakilala ko lang siya sa team. Hindi naman nagsalita, alam mo naman yan puro kaway-kaway lang,” said Guiao of the former Toyota player.
Two hours later, the lowly Road Warriors dealt the Aces a heartbreaking 100-92 loss for their first ever victory in the mid-season tournament after losing their first nine games.
“Ito ang lucky charm ko,” Guiao acknowledged Saldana to SPIN.ph and the Inquirer’s Musong Castillo, a high school teammate of the former national youth player at Letran.
To this day, Saldana remains timid and soft-spoken, far from his on-court personality where he established a reputation as a blue-collar worker on both ends of the floor in 18 seasons in the pro league spent with teams such as Toyota, Gilbey’s Gin/Ginebra, Alaska, Diet Sarsi/Swift, Formula Shell, Gordon’s Gin, and Batang Red Bull.
He played under Guiao with the Swift franchise from 1990 to 1993 and was part of the 1992 team that won for the coach his first PBA championship during the Third Conference.
Saldana also endeared himself to the early members of the original Ginebra team of playing-coach Robert Jaworski, having won titles with the team during his stint from 1983 to 1987, and another one in 1997 when the league’s most popular franchise won the Commissioner’s Cup crown – the last championship it won under the Jaworski era.
Known as the ‘Plastic Man’ for his twisting, hang-time shots, Saldana briefly played for Guiao with Red Bull in 2000 before finally hanging up his sneakers.
He now lives in Canlubang, Laguna.
“Gusto ko lang makita yung mga dating kasama ko,” said Saldana when asked what brought him to the Big Dome to watch the action live.
Some of those who had been in the league long enough were among those who acknowledged Saldana’s presence, even getting a firm handshake from Commissioner Chito Narvasa and Alaska team manager Dickie Bachmann.
According to Saldana, he still wants to pursue his studies at University of Santo Tomas that got stalled last year. He refused to say why he stopped attending school and what he’s been doing for a living now.
He was just happy to see old colleagues from the past on this night.
“Masaya lang ako at nakita ko uli sila,” said Saldana, still a man of few words.