"It was the President's Cup in 2004 and I was with Purefoods," Reggie Butler recalled when I chanced upon him at the inner bowels of the Quicken Loans Arena where we met at halftime of Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
"It was the best. Alvin Patrimonio's last year and they had young guys coming up, James Yap, Paul Artadi and some other dudes with coach (Ryan) Gregorio leading the way. What a great experience," said the 6-foot-8, 260-pound center out of Xavier University.
"I didn't stay long because they change imports a lot, you know, and Purefoods was in a situation where they were trying to win and find the right rhythm," he said of his abbreviated stint.
Still, he harbors no regrets, keeping only a profound appreciation for the opportunity to play in the PBA.
He lived in Makati and dined at some nice eateries in Ortigas. His favorite is beef tapa but the lechon was another level. "It refreshed me after eating that," he says with a joyful laugh.
And no, he didn't have the gumption to try some of the more exotic stuff we have on the menu such as the balut or the chicken feet and chicken head, known more commonly in the streets as adidas and helmet, respectively.
After his Purefoods days were over Butler became well-traveled like a diplomat, playing professionally in Spain, Turkey, China and other parts of the globe where basketball was embraced.
"But I'll never forget my time in the Philippines that's why I'd like to go back someday. Great people, very passionate about the game. A lot of my friends, like Walker Russell, who also played in the PBA, (Presto Ice Cream Makers and Purefoods TJ Hotdogs) have the same wonderful opinion about your country and the Filipinos."
Happily married with two boys, Reggie keeps busy these days giving back to the game and the community through his big man camp where he mentors the country's best high school prospects before they make the leap to the NCAA in college and eventually the NBA. (see www.fullcourtvision.com for more details).
Butler is well aware that a full-blooded Filipino has yet to make it to the NBA. He is confident that it will come to fruition someday, sometime.
"Filipinos are strong mentally and they work hard. Those traits eventually lead to success. They can show the world that they are really good in basketball," Butler said.