WHAT do Chris Tiu, Ryan Arana, Paul Lee, and Beau Belga have in common, aside from being teammates at Rain or Shine?
They all cheered for Ginebra growing up.
The Elasto Painters' rugged guard Arana, in fact, bared how he would watch videos of the memorable games of Robert Jaworski's teams, and later trying to emulate their moves as a kid learning the game in a street court in Project 6, Quezon City.
“Idol ko talaga si Big J noong araw pa. Madalas kasing ikuwento ng tatay ko yung mga parang fairytale na panalo nila nuong araw… kaya nai-inspire ako,” said Arana, who father Tessie is a big fan of Jaworski and former Toyota teammate Mon Fernandez.
“Kaya nga nung natabunan kami ng 1-3 sa series namin ng San Mig, talagang naisip ko 'yung kinukuwento lagi ng papa ko - 'yung 1991 Ginebra team,” he added.
Ginebra stands out as the only team in the pro league's 39 years to win a championship series from 1-3 down, pulling off the feat against Shell in the 1991 First Conference Finals behind Rudy Distrito's fallaway jumper in the dying seconds of Game Seven.
“Kaya imbes na malungkot ako at ma-frustrate (after going down 1-3), talagang sinabi ko sa sarili ko na ito ang pinakamagandang pagkakataon para matikman ko rin kung gaano naging immortal sina Rudy Dsitrito at 'yung team na yun," Arana said.
Like Arana, Tiu as a kid was enamored with Ginebra's never-say-die attitude.
“I enjoyed watching them. Iba ang energy ng laro eh. Saka 'yung never-say-die spirit nila. Yun ang nagustuhan ko,” said Tiu, who incidentally idolized Johnny Abarrientos and Olsen Racela.
And how would he compare Rain or Shine to the old Ginebra?
“That’s what I like about this team. It has character. The players are very resilient. They never quit till the end, whatever happens," said the Rain or Shine sophomore guard.
Another popular Rain or Shine forward, Belga, said the Painters and the 1991 Ginebra team have striking similarities in terms of personnel.
“Scrappy kasi yung team namin. Parang yung team ni Jawo noong araw, walang sikat. Pantay-pantay. Hindi mo alam kung sino ang puputok ngayon at sa next game,” said Belga, a big Marlou Aquino fan.
“Saka alam naman nating lahat - dehado kami. Mahilig ang Pilipino sa mga dehado eh. Dun naman una simikat ang Ginebra, di ba? Kumbaga ito ang team ng mga dehadista,” quipped the pride of Gubat, Sorsogon.
The wide-bodied Gilas Pilipinas forward also takes pride in the Painters' ‘team first before self’ attitude, pointing out that no one among their players made the Top 20 in the statistical race of the tournament. Jervy Cruz was the highest-ranked Painter at No. 29.
“Ganun talaga kami dito… pantay-pantay,” Belga said.
Paul Lee has long been known to be a Ginebra fantard as a kid, the reason the former Rookie of the Year awardee loves playing against the Gin Kings and before big crowds like in the current finals.
“Iba kasi ang pakiramdam ng madaming tao. 'Yan gustong gusto ko nung bata ako kapag nanonood sa Ginebra. Andaming tao. Parang gladiator fight,” said Lee with a laugh.
“Mas nakaka-inspire kasing lumaro. Tapos madidinig mo sigawan nila, nakakapanindig balahibo … mas nakakagana,” added Lee, one of Rain or Shine’s most consistent players in the ongoing Philippine Cup finals with an average of 14.40 points, 3 rebounds, 1.40 assists and 1.20 steals in the first five games.
In this conference alone, Rain or Shine has tallied a number of come-from-behind wins reminiscent of the Jaworski-Ginebra victories of the 80s, including JR Quinahan's buzzer-beating three-point shot against the Meralco Bolts and Lee’s last-second ‘nakaw shot’ in Game One of the finals.
So can they do a Ginebra against San Mig in the finals?
“Siguro kaya naman, andito na kami eh. Kaya pipilitan naming i-level na ang series sa Miyerkules,” said Belga.
Tiu, for his part, said a Game Six victory will certainly pile pressure on San Mig.
“If we can win that one (Game Six), that will turn the table,” he said.