TWENTY-EIGHT years after and now it has finally come down to this.
Robert Jaworski's multitude of fans are set for one big emotional ride on Sunday when the icon's fabled red-and-white jersey is formally retired before the entire Barangay Ginebra in a colorful ceremony at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The journey that began in 1984 when the Big J hooked up with the Gilbey’s Gin franchise, the predecessor of today’s Barangay Ginebra, officially comes to an end during the hour-long rite as local basketball’s iconic no. 7 jersey is raised to the rafters.
The retirement ceremony comes 15 years after the celebrated player-coach, then 51, last suited up for the franchise in a Game Six loss to Purefoods in the 1997 All-Filipino Conference Finals.
Family members, former teammates and people close to the former Senator will be in attendance as they personally toast the man, player, and coach who epitomized hard work, guts and the `never-say-die’ spirit that became the trademark of the Ginebra team.
Among those expected to pay tribute to the Big J are his son and namesake Robert `Dudut’ Jaworski Jr., brother-in-law Senator Bong Revilla Jr. and longtime bosom buddy and backcourt partner Francis Arnaiz.
Father in-law and former senator Ramon Revilla, with whom the 66-year-old Jaworski made several movies in the past, is reportedly coming over too, along with Jaworski's daughter in-law and champion equestrianne Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski, San Miguel Corp. president and chief operating officer Ramon S. Ang and the Big J’s first-ever PBA coach Dante Silverio.
Of his former players, Vince Hizon, Noli Locsin, and Bal David are those who will be at the Big Dome, and possibly Rudy Distrito, whose game-winning fallaway basket in the epic Game Seven of the First Conference Finals between the Gins and Formula Shell, is forever etched in Ginebra lore.
Commissioner Chito Salud is likewise expected to give a short talk extolling one of the 25 Greatest Players in PBA history. Salud’s late father, the eminent lawyer Rodrigo Salud, was head of Asia’s pioneering pro league at the height of Jaworski and Ginebra’s popularity.
“If all PBA players follow his (Jaworski) example, the PBA will continue to soar to greater heights,” said Sonny Barrios, the former commissioner and longtime league executive who served under the late Col. Mariano Yenko, Atty. Salud, Rey Marquez and the late Emilio `Jun’ Bernardino.
Replica jerseys and Ginebra basketballs will also be given to lucky fans, while serenading the Big J on his special day is Aliw awardee Gerald Santos.
The special retirement ceremony comes before the Governors Cup semifinal game between sister teams Ginebra and Petron, a match the Kings hope to win in honor of their former playing coach.
“Focus sa game, kailangan ipanalo talaga para masaya siya (Jaworski) tsaka ang buong barangay,” said King rookie Dylan Ababou.