PUERTO PRINCESA - Jimmy Alapag got some goosebumps as soon as he stepped on the hardcourt to wild cheers from Palaweno basketball fans on Friday afternoon.
A few months after he announced his retirement, Alapag is set to hug the limelight one final time as a PBA player when he makes his swansong in the North vs South All-Star Game on Sunday.
No one is more excited about Alapag's farewell game than NLEX center Asi Taulava, Alapag's longtime teammate and pal who will stand alongside the former Gilas Pilipinas captain when he plays his farewell game.
“Actually, I was one of those who clapped and roared as soon as Jimmy arrived on the court before the Skills Challenge. Seeing him in the flesh makes me all the more excited over our game this Sunday,” said Taulava.
The 42-year-old former MVP has long been waiting for the arrival of Alapag, who flew to Palawan in a different flight when he was joined by wife LJ Moreno and kids Ian Maximus and Keona Skye.
The 37-year-old retired guard also stays in a different hotel.
“Actually, I’ve been praying that Jimmy will make it to Sunday’s game. I have been down with the flu and the reason why I was so diligent taking my meds (medicine) was I don’t want to miss out on the chance to play with him again,” he said.
Taulava can't help but feel emotional, to the point of crying, whenever he is asked about Alapag’s surprise retirement, especially with fans denied a chance to see the longtime teammates play one final game.
Alapag is glad the reunion game will finally happen.
“Asi and I have known each other for so long, we have a special relationship even though we’re no longer teammates. He’s a big supporter of mine since Day One,” Alapag said, adding fans better wait for more ‘Alapag to Taulava’ lines from television anchors during the game.
And with the North side eyeing to spoil his final game, and the official retirement of his jersey at halftime wherein no less than Talk 'N Text big boss Manny V. Pangilinan will take part, Alapag vowed to rally the South side to another victory.
“We’ll go out there and give it our best and like in the past All-Star games, I am sure they’d be competitive,” he said.
“But no expectations, I am ready to go out there and do the best I can,” Alapag said of the game supported by the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation and CoralBay Nickel Corporation.
Can he play 48 minutes, he was asked? Alapag burst into laughter.
“Whatever coach Alex (Compton) wants me to do, I’d be ready. I’m good with (that),” he said. “Looking forward to it, it’s my last All-Stars and my last opportunity to thank the PBA.”