AS Jimmy Santos quietly enjoyed a foot spa while waiting for his turn to get a haircut on Tuesday afternoon, a barber on the other side of the salon was surprised to hear that the funnyman was once a PBA player.
“Ah talaga?” Jojo Tagasling, who is also Santos’ regular barber, said.
Finally taking his turn on Tagasling's chair to get his greying hair trimmed, Santos was in the mood to recall his days as a professional player - and he swore this was no “kwentong barbero.”
After playing college ball at Jose Rizal University (then Jose Rizal College) for three seasons, Santos suited up for U/Tex in the MICAA (Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association), before making the jump to the PBA in the league’s founding year in 1975.
But his first season in the PBA also turned out to be his last as he got lured into showbusiness.
“Kaya nga maraming gumaling eh dahil nag-resign na ako eh,” Santos quipped, drawing laughter from habitues of the barbershop located along Tomas Morato. “Kasi kundi ako nag-resign, walang gagaling.”
“Pinabayaan ko na sa iba. Noong araw kasi, talagang masasabi mong magaling ka — noong araw ‘yun, eh gumabi na,” he added to more laughs.
Asked to describe his playing style, Santos said he was a wingman who thrived on doing the dirty work on defense and off the boards.
“Defensive (player) ako, may mga rebound,” said the 6-foot-2 former pro, who averaged a measly 2.6 points in 13 games with Seven-Up during the pro league's inaugural season.
Santos has an explanation for that meager scoring output, too.
“Bihira ako mag-shoot, kasi hindi ako makaka-shoot — wala akong bola eh. Paano ako makaka-shoot? Taga kuha lang ako ng bola, defense – yun ang trabaho ko.”
To prove that he was no slouch on defense, the Eat Bulaga! co-host recalled one play when he went up against league icon Manny Paner and San Miguel teammate Dave Regullano.
“Dumating pa nga sa punto na rebound (play), si Regullano at si Paner ng San Miguel, na sa kanila na yung bola, nasa ere, nasa kamay nila, pero kinuha ko pa yung bola eh,” Santos said. “Ganun ako kabilis noon.”
Santos insisted he wasn’t a dirty player - but it turned out he used some 'dirty tricks' from time to time.
“Wala (akong na-injure na player), kasi ako, harmless ako eh,” the veteran comedian said, a smile across his face.
“Yung ginagawa ko kasi noong araw, pag halimbawa guwardiya ako, nagdi-dribble siya at pag lulusot sa akin, mabibitawan niya yung bola, kasi ako, salbahe din ako eh,” he said.
“Pinipindot ko yung bayag. Hindi (ako nahuhuli), syempre itatago mo sa referee yun.”
Asked if there was a chance then that he could’ve revived his playing career after becoming an actor, Santos, tongue in cheek, said he chose not to steal the limelight from players like Robert Jaworski.
“Hindi na nga kasi pag babalik ako, mawawalan ng hanapbuhay yung iba,” Santos said. “Sina Jaworski, hindi magkakaroon ng pangalan yan kung hindi ako nag-retire.
"Ngayon, sila yung tinitingala. Ako naman, tama na 'yung (isang taon).”
Santos was part of the last JRU team that won an NCAA championship in the 1972 season, before winning another championship with U/Tex in the 1973 MICAA Edralin Marcos Cup.
Santos, though, didn’t have a chance to win a championship in the PBA.
“Paano nga ako magcha-champion eh hindi na ako naglalaro?” he said with a chuckle. “Kung naglalaro ako, baka walang tigil ang champion. Kasi pag naglaro ako, champion eh.”
Reduced to playing in exhibitions after cutting his pro career short, Santos, whose form of exercise is limited to walking and stretching nowadays, marveled at how the game has since evolved.
“Nakikita ko ngayon, yung kabataan ngayon, marami ng alam eh,” Santos said. “Kasi nung araw, nakaka-set shot ka pa eh, basic na basic eh. Pero ngayon, hindi na pwede yun, mapapalpal ka na. Kailangan mabilis.”
“Kaya lang, yung mga bata ngayon, kasi may mga nababalitang (game-fixing),” he was quick to add. “Hindi naman dapat ganun. Sayang, propesyon. Pag gagawin mo yung ganun, hindi maganda. Pag ikaw eh…masisira na laro mo. Wala ng kukuha sa’yo. Sira career mo. Dapat pag laro, laro.”
That is one line from the funnyman that present-day players should take seriously.