IMAGINE a “Great Wall of Chua” in Japan or in Taiwan.
That would’ve been the sight to see if not for Justin Chua’s loyalty and decision to avoid legal issues.
The NLEX star stalwart revealed on SPIN Zoom In he received feelers from agents working with Japan B.League and Taiwanese league teams early last year after his breakout performance for Phoenix in the PBA bubble in Angeles, Pampanga.
But the 2020 PBA Defensive Player of the Year hesitated to be part of the exodus after seeing Kiefer Ravena in a pickle in his own bid to play in Japan for the Shiga Lakestars while still in a live contract with NLEX.
Justin Chua on overseas offers
“I had offers before with Phoenix…But it wasn’t official. It was nothing official, just fliers,” Chua said. “That was kasabay nung kay Kiefer. Eh ‘di ba ang daming issue nun? Parang ang hirap sumunod din at that time kasi parang you don’t want to be put in that situation din.”
“At the same time, I wanted to repay Phoenix for what they did to me, so I stayed,” he added. “Deep inside kasi, I really wanted one more try with that group eh, parang ang laki ng potential, so sayang.”
After all, Chua had his best PBA season yet, averaging career-highs across the board of 11.6 points, 34.5-percent shooting from deep, 6.6 boards, (league-leading) 1.6 blocks, 1.5 assists, and 27.6 minutes in 17 games.
And with the Ateneo product anchoring the defense and Matthew Wright, Calvin Abueva, and Jason Perkins carrying the offensive load, the Fuel Masters went on a Cinderella run that saw them come just a win away from reaching the finals.
But after leading TNT in the best-of-five semifinals, 2-1, Phoenix lost the next two games to kiss their bubble season goodbye.
It wasn’t long after when key members from that dream Fuel Masters team either got traded or went overseas one after the other, with Abueva and Chua going to Magnolia and NLEX, respectively, and Wright heading to Japan.
Still, Chua was proud to play good enough to receive an informal offer to be a reinforcement overseas.
“Medyo kinilig ako nun kasi after ng bubble yun eh. I think I played well kasi siguro,” the 6-foot-6 slotman said.
But unlike Ravena’s contract mess, Chua then had a recently expired deal that seemingly gave him a chance to negotiate a contract elsewhere. Still, the 10th overall pick in the 2013 Draft – the draft class before the year where the unrestricted free agency rule took effect, knew going abroad wasn’t that simple.
“Medyo gray area kasi yung free agency,” Chua admitted. “‘Di ako umabot sa ganun (unrestricted free agency). Technically, even though my contract was done, I was still under Phoenix or under the PBA.”
But the 33-year-old Chua is not closing his door in the future as his current NLEX contract ends in two years or in December 2024.
“Playing abroad, siguro let’s see after my contract this time around,” he said. “Kung meron pang offer by that time, kasi I’ll be almost 35 na by that time, so kung meron, pwede naman i-explore.” “Kasi isa rin yun sa dream ko eh – ma-experience maging import. So kung may chance, why not, ‘di ba? Pero kung wala, sayang.”