NOW that it’s over and done with, LA Tenorio lets in on a not-so little secret.
The Barangay Ginebra point guard admitted he came close to not joining the team in its PBA Philippine Cup bubble campaign after undergoing surgery just four days before the Kings left for Clark.
For a while, the league’s certified ‘Iron Man’ showed his mortal side after having second thoughts of proceeding to the bubble once he was discharged from hospital following laparoscopic appendectomy less than two weeks before the season restart.
At around that time too, his wife Chesca Bugia-Tenorio just gave birth to their first ever daughter.
“To be honest, ito hindi ko masyadong sinasabi, pero I was thinking of not going to the bubble anymore. Naisip ko talaga yun,” said the 36-year-old veteran point guard.
“Kung babalikan ko, parang hindi talaga ako pinapapunta, e. May mga ganung senyales.”
Tenorio already had serious talks about his plan with Barangay Ginebra board of governor Alfrancis Chua and later on, coach Tim Cone.
Chua, also the sports director of the San Miguel Corp. group, was willing to compromise, for Tenorio to miss some of the games inside the bubble, thereby finally breaking his long standing PBA record for the most number of consecutive games played.
The Ginebra official was likewise amenable to managing the playing time of Tenorio to about three or four minutes per game while he tries to get back his timing and rhythm coming off surgery.
“Sabi ko magmi-miss ako ng games, e di i-miss ko na lang yung buo,” he said with a laugh as he recalled his conversation with Chua.
After a long talk, Tenorio was eventually persuaded to come on board, but not before being assured of minutes restriction.
“Sige kung papayag siya (Cone) sa ganun kung hindi ba makakaapekto sa rotation niya or sa plano niya,” he said. “Kasi we need to win. Bottom line is we need to win as many games as possible. Hindi naman puwedeng basta maka-three minutes lang ako para hindi lang masira yung (Iron Man) streak.”
Once Cone agreed to the deal, Tenorio talked to his doctor and explained the pattern and plans of the team for him.
When he was finally cleared to play, the native of Nasugbu, Batangas went straight to Clark four days before the opening. After a two-day self-isolation, he joined the Kings in practice on the eve of their game against the NLEX Road Warriors.
To his surprise, Cone played him extended minutes in Ginebra’s 102-92 win.
“I ended up, first game ko nag-13 minutes agad ako,” a laughing Tenorio said.
Shortly after, Cone already followed what was agreed upon, limiting Tenorio’s playing time to three minutes per game until the Kings’ fifth game against Magnolia, followed by Rain or Shine, where he played 21 and 37 minutes, respectively.
While Ginebra lost both games against the Hotshots (102-92) and Elasto Painters (85-82 in overtime), it was obvious enough Tenorio was getting back his old playing form.
The timing was only right as the playoffs came, with ‘El Tinyente’ feeling his game was peaking.
Once the Kings entered the PBA Finals against TnT Tropang Giga, Tenorio was back in his old, fiery form, orchestrating Ginebra’s battle plan on the court like an esteemed five-star general.
After 73 days and 22 games inside the bubble, Tenorio emerged champion again, winning his first ever All-Filipino championship after 15 years as a pro, while claiming his third PBA Press Corps Finals MVP – and fourth overall – in the last three seasons.
He also kept intact his ‘Iron Man’ record in the league, which now stands at 663 games and counting.
“Kaya pa ngang maglaro kahit bukas,” said Tenorio shortly after Ginebra’s 82-78 title clinching win in Game Five.
Looking back, the veteran playmaker also didn’t fail to mention how his wife actually had a hand too, in convincing him to join and lead Ginebra anew.
“Kilala niya ako kung papaano mag-feed off yung mga teammates ko sa akin even though I don’t play. Basta nandoon lang yung presence ko malaking bagay na sa team yun, Makita lang nila na nandoon ka, na sumuporta ka sa kanila, kumbaga hindi mo sila iniwan,” said Tenorio.
“My wife was also a really big factor kasi naging supportive siya rito all throughout despite of what happened to me (surgery) and despite we have a new born baby girl na alam kong mahihirapan siya kasi may three boys pa kaming nag-aaral online,” he added. “And still sinabi niya sa akin na you have to go.
“The day before ako nag-decide na pupunta (sa bubble),” he added.
It was a decision he never regretted, and will never regret for the rest of his life.