THEY say behind every successful man is a woman. In Calvin Abueva’s case, there were three women.
Lola Siony, for one, was there every step of the way and witnessed how a skinny, hyper-energetic kid who grew up without a father and lived in poverty with his mother, sister, and grandmother in their neighborhood in Balibago in Angeles City tracked an unlikely path to stardom through this one game he became really good at.
“Proud na proud talaga ako sa apo ko,” Purificacion Abueva, 66, told Spin.ph as she recalled the early years of the former San Sebastian Stag who is now the hottest player in the PBA. “Lumaki kasi siya na walang tatay, mahirap lang kami, ngayon nakakatulong na siya sa amin.”
To this day, tears still welled in her eyes when Lola Siony recalled how a young Calvin and her sister Jovelle were raised in a Balibago shanty so small that the only space available, which passed for the living room, was where the family of four did pretty much everything – cook, eat, rest, sleep.
There wasn’t much Calvin could do at home, she recalled, that he spent much of his childhood years roaming the poor neighborhood to play before setting up a goal in front of their shack with a piece of plywood as backboard and the handle of a pail as ring, learning a game that would soon become the family’s ticket out of poverty.
"Noong five (years old) pa lang siya, gumawa 'yan ng paglalaruan niya ng basketball. Ginawa niya ‘yung plywood yung board tapos yung hawakan ng timba ang ring," said Lola Siony, flashing an engaging, toothless smile. "Kaya bata pa lang ‘yang si Calvin gusto na talaga niya mag-basketball.”
At San Sebastian, Abueva earned the moniker ‘The Beast’ largely because of his combination of brute strength, raw talent, and boundless energy rarely seen from a player in college. But Lola Siony was the least bit surprised, saying his grandson was already like that even when he was still a kid.
She allowed the kid to spend all that pent-up energy playing with the neighborhood kids, on two conditions – one, that he won’t get into a fight. And two, if you did end up in one, don’t go home crying to grandma.
“Five years old pa lang s’ya independent na yan,” she said. “Pinapabayaan ko lang naman siya pag gusto niya maglaro. Pero ang kaisa-isa kong bilin sa kanya, wag siyang makikipag-away at ‘wag siyang uuwi ng umiiyak.”
The kid took the advice to heart, even if he was sometimes bullied and ridiculed like most ‘Amboys’ in his neighborhood.
“Kahit noong bata pa siya pag natumba ‘yan di ‘yan umiiyak at babangon siya agad. Kahit may nang-aaway sa kanya ‘di umiiyak. Hindi rin nagsusumbong. Dati nga, kung hindi pa nagsabi sa akin yung mga kaklase niya hindi ko malalaman na tinusok pala siya ng lapis sa ulo,” said Lola Siony, or Mama as Calvin would call her.
But it was not all playtime for the young Calvin. Lola Siony said the kid would also often help man their balut stand in the neighborhood, which for a long time was the family’s only source of income.
“Sinasamahan niya ako magtinda. Minsan sasabihin niya, ‘Sige na, mama, ako na lang dito’,” Lola Siony said. “Nakakatuwa nga kasi kapag siya ang nagtitinda nakakarami ng benta, minsan ubos pa ang paninda ko.”
Lola Siony commutes from Pampanga and back these days with Jovelle and some of Calvin’s longtime friends to watch the Alaska star’s every game, her heart filled with pride each time the coliseum explodes into cheers over her grandson’s exploits.
But it wasn’t always like that, she said. Back when Abueva was playing in barangay leagues in Pampanga, Lola Siony said she had to ride tricyles to watch him play and lend moral support.
“Pag nga siya sinisigawan ng mga tao na ‘squatter’ o kundi naman pag minumura siya, nasasaktan ako,” Lola Siony said. “Sabi ko na lang laro lang naman to ‘wag sana sila mang-insulto.”
Long after Calvin had already made a name for himself in Manila, Lola Siony said the Stags star would still come home to Pampanga during weekends, insisting that her ‘Mama’ should be the one to wash all his uniforms.
“Kahit naglalaro na siya sa Maynila, umuuwi pa rin yan sa Pampanga tapos ako maglalaba ng mga uniform niya. Pwede naman iba na gumawa noon pero ako pa rin ang gusto niya maglaba. Malambing talaga siya,” she said.
Calvin’s elder sister, Jovelle, said the player who would stare down opponents after each two-handed dunk, flex his muscles for the camera after a highlight play, and not back down from any fight is a kid at heart who wants nothing more than to help his family have a better life.
“Hindi siya mayabang, kung ano siya dati hanggang ngayon ganyan pa rin siya,” Jovelle said. “Di naman kasi niya iniisip na sikat siya. Basta ang alam lang niya maglalaro siya ng basketball para makatulong siya sa family.”
From the money Calvin had saved playing in the big leagues in Manila as well as in countless small-time leagues all over the country where he used to be a fixture as a ‘hugot,' the Abuevas were able to buy their own house in Porac, Pampanga and have expanded the property little by little.
“Nakabili na kami ng rent to own na bahay sa Pampanga, napagawa na rin namin ‘yung kusina at kwarto,” said Lola Siony. “Ngayon gusto ko naman makabili siya ng bahay niya at makatayo siya ng sarili niyang negosyo.”