FOR close to three decades, he was one of the most recognizable and respected figures on the Alaska bench. Never mind if he's neither a player nor a member of the coaching staff.
Now Tom Urbano is finally calling it a career.
Urbano has finally retired after 27 years of loyal service to the Alaska organization as a team referee, in-house statistician and do-it-all support staff, ending perhaps the longest tenure by one man - either player, coach, or personnel - with one ballclub in PBA history.
“Retired na ngayon, talagang final na yan,” said Kuya Tom, 73, when Spin.ph talked to him while he was on a short vacation with his wife in Plaridel, Bulacan. “Naiiyak ako, kasi ayokong iwan `yung mga tao na masyadong naging malapit sa akin.”
Parting is understandably not easy for Urbano, a former Mapua Cardinal who after a brief stint as a basketball instructor at the Christ the King International School in Okinawa, Japan, and seven years as an international referee for the Basketball Association of the Philippines joined the Uytengsu franchise from its very first year in the pro league in 1986.
During all those years, he was a constant presence in practice officiating games with a vision that remained 20/20 to this day - and a fixture on the Alaska bench during games with his rabbit ears and an ever-present clipboard.
In between, he took care of the nitty-gritty behind the scenes for what he considered his second family.
No wonder he will be sorely missed.
“It’s hard to see him retire ... malaking kawalan siya,” said Alaska sports manager CK Kanapi, who had nothing but praises for Urbano's work ethic and professionalism.
“Pag- inutusan siya alam niya ang gagawin at nagagawa niya on time, even at his age now,” added Kanapi. “His body maybe old, but his mind is very young. Alam niya `yung routine niya everyday. Hindi siya ulyanin.”
The Alaska executive is also amazed by how durable Urbano is.
“Grabe, he is durable. Hindi nagkakasakit 'yan. There was time na nahirapan siyang huminga sa isang out-of-town game. Pero hindi illness yun, na-empacho. Nasobrahan sa kain.”
She added: "At talo ka sa palinawan ng mata nyan - 20/20 vision yan. At 'yung handwriting niya, sobrang ganda pa rin. Walang nginig. Sulat teenager.”
Urbano said the biggest satisfaction he derived from his long service to the Alaska organization was the respect he earned, both from the people in the ballclub and others he met along the way.
“Ang haba ng basketball career ko, pero `yun ang maipagmamalaking yaman ko,” said Urbano proudly. “Kahit siguro tanungin ulit ako ng Diyos kung ano ang gusto kong maging career sa susunod na buhay ko, ito pa rin ang pipiliin ko.”
He added: “Iba ang pakiramdam nung nire-respeto ka at tinatanaw ng may dignidad ng mga may-ari ng teams, mga coaches, at mga hinihiyawan at iniidolo ng mga fans. Yun ang hindi pwedeng bayaran ng pera.”
In retirement, Urbano plans to put up a fish pond in his hometown of Daet, Camarines Norte, but he won't be leaving the Aces entirely. Alaska officials want it that way.
"Hindi siya totally mawawala; he’s still with us," Kanapi said. "Magre-retire lang siya, pero he will still be joining us.”