THEY may not have the charisma and mystique of a Robert Jaworski. Still, all of them share one thing in common with Philippine basketball’s biggest name.
Dondon Hontiveros, Bay Cristobal, Rey Evangelista, and Dylan Ababou at one time or another, wore the same No. 7 jersey that has long been identified with the Big J.
Almost synonymous to Jaworski, the classic red-and-white Ginebra playing uniform of the legendary player who epitomized the dictum 'never say die,’ will be formally retired by Ginebra San Miguel in elaborate rites on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Hontiveros, Evangelista, and Cristobal are some of the PBA players who carried the same jersey number on their backs, while Ababou wore it during his high school days (Sienna College) and in his stint with Smart Gilas-Pilipinas. The young rookie has since shifted to #33 when he suited up for Barangay Ginebra.
Curiously, only one among them – Hontiveros – is a huge Jaworski fan.
“Yes, I wear No. 7…and the Big J is one of the reasons for that,” said the veteran shooting guard from Cebu.
Evangelista considered seven his lucky number, and proudly wore it behind his back while playing for Santo Tomas in college, and later, with Purefoods in the pros.
“No offense to the Big J. He is an icon in Philippine basketball, but not for anything else, [I wore the jersey number because seven is my favorite number talaga,” said the soft-spoken power forward who’s now retired and based in Ormoc.
Cristobal used to put on No. 8 with Far Eastern University and with the men’s national team, but slid down to No. 7 when he turned pro in 1981 as Jimmy Javier already owned the same jersey number with Crispa.
“By the time, retired na rin si `Nano’ (Rudy Soriano) kaya sa akin na pinagamit `yung no. 7 niya,” recalled the shooting guard from Zamboanga who now works as technical head of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Cristobal said `7’ would always be identified with Jaworski, the reason expectations are always high on players who carry the same number in his uniform.
“Buti nga sa akin walang gaanong kantiyaw,” said the former Crispa stalwart who had his own share of personal battles with the Big J inside the court.
“Dati kasi pag sinabing No. 7, alam agad ng tao Jaworski yan. Pero siyempre, privilege na suot mo `yung parehong numero na iniidolo ng mga tao.”
Ababou was still a toddler when Jaworski and Ginebra won the first of several PBA titles in 1986. And while he would have loved to wear his old jersey number now that he’s with the Kings, doing so meant one big shoe to fill in.
“Masyadong mabigat…Jaworski yan,” said the 25-year-old rookie. “Deserving na i-retire talaga (yung jersey number).”