If NBA legend Michael Jordan played his best games against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Paul Lee admitted games against childhood team Barangay Ginebra bring out the best in him.
That has been the case since his memorable PBA debut on October 2, 2011, when the then rookie fresh out of University of the East scored 10 points and had two assists in the first quarter alone to lead Rain or Shine back into the game after a fast 11-2 start by Ginebra.
Lee went on to finish with 21 points, eight rebounds, and five assists in a debut game he capped with the marginal free throws that led the Elasto Painters to a 94-93 win.
Asked why he is always seems to enjoy playing against Ginebra, Lee’s response was simple.
“Favorite team ko kasi yan nung bata ako eh,” said Lee, hours before a top-seeded and twice-to-beat Rain or Shine takes to the floor against Ginebra in the PBA Commissioner's Cup playoffs in do-or-die Saturday.
“Talagang lahat ng mga best games, kadalasan against Ginebra. Siguro nakikita ko lagi 'yung dami ng tao, parang nakakatuwa na kasi favorite kong team tapos nakakalaro ko. Dati pinapanood ko lang, ngayon nakakalaro ko sila,” added the ‘Angas ng Tondo.'
Lee bared how growing up he only watched PBA games involving his beloved Ginebra team, adding he was so enamored with the team he used to buy fake Ginebra jerseys in the neighborhood market in Tondo.
“Nung time na nanonood ako (ng PBA), parang wala akong pakialam sa ibang team, sila (Ginebra) lang gusto ko panoorin noon. Kaya alam ko rin 'yung feeling ng mga fans nila ngayon,” said Lee, who grew up idolizing Ginebra greats Robert Jaworski, Noli Locsin, Bal David, Jayjay Helterbrand and Mark Caguioa.
Asked how he feels whenever Ginebra fans would jeer him now that he's playing for an opposing team, the Gilas Pilipinas mainstay said he can very much relate.
“Sanay na ako dun. Kasi 'nung ako fan ng Ginebra, ganun rin ako sa mga players na maganda ang nilalaro sa ibang team,” he said, recalling his hatred for some Alaska stars in the mid 90’s.
“Dati ganyan rin ako kila Johnny A (Abarrientos), Jojo (Lastimosa). Inis na inis ako dati sa mga yun pagka kalaban sila ng Ginebra. Kasi sila 'yung laging nakaka-shoot at pumapatay sa team namin. Siguro mga seven o eight years old ako nun,” he recalled laughing.
No wonder Lee believes that the fans' hatred against him somehow translates into respect after each game.
“'Yung mga fans naman galit sa iyo 'yan at mumurahin ka during the game. Sabi ko nga, ganun rin ako nun. Siguro sila Johnny A, katakot-takot na mura din inabot sa akin nung mga 'yun noong araw,” he said.
“Pero kasunod nun, mas tumataas ang respeto ko sa kanila bilang basketball players kasi ang husay nila. Siguro kung may mga galit sa akin sa game, alam ko naman na may kasunod na respeto sila sa laro na ibinibigay ko kada game,” he said.
“Nakaka-appreciate naman ang fans eh, basta walang foul sa gagawin mo, maiintindihan nila 'yun,” he said.
And how does it feel each time he beats Ginebra?
“Syempre, trabaho lang natin ito eh. Siguro nga, isa na ako sa mga Johnny A at Jolas ngayon ng mga Ginebra fans. Pero wala eh. Obligasyon ko rin kasi na tulungan ang team ko ngayon,” he said.