THE memory of close friend Gilbert Bulawan remained etch in the heart of veteran Reynel Hugnatan, so much so that it was his late teammate who quickly came to mind the moment Meralco booked an unlikely first ever trip to the PBA Finals.
As the final buzzer sounded after the Bolts' 94-88 win over TNT Katropa to wrap up their Governors Cup semifinals series, 3-1, Hugnatan pumped hia chest hard and then pointed his index finger upwards.
"This is for Gilbert," the battle-scarred power forward roared for everyone to hear, before giving import Allen Durham a tight, warm embrace.
Bulawan was the young Blackwater big man who passed away three months ago after collapsing in one of the Elite's practice sessions prior to the season-ending meet.
The energetic power forward was acquired by the Bolts in a trade with the Alaska Aces, who drafted him 17th overall, in 2011, or at about the same time Hugnatan came over to Meralco.
They immediately hit it off as Bolts teammates, with Hugnatan serving as guide to the former San Sebastian stalwart who was then playing in his rookie season.
"Parang kapatid na ang turing ko sa kanya," Hugnatan related to SPIN.ph.
The two's friendship remained strong even after Bulawan was traded to Barako Bull in 2013, and later to Blackwater.
The deep bond forged between the two left Hugnatan devastated over the death of his close buddy. As a tribute to him, he had Bulawan's initials GB and jersey No. 11 written across the back of his playing sneakers.
Just a few nights ago, he raised the ante by dedicating the team's finals breakthrough to his fallen comrade.
Now he wants more.
"Masaya na lahat ng pinag-hirapan namin eto at nagbubunga na," he noted.
"Hopefully, makapag-champion naman," added Hugnatan, who's one of only two long-time players of Meralco along with Cliff Hodge, that managed to still play under original coach Ryan Gregorio.
Hugnatan previously won championships with Coca-Cola and Alaska. Now he's aiming to win another for Meralco and of course, for Gilbert Bulawan.