PBA legend Robert Jaworski said he is ready to return to basketball "so long as the conditions are all right" in his most revealing statements yet amid a clamor for him to return to a Ginebra ballclub he helped turn into the most popular in the pro league.
Speaking a day before his 68th birthday, the former senator said basketball will always be "deep in his system" as he was asked about calls for his return from fans that picked up after top-seeded Ginebra fell a win short of reaching the finals of the last PBA Philippine Cup.
The clamor has only grown when the 'Big J' made a surprise appearance in Game Six of the semifinal series against San Mig and gave Ginebra players a pep talk inside the dugout at halftime of a 94-91 victory.
“Ako, the sport is deep in my system. Hindi na mawawala 'yan. I am a product of that arena and I am proud of it. And I hope it grows,” Jaworski told Spin.ph in a telephone interview.
“So if there are things I can do to make it flourish, as long as the conditions are alright ... unang-una malinaw ang usap-usapan … maganda ang patutunguhan, ready tayo,” he added.
“Hindi naman tayo nawawala dyan. Nandyan tayo lagi!”
Jaworski, hands down the most popular basketball figure in the country, was non-committal, however, when asked about a return to the Ginebra coaching job or if any offer had been dangled by the team's new management.
“Huwag mo na akong isali sa mga offer-offer. Huwag na,” he said. “Andyan naman nagpapasyal tayo, pero sabi ko nga kahit hindi tayo nandun physically, we are following all the games.”
But the 'Living Legend' was also quick to admit that the itch to return to basketball "has always been there."
“Yung competitive spirit natin is always there and maybe has multiplied. But all of us grow in different ways, you know,” said Jaworski, who has not been involved in basketball since he left the Ginebra playing-coach job during his term as senator in the nineties.
“Syempre 'pag minsan may nakikita ka na pwedeng matulungan o magampanan, you’re itching. Pero ang mahirap yung basta papasok ka dyan at hindi naman malinaw ang usapan,” said the 1978 league MVP and Hall of Famer.
And before hanging up the phone, Jaworski gave a hint of what he wants in case he takes on another job in basketball.
“Full control is always relevant. What are you in control of? Ganun! Ang importante dyan, nagkakaintindihan kayo. Kailangan malinaw, what are you supposed to do?” Jaworski said.
[For podcast of full interview with Robert Jaworki, click here]
Meanwhile, Dante Gonzalgo, one of Jaworski's former players in a Ginebra team that reigned as the crowd darlings during the nineties, said he felt "something was in the works" when his former coach made a surprise appearance in Game Six of the finals.
“Duda ko nga baka kinausap na siya ng management 'nun. Kasi bakit siya pupunta 'run? At kung pumunta man siya 'run … kung ako man 'yung management, pwede ko siyang kausapin,” Gonzalgo said.
“Yung tao na 'yun hindi naman basta pupunta 'yun na walang imbitasyon o pakiusap!” said the now 56-year-old member of the Jaworski-coached Philippine team that finished second to China in the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing.
But can Jawo still coach?
“Oo naman. Kaya pang makipagsabayan ng coaching niyan. Nagawa nga niya nun, bakit hindi ngayon,” said the 'Bicol Express.'
Another former player of Jaworski, Sonny Cabatu, said it has always been the standard of the league icon to demand full control of the team he will handle.
“Ganun ang gusto ni Jawo. Siya ang pipili ng player, siya makikipag-negotiate. Kumbaga siya ang bubuo ng team. Ganun ang ginawa niya sa amin nun,” said Cabatu.
“Nung panahon kasi namin, maliit ang budget ng Ginebra. Pero si Jawo nung araw napapalakas niya yung team kahit low budget. Kasi may eye siya sa talent na pwede niyang i-develop,” Cabatu added.
Cabatu said he felt Jaworski is needed by his new batch of Ginebra players.
“Tingin ko more than kailangan si Big J ng PBA, kailangan siya ng Ginebra. Kasi tingin ko parang walang pukpok ang mga player ngayon sa laro. Iba rin kasi yung respetado ng player ang coach,” said the Cabugao, Ilocos Sur native.