THE author of the greatest comeback ever in PBA history said sacrifice and self-belief enabled Ginebra San Miguel to pull off the improbable during its epic First Conference finals duel against Formula Shell twenty five years ago.
Back then, the legendary Robert Jaworski said it was imperative for him and the highly-popular Gins to play as one unit and put their minds together the moment the team fell behind, 1-3, during the 1991 best-of-seven title series.
It was hard, he admitted, motivating and egging his team to defy the odds, especially against a team that was bannered by future Hall of Famers Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, and the late great import Bobby Parks.
“1-3 (deficit), mahirap din yun,” recalled Jaworski over lunch on Tuesday. “Tsaka yung kalaban mo may dagdag na superstars, e tayo, star margarine lang.”
But behind Jaworski’s leadership, Ginebra did the unthinkable by sweeping the last three games of the series, capped by its dramatic victory in the do-or-die match at the ULTRA (now Philsports Arena) made possible by an off-balanced shot by gung-ho guard Rudy Distrito in the waning seconds of the classic showdown.
“Pinag-usapan namin what we did right and what were their weaknesses, and then we committed individually and as a team,” said the former Ginebra playing-coach when asked what enabled his team to pull off an amazing feat that has yet been equaled or surpassed in the league up until this day.
“And of course, we’ve sacrificed more than what we’ve done the last two games.”
The reminiscing by local basketball’s Living Legend comes on the eve of Game Seven of the Philippine Cup Finals where defending champion San Miguel tries to become the first team ever to overcome a 0-3 deficit and win a championship at the expense of Alaska.
Incidentally, Beermen coach Leo Austria was then a part of the Shell franchise which suffered the ignominy of being the first team to botch a 3-1 series lead.
San Miguel, boosted by the return to active duty of injured big man June Mar Fajardo in Game Five, has risen from the grave to win the last three games of the series and tie the finals at 3-3.
The winner take all match is set on Wednesday 7 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Jaworski said for San Miguel to make history, the Beermen need to put behind what they just achieved in the title series.
“Kailangan paintinidi mo sa mga kasama mo na 'yung tatlong (panalo), wala na 'yun. Water under the bridge na,” he said. “Hindi na babalik 'yun. Eto ngayon ang harapin mo.”
Any which way, Jaworski, who turns 70 on March 8, said the game is going to be a very entertaining one in which the team that’s more determined to win will prevail.
“I believe the team that wants it more will win because that is where the mental aspect and heart will come together,” he said.
And should the Beermen prevail and rewrite PBA history, the Big J believes Ginebra has a big influence on its sister team.
“For both sides, it will be good for Alaska, but better for San Miguel,” said the former senator.
“Why better? Baka nahawa sila ng ‘Never Say Die,” he added, obviously referring to Ginebra’s ever-popular mantra.