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    Ron Jacobs' lasting legacy: Why Gilas and future Philippine teams owe this man a debt of gratitude

    Dec 28, 2015
    Ron Jacobs' legacy is relevant to this day, especially for young folks who never knew the man, because he kept the Philippine team dream burning at a time when hope was fading - and bridged the gap for national teams to come. Photo from Manila Bulletin

    IT was the last 'conversation' I ever had with Ron Jacobs - me talking over the phone in a monologue, raving about the Detroit Pistons' 2004 NBA Finals victory over the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers, and Jacobs listening, supposedly, with the speaker of his bedside phone turned on by his longtime partner Menen.

    And it was the only conversation with Jacobs I ever remembered dominating, but only because he had by then been in coma for almost three years, robbed of his ability to speak, among other faculties, by a massive stroke that struck on Chistmas Eve of 2001 while he was preparing to make a comeback with the national team.

    Most other times, the conversations were very much one-sided in Jacobs' favor. He talked, I listened. That was fine by me, of course. For when Jacobs talked basketball, you better listen.

    That more or less defined my journalist-coach relationship with Jacobs, who I had long admired from a distance from his work with the Hector Calma-led Philippine youth team he steered to the Asian title in 1982 and those Northern Consolidated sides he coached to unprecedented success in the eighties.

    Jacobs worked in ways few people understood, and that he opened up to me was a surprise in itself. For I was part of the press mob that, years earlier, had chased him out of the national coaching job in 1998 and veritably twisted then PBA commissioner Jun Bernandino's arm into naming Tim Cone in his place.

    It was, looking back now, one of the poorest stands I made in my career. One I regret to this day.

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    I never had the chance to ask why he opened up to me, granted me access to his plans, let me pick his brain in what turned out to be his final few years on the bench, before and after he was finally given the green light to return to the national job ahead of the 2002 Asian Games in Busan.

    But I more or less got my answer in another casual conversation, after I asked him why on hell did he decide to bring in Nelson Asaytono and Bong Alvarez - two physically gifted players with big egos and a long history of not getting along well with teammates - when he made a comeback in the PBA by way of San Miguel.

    My exact question really was: Why put Asaytono and Alvarez in the same team?

    "A little rancor can be good for the locker room, you know," he said, throwing in a wink in between. "It keeps the team from relaxing, keeps the players on their toes."

    When Jacobs breathed his last on Christmas Eve, every single sports personality whose opinion mattered - from former players to rival coaches to mediamen to top officials - hailed the American for 'revolutionizing' Philippine basketball, for changing the way the game is played here. I agree wholeheartedly.

    But more than that, I believe we owe Jacobs a debt of gratitude because he kept the belief in the national team burning when all seemed lost. At a time when hope that the Philippines can once again be a force to be reckoned with in international basketball was fading, he stood as the defiant symbol - and a beacon of hope - that it can be done.

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    The Jacobs legacy is relevant to this day, especially for young folks who never knew the man, because he sustained that dream and kept the torch burning, bridging the gap long enough to see the Philippine team celebrate a rebirth under the stewardship of a man, Manny V. Pangilinan, who has the same means and same vision as Jacobs' former boss, Danding Cojuangco.

    Jacobs not only believed in that dream; he lived it.

    At a time when information about other Asian teams was not as accessible as it is in this digital age, he kept tab of what China, South Korea and others were doing through scouting reports and tapes sent to him, via snail mail, by his numerous contacts around the world. And that was long before he returned to the national job.

    He suffered a stroke on Christmas Eve of 2001 and died on the same day 14 years later, but otherwise his timing was impeccable, especially on timeouts and substitutions. That basketball mind - described by Cone as 'absolutely brilliant' - was so sharp he always dictated how a game would go.

    His attention to detail was also extraordinary. During one phone conversation, Jacobs was genuinely worried that Fiba still started all quarters via jump balls - unlike the PBA which by then was already using possession arrows.

    "Do you know what that means?" he asked. "With Yao Ming doing the jump ball every time, those are already four extra possessions for China when we face them. We have to think of a way to get those four possessions back."

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    Jacobs stood by his belief that the Philippines can be relevant again in world basketball, but he was under no illusion that it would be easy. He once sat at ringside watching one Fil-foreign big man - then the rave in the PBA, tagged as the 'savior' of the 2002 Asiad team - in action in a league game, a smirk on his face.

    "People expect this guy to score against Yao Ming," he sneered. "Heck, he can't even get past (former Ginebra banger) Wilmer Ong!"

    When he set out to form that 2002 Asiad team, he put into motion a plan that was years in the making - the same plan he advised Cone, if memory serves me right, to take in 1998: form a team not of stars but of role players, the reason guys like Olsen Racela, Rudy Hatfield, Patrick Fran and a then unknown Fil-Am guard named Jimmy Alapag were on his initial list of candidates.

    He never got to see that job through, but Jacobs was eventually proven right not only by the 2002 team coached by his most trusted deputy Jong Uichico - which came within a last-gasp Korean three-pointer of reaching the Asiad finals against China - but by the Gilas teams that came more than a decade later.

    That's how much we owe this man.

    As for myself, I was already convinced Jacobs was right way back in 2004, after I saw how a Detroit team of role players coached by Larry Brown and led by journeyman guard Chauncey Billups chopped down to size a Lakers side led by Shaq, Kobe, Malone and Payton in the NBA Finals.

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    That showed me what a disciplined, well-coached team like Jacobs' and Browns' is capable of doing, and that prompted my call to Jacobs' home, even if I didn't expect to get an answer.

    When I finally said my goodbyes after a five-minute, one-way conversation that oddly felt like hours, Jacobs' partner Menen took the handset and told me, "He must have liked what you said ... his face brightened."

    Knowing Jacobs, that was probably not a smile but a sneer, to go with the casual snide remark, "What does this guy know?" But that, too, was still fine by me.

    [There will be a final viewing for Ron Jacobs on Monday, December 28, from 6 to 12 midnight, at the Sanctuario de San Antonio]

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    Ron Jacobs' legacy is relevant to this day, especially for young folks who never knew the man, because he kept the Philippine team dream burning at a time when hope was fading - and bridged the gap for national teams to come. Photo from Manila Bulletin
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