IT’S exactly 30 years since one of the greatest comebacks in PBA history transpired.
And the man who’s at the center of it, still vividly remembers every minute and every single moment of that historic night.
Ginebra San Miguel’s dramatic Game 7 win over Shell Rimula X in the 1991 First Conference finals went down as the most unforgettable in ‘Never-Say-Die’ lore, but the face of that grand victory in franchise history will always be Rudy Distrito.
The toughie lived up to his moniker ‘The Destroyer’ on that night of May 19, 1991 when he converted a difficult, fallaway shot heard around the country that capped the Gins’ gripping 104-102 win and a championship run many thought was impossible.
Taking a trip down memory lane, even Distrito himself admitted Ginebra’s case was almost a hopeless one once the team went down 1-3 in the best-of-seven series.
Until that time, no other ballclub – not even the great ones such as fabled Crispa and Toyota – had done the unimaginable by climbing back from such a deficit in a title series.
“Wala na yun. Kanila (Shell) na yun,” said Distrito, 62. “Isipin mo yun, nakabawi kami, nanalo pa at nag-champion pa kami.”
All that boiled down to Distrito scoring one of the most memorable clutch plays in PBA finals history.
The thrilling ending was forged after Shell superstar Benjie Paras scored on a pick and roll with the late import Bobby Parks to tie the hotly-contested, winner-take-all game at 102-all in the final 25 seconds.
Coming off a timeout, the Gins isolated veteran Chito Loyzaga against the foul-troubled Paras and he tried to drive against him, but was foiled in his attempt by the league’s first and only Rookie-MVP with time down to five seconds.
Playing-coach Sonny Jaworski used his last timeout to map out the Gins’ final offensive thrust. And his first move was for Distrito to come in and replace Leo Isaac.
“Ang pinalitan ko noon si Isaac, kaya alam ni coach na ako yung kailangan na lulusot,” Distrito recalled of that winning play.
It was a play really meant for Distrito, who earned a reputation around the league for his daring, devil-may-care drives to the basket.
“Naka-design sa akin yun, tatangapin ko yung bola na yun,” he said. “Yun ang first priority sa akin, screenan ako ni Chito and then lalabas ako kasi within five seconds kailangan itira ko. Alam naman nila na mahilig akong lumusot, di ba?”
Jaworski made sure the play would be followed to the letter as he himself inbounded the ball just under the Ginebra basket. Off a screen, Distrito popped out and received the ball from his coach as he drove his way to the basket, leaving behind guard Ronnie Magsanoc.
But Shell’s phalanx of big men led by Paras and Jojo Martin were there to contest the shot, forcing Distrito to take an off-balanced attempt over the outstretched arms of his two defenders.
As the ball went in, the ULTRA (now Philsports Arena) was shaken to its foundation as the predominantly Ginebra crowd out of the 12,000 that packed the stadium went wild.
And Distrito crying in the arms of Jaworski while the two were on a tight embrace will forever be the image of that emotional moment.
“Bahala na ang Diyos sa tira na yun, e. Nakita mo naman yun, nanonood ka rin, di ba,” he recalled to SPIN.ph in a conversation from his home in Bacolod, where he is currently staying.
“Wala na yun, e. Ang lalaki ng naka-depensa sa akin nun. Hindi ko na nga nakita yung ring nun.”
Amid the pandemonium, officials had to restore order as there was still a second left when Distrito converted the basket, giving Shell one final shot of sending the game into overtime or win it outright.
The Zoomers went for the win as Magsanoc was designated to take a hurried three-point attempt coming off a timeout.
But the Zoomers telegraphed the play, allowing Ginebra import Jervis Cole to quickly switch to Magsanoc and block the potential title-clinching shot.
History was made and a Ginebra legend was born.
“Sobrang tuwa ko, hindi hamak yun,” said Distrito, who finished with 12 points, of that life-changing basket.
He said he’ll forever be grateful to Jaworski for the trust he gave to him, for leaving the fate of the entire team in his hands during those dying moments with no less than a championship on the line.
“Sabi niya sa akin, ‘Rudy, bahala ka na. Basta itapon mo, ilusot mo. Bahala na kung hindi ma-shoot, basta ilusot mo,’” Distrito said as he vividly remembered the very words of Ginebra’s legendary leader.
It was also the Big J, according to Distrito, who tried to rally his team when the chips were down.
“Si coach Sonny napakalakas ng prinsipyo sa buhay. Sabi niya hangga’t hindi pa binibigay yung trophy, hangga’t wala pa sa kanila yung trophy, one by one lang, mananalo tayo diyan,” he said of Jaworski’s fighting words.
“’3-1 pa lang. Pag nanalo tayo, 3-2, pag nanalo pa ulit, e di 3-3 na.’ Ganun lang ka simple siya magsalita, pero magaling siyang mag-motivate ng players niya,” said Distrito, now head of security of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL).
“Biro mo inabot pa ng Game 7. At hindi mo na iniisip na mananalo pa, e.”
‘The Destroyer’ went on to play four more years in the league after that heroic moment with Ginebra before abruptly retiring in 1995.
In the 14 years he played in the PBA for six different teams, Distrito doesn’t deny that he’ll forever be attached to that shot of a lifetime.
“Pinaka-maganda,” was how he described that championship from the other PBA titles he won.
“Yung nangyari na yun andun pa rin. Parang hindi nawawala.”
That same season also proved to be the last stint of Distrito with Ginebra San Miguel.
The following year (1992), he transferred to the RFM franchise after the Gins failed to give the veteran guard the amount he’s asking for after his contract with the team expired.
There were a lot of takers, but he eventually came to terms with coach Yeng Guiao and Swift.
“Nung nag-champion kami nun, ang daming nag-offer sa akin. Kahit magkano basta lumipat lang ako sa team nila,” he recalled.
Ginebra didn’t give up on Distrito without gaining anything. The team struck a trade deal with Swift, sending Distrito to RFM for guard Pido Jarencio.
Distrito, who was 33 at that time, said he was already thinking about security and his future as his main reason for taking the offer of Swift.
“Nung panahon na yun, pagod na rin ako. Kailangan ko na ring isipin yung kinabukasan mo,” he said. “Wala ka ng choice, kailangan mo ng mag-isip.”
He went on and win two more championships with RFM.