AN INTERESTING question was tossed to us by one of our readers: Was comedian Jaime 'Jimmy' Santos really a good basketball player before he entered show business?
For the sake of our readers, let's take this question seriously.
It's true that Santos was one of the first basketball players who ended up making the jump to acting, a career shift also taken by former PBA stars like Yoyong Martirez, Freddie Webb, and Joey Marquez, among others.
However, Santos' basketball credentials have been put under scrunity not a few times in the past - and often became a source of ridicule from his showbiz peers, notably 'Bossing' Vic Sotto, his co-host at Eat Bulaga.
Take this live exchange from one of the noontime show's Pinoy Henyo segments when Bossing and co-host Anjo Yllana ribbed Santos on his claim to being a former basketball player.
Sotto: Alam mo ba 'yang si Jimmy, s'ya lang ang basketball player na kilala ko na mas magaling sa dama.
Yllana: Ganoon (laughing)?
Sotto: Kasi palagi s'yang nakaupo sa bench, dun s'ya nagda-dama.
Santos even gamely played along, telling his co-hosts, 'Alam n'yo ba ang mga magagaling (na player) noong araw gaya nina Atoy Co, Jimmy Mariano ... lahat 'yon hindi ako tinalo!'
Asked why, Santos snapped: 'E kasi tapos na ang laro, nasa labas pa ko."
To view the full exchange, see this video from YouTube:
Perhaps the most damning verdict on Santos' basketball skills was delivered by former Ginebra playing-coach Robert Jaworski, who let loose a classic quote when asked about Santos, who, in his post-basketball years, became an ardent supporter of the popular PBA franchise.
"Alam mo 'yang si Jimmy, mahirap guwardyahin noong araw," Jaworski said, leaving oldtimers in the PBA sportswriting beat incredulous before delivering the punch line.
"Kasi palagi s'yang nakaupo sa bench."
Santos' PBA career was forgettable, to say the least. He played just one season in the pro ranks during the PBA's inaugural season in 1975, averaging 2.6 points in 13 games with Seven-Up where he had Jumbo Salvador - a member of a prominent showbiz clan - as teammate.
But all the information we dug up on Santos' basketball career wasn't all bad.
For example, did you know that Santos was a member of the Jose Rizal College (now JRU) team that won the NCAA championship in 1972, joining brothers Philip and David Cezar, Cris Calilan and the late Ed Carvajal. Coach was the late Francisco 'Kiko' Calilan.
To this day, no JRU team has won another NCAA championship.
Philip Cezar, in fact, was one of the few resource persons we talked to who attested to the contrary, saying Santos was a pretty decent banger and defender during their time together in the Heavy Bombers camp.
"Jimmy was a decent player, a reliable banger and defender. He can score underneath when he wanted to," said Cezar of Santos, who joined the Heavy Bombers a year ahead of the Crispa great.
"At that time, rookie ako nun eh. Nauna siya sa akin, naka one year siya ng laro, saka ako dumating. Di ko alam kung natapos niya playing years niya sa JRC kasi one year lang ako naglaro eh," Cezar continued.
"Marunong dumepensa 'yan, marunong ding shumut. Pero big man 'yan eh. Sentro at power forward ang laro niya."
The Crispa Redmanizers forward, 64, even went as far as say that Santos could've had a decent career in the PBA had he not been lured into showbiz where he started out with villain roles in Fernando Poe Jr. movies.
Even during those days, Santos already liked to crack jokes, Cezar added.
"Tingin ko kung nagpatuloy sa PBA yan, baka sumikat siya. Kung nag-focus lang sana siya sa laro, mahilig kasing magpatawa yun eh, malamang may pwesto siya sa PBA," he added.
"Sigurado ako sa inyo, komedyante talaga 'yun kahit nung araw pa."
To prove his point, the former PBA 'Tapal King' pointed to the 1991 PBA All Stars Legends game where Santos earned MVP of the Game honors.
"Dun nakita natin ang galing niya, nagco-comedy at pakengkoy pa siya sa laro nun, pero when the game got serious, he made the crucial baskets," said the Crispa great.
Watch the YouTube video:
Santos went on to have success as a comedian who became known for his 'I love you three times a day' line and got the hit movie 'Bondying' under his belt, but he kept in touch with his basketball roots.
He became a fixture at the Ultra (now Philsports Arena) and Cuneta Astrodome during Ginebra games and even wore jersey No. 77 as a nod to his friend and idol, Jaworski.
"Madalas mo siya makita naka-jersey ng Ginebra, pero hindi naglaro sa Ginebra 'yan. Kaibigan nya lang kasi si Jawo, alam ko idol nya 'yun eh. At favorite ni Jimmy talaga ang Ginebra," said Cezar.
Former Ginebra star Dante Gonzalgo also remembered exhibition games he played with Santos.
"May laro 'yan kaso kengkoy lagi, nagpapatawa nang nagpapatawa, artista na ang laro niya nun," he said. "Pero makikita mong may galaw yung kilos nya, yun nga lang, mataba na kasi siya nun."