WHILE most people's attention was focused on the rivalry between San Mig Coffee and Alaska, one man made an emotional return to the hard court without much fanfare on Wednesday night.
Nope, he is not a player. He is referee Edward Aquino.
The 6-2 former Philippine Christian University Dolphin turned PBA referee was back on the job, less than three weeks after a freak accident also involving Calvin Abueva forced him to spend a few days in a hospital.
“Sobrang saya ko kasi nakabalik na ako, miss na miss ko na rin ang pagpito,” said Aquino.
Ironically, Aquino's comeback game again featured Alaska and Abueva, who accidentally bumped into the referee while chasing a loose ball on a fastbreak in a game against Barako Bull on February 17.
Abueva's momentum pinned the referee to the cushioned railings of the Big Dome's baseline. He went to a hospital the next day where he was diagnosed with swollen spine tissues but cleared of a suspected slipped disc.
The Alaska super rookie copped flak from fans after news of Aquino's injury broke out, but Abueva has since apologized and visited the referee in the hospital where they put the incident behind them.
On Wednesday, Abueva was even among the well-wishers as Aquino returned to the job.
“Nilapitan nga ako ni Calvin, tinanong ako kung okay na raw ba ako at kumusta ako," said the Quezon City-based game official of their pre-game meeting. "Ngumiti ako tapos sabi ko, okay na okay na.”
Asked if he was still feeling any pain, Aquino replied: “Hindi ko na inintindi yung sakit, ang importante talaga makabalik ako sa trabaho ko. Iyong sakit, gamot lang katapat nun.
“Gusto ko lang talaga mag-officiate ulit, excited akong mag-referee kanina, parang tumayo ulit yung balahibo ko.”
Aquino said he also had no complaints when it comes to Abueva's behavior toward referees during games.
"Hindi s'ya tulad ng iba na mareklamo," he said. "Si Calvin magtatanong lang sa 'yo kapag may hindi s'ya nagustuhang tawag. Tapos okay na s'ya kapag napaliwanag mo ng maayos."