RARE are the times now when former PBA player Django Rivera can watch league games through YouTube.
But in the few occasions that he gets to watch games in a league where he played for one season with Seven Up, the now retired cager based in Los Angeles, California couldn’t help but lay his eyes on two big men who impressed him.
Take a bow, June Mar Fajardo and big boy Beau Belga.
Rivera said he finds Fajardo a gem of a big man, while he sees Belga as a throwback player perfect during the time when physicality was still the norm of the game.
“Simple gumalaw at very smooth for a big man,” was how Rivera describes the 6-foot-10 San Miguel superstar. “Bihira kang makakita ng malaking (Filipino) player na ganun.”
He added the two-time MVP is definitely head and shoulders above some of the league’s past big guys, such as Marlou Aquino, EJ Feihl, and Bonel Balingit, stressing, “Ang layo ng galaw nitong Fajardo.”
As for Belga, Rivera said the beefy Rain or Shine center could've thrived during the no-harm-no-foul era.
“Sa physical game, yung Belga OK. Kung sa time namin, meron siyang paglalagyan,” said the forward, who played for a multi-titled San Sebastian team that also had Bong Alvarez, Eugene Quilban, Allan Garrido, Cris Bade, Toying Teves, Allan delos Reyes, and Nap Hatton.
Despite standing only 6-foot-3, Rivera at times would play as center of those multi-titled Stags teams.
Owing to a busy schedule, he now only plays the game from time to time just to keep himself fit and get the chance to suit up against fellow former PBA players such as Bernie Fabiosa, Yves Dignadice, Naning Valenciano, Boyet Francisco, and Alejandro Paguinto.
It was during one of those games when he got the chance to personally meet and know boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, who he had been following as a fighter even during his early years in the show ‘Blow By Blow.’
“Sa fundraising (game) yun for (Rudy) Distrito. Kalaban namin siya (Pacquiao),” recalled Rivera, who’s been based in the US for 16 years now. “At tsaka Bisaya siya, pero marunong mag-Ilongo. E taga-Bacolod ako, kaya madali kaming nagka-intidihan.”
One common denominator too, that bonded him to Pacquiao was their determination to rise from poverty.
Like the 37-year-old boxing legend, who came over to Manila as a teen and took on different odd jobs to survive, Rivera wasn’t ashamed to admit he was just a farmer before setting off on a career in basketball.
“Galing din tayo sa wala. Probinsiyano ako. Nagsasaka lang ako dati. Marunong akong mag-araro, mag-bungkal ng lupa, mag-gapas,” said Rivera, who had five kids and was married to a former San Sebastian teacher.
And like Pacquiao, Rivera found a way out of poverty through sports.
“I just got lucky at binigyan ako ng height ng Panginoon at ginamit ko yun,” he said.
Rivera also played in the old Philippine Amateur Basketball League (PABL) and then hooked up with Seven Up during the 1993 season of the pro league, where hesaw action for 24 games and averaged 5.5 points.
Injuries relegated him to the amateur ranks following his brief stint as a pro. When the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) was put up in 1998, he hooked up with the Iloio Voltz and then later, with Cagayan de Oro.
It was after his stint with the MBA in 2000 that he decided to try his luck in the US to secure the future of his family.
While he did miss the Philippines, Rivera said there was no regret in his decision to migrate and live with his family in another country.
“Happy naman ako sa naging career ko. Yung binigay sa akin ng Panginoon hindi na masama,” said Rivera, who’s been a Christian for 15 years now.
“Ang tao may kanya-kanyang destinasyon na binibigay ang Panginoon. Kumbaga kung di ka para dito, baka meron namang iba para sa yo,” he added. “Kaya maghintay ka ng tamang panahon, sabi nga ng AlDub.”