ANTIPOLO City – Most of them are too young – some weren't even born yet – to know how their great predecessors pulled off the unthinkable in the PBA 26 summers ago.
Still, these modern-day Barangay Ginebra Kings feel nothing but love and pride as they give tribute to the same jersey their forerunners wore back in 1991 during the season when the franchise officially cemented its never-say-die status.
The Kings showed up in their classic red-and-white Ginebra jersey on Sunday when it battled Meralco in the main game of the Commissioner’s Cup here at the Ynares Sports Center.
Somehow, the retro jersey could have irubbed-off on the Kings as they rallied from a 52-44 third quarter deficit to nip the Bolts, 90-89, and reinforced their bid to finish in the Top 2 spots by the end of the eliminations.
"Well, we won," coach Tim Cone said when SPIN.ph asked him if the magic worked. "We didn't play absolutely fantastic, but I thought we had a little bit of never-say-die tonight."
Dave Marcelo, the bruising Ginebra forward, was only two years old at the time playing-coach Robert Jaworski and his team battled back from a 1-3 deficit and stunned Formula Shell in the First Conference finals behind the fadeaway jumper by Rudy Distrito in the final moments of Game 7 held before a jampacked crowd at the ULTRA.
Marcelo only got to know one of the league’s greatest comeback victories through his parents and older relatives.
“Naririnig ko lang yun sa mga usapan nila,” said the former San Beda stalwart, who is a Ginebra fan himself, but of a different era during the time of his idols Noli Locsin and Marlou Aquino.
“Pero ang alam ko dito talaga nagsimula yung never-say-die, kaya we’re honored na masuot yung ganitong klase ng jersey,” he added prior to the game against the Bolts.
“Yung mga kamag-anak kong dati ng fans ng Ginebra sanay sila sa ganitong jersey na matagal ng hindi nakikita. Kaya bago sa mata ng tao.”
Guard Paolo Taha was born a year before Jaworski rallied his troops from the jaws of defeat and win the championship, a historic moment he only got to learn by reading through old newspaper clippings.
Besides, as a young kid, he admitted not really into playing the game.
But only when he finally began playing competitively, more so, suiting up for the league’s most popular ballclub, did he begin to appreciate what the Loyzagas, Ampalayos, Isaacs, and the rest of the Ginebra team back then was able to accomplish.
“Recently lang nag sink-in sa akin kung gaano kahirap yung ginawa nila (Kings) for the fans,” said the 27-year-old Taha.
“Kaya tulad nga ng sabi ni Dave, talagang honor itong retro jersey namin, itong throwback. In a way, to honor the team ni coach Jaworski and yung solid Ginebra fans.”
Big man Greg Slaughter was also too young to appreciate the feat Ginebra pulled off back then, but feels proud having belonged to the same franchise that exemplifies a never surrender attitude.
“I heard all about it. It’s an awesome tribute that I’m looking forward to wearing it,” said the 6-11 center.
Unfortunately, Slaughter has yet to go back to active duty as he continues to recover from an ACL injury he suffered last season.
At the most, the Kings are looking at the playoffs as a possible timetable for his return. By then, he hopes to have his own retro jersey.
“I did hear we will be doing it again in the playoffs, by which time I will be activated,” he said. “I guess I will just have to wait for it.”