RAMON Fernandez said on Wednesday he treasured his stint with the Philippine national team so much that he is willing to trade his record 19 PBA championships and four league MVPs for a chance to play in the Olympic Games.
The basketball great said he considers his stint with the national team - not his legendary stint in the PBA - as the pinnacle of his career, the reason his failure to play in the quadrennial Olympics has become his greatest frustration.
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"'Yun talaga ang frustrations ko eh. Hindi ako nakapaglaro sa Olympics," said Fernandez when asked about the national team at a time when Gilas Pilipinas has been hit by the non-availability of top players from the PBA.
"I played in the Asian Championships, but not the Olympics. Para sa akin 'yun ang pinakamataas na level. It's a peak for an athlete. If you play in the Olympics, (then) you've reached your peak," 'El Presidente' added.
"If I am to choose, I will trade my 19 championships and four MVP trophies just so I can play in the Olympics."
Fernandez recalled with a tinge of regret that he was too young to join the team that played in the 1972 Games - the Philippines' last appearance in the showpiece - and never got an opportunity again after disgruntled Micaa team owners bolted from the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) to form a professional league.
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"It was the only international tournament that I missed, the Olympics. In 1972 nasa Youth team pa ako; 1976, we were already professionals in 1975... hindi na tayo nakapagpadala ng team sa 1976 Olympics," he recalled.
Fernandez also bared that from the age of five, his biggest motivation, like most players during his era, was to don the national colors - a chance he didn't get again until he was named to the all-pro team that competed in the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing by rival Robert Jaworski.
"It was childhood dream na na-fulfill ko when I was 18 and 19 years old. I am prouder to be part of the national team," the pride of Maasin, Leyte told Spin.ph.
"Making it to the national was the main motivation. 'Yung nakalaro ka sa Micaa at that time o sa PBA, parang icing on the cake na lang 'yan eh. Ang main goal namin noon is to play for flag and country," he added.
"Iba yung na-wear mo 'yung national flag sa uniporme mo. Ilan lang kayo? Labing dalawa lang kayo."
As good as he was during his prime, Fernandez believes he could've been better had he been exposed to international competition during his days in the pro league.
"As the saying goes, you are only as good as your competition. Kung magaling ang competition mo, gagaling ka rin. If you have the skills, you will rise and improve also in your development," Fernandez said.
"I was forced to play in the PBA because there was a problem noon sa Micaa and the Basketball Association of the Philippines," he recalled, referring to the row between team owners and then BAP president Lito Puyat.
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"From 1975 to 1990, we were solely playing in the PBA lang. So we were playing against each other, the same competition, year in and year out. Sayang yung opportunity sana na makapaglaro at a higher level sa international."
Retired from basketball for more than two decades now, Fernandez said he wants his stint with the national team to be his lasting legacy.
"For me, I would rather be called as a former national team player from the Philippines than being labeled as a four-time PBA MVP," he said.
Watch Spin.ph interview with Mon Fernandez: