FOR Stephen Padilla, choosing to play in the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) was predicated on his belief that he still needs to develop his game in order to make it to the big leagues in Manila.
Padilla said he never thought about playing in Manila during his time in college with University of Visayas, especially when the offer came to play for the Cebu Gems in the MBA.
“Nung time na ‘yun, wala talaga sa isip ko ‘yun eh na magpadraft agad sa PBA,” said Padilla in a recent interview with SPIN. “May kasabihan mga kapwa player mo na matatanda sayo at mas may experienced sayo na hilaw ka pa, hindi ka pa puwede.”
Padilla said the usual route during that time was play in the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) before heading to the PBA. But with the MBA getting a huge financial backing as well as live TV exposure from ABS-CBN, Padilla opted to stay home and play for the Gems.
“(Noon) punta ka para maglaro sa PBL para makilala ka. Sabihin mong kilala ka na sa Cebu, okay ka dito pero ‘yung mga tiga-Manila, hindi ka kilala. Back to zero ka at kailangan mong gumawa ng pangalan,” Padilla said.
“Luckily, nandyan ‘yung liga na MBA. Hindi na kailangang pumunta sa Manila kasi live naman sa TV. Doon din kami nakilala,” said Padilla.
During his stint with the Gems, Padilla made a name for himself in shooting the three-point shot. When the MBA folded in 2002, Padilla held the league record for most threes in a game with 10.
Choosing the MBA was actually the second time that Padilla opted to stay in Cebu instead of Manila. Padilla said he was already headed to play for Far Eastern University after playing high school with UV since his older brother Edwin already suited up for the Tamaraws during the 1980s with Glenn Capacio as his teammate.
But UV matched FEU’s offer, and Padilla stayed with the school.
“Unang una, mama’s boy talaga ako, mamimiss ko mama ko. Alam mo naman sa probinsya, mamimiss mo nanay mo, pamilya mo, mga kapatid mo. Sabi ko dito na lang ako para nakikita ko pa rin pamilya ko,” said Padilla.
It was also because of his family that prompted Padilla to make the tough decision to leave UV and play professionally with the Gems.
“Sobrang kailangan ng income. Mahirap lang tayo noon. Nag-try ako magpaalam sa mismong may-ari ng school si Mr. Eddie Gullas. ‘Yung team manager namin, anak niya si Sir Didi, parang ayaw. Pati ‘yung secretary namin, pinipigilan ako. Iniisip ko gusto ko rin makatulong sa pamilya ko tsaka nag-try na ako mag-paalam noon,” said Padilla, referring to the time when he was supposed to leave UV for FEU.
Padilla said it was Jun Tan, the head coach of one of UV’s rivals in University of Cebu that recruited him to play for the Gems. Tan was also the coach of Dondon Hontiveros during his time with the Webmasters.
“Tinawagan niya ako. Sabi niya, willing ka ba kasi may bagong liga, balak kitang kunin. May pitong player na ako, kasali ka doon. Natuwa naman ako na sa dinami dami ng nag-tryout, isa ako sa nakuha. Sobrang tuwa ko talaga,” he said.
Padilla became one of the few players to play in the MBA for one team during the league’s run from 1998 to 2002. Admittedly, Padilla was forced to go to the PBA when the MBA disbanded.
“Sa kasawiang palad, nawala ‘yung MBA. Na-puwersa na akong magpa-draft sa PBA,” said Padilla, who after his stint with Cheeseball-Shark in the PBL was drafted by Alaska in 2003.
Looking back, Padilla said his calculated decision to play in the MBA paid dividends.
“Pasensya lang, hindi ka nagmamadali, hindi bara-bara,” said Padilla. “‘Yun ang natutunan ako sa basketball. Happy ako sa career ko. May mga pagsubok pero sa awa ng Diyos, nakapaglaro rin ako sa big league na masasabi.”