AS SELF-STARTERS go, John Paul Erram has no trouble getting himself on fire.
As one of the most intense and sought-after big men in the PBA today, the 6-foot-8 center has always been a relentless workhorse every game. In his one-year stint with the NLEX Road Warriors last year, he averaged 11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks.
That persistent drive to excel was forged by a hard childhood.
What a lot of people don’t know is that Poy struggled to find opportunities when he was younger. Unlike others, he neither had athletic roots nor the advantage of connections. He was just a dreamer in the slums of Cagayan de Oro.
“Galing ako sa hirap talaga," he told SPIN Life. "Yung tipong may mga araw na hindi kami kumakain o tuyo lang ang ulam namin. Broken family din ako. Labing-isa kaming magkakapatid, pero magkakaiba kami ng nanay.”
Amid all the problems he had to endure at a young age, Erram revealed he only managed to pull through because of the help of the childhood friends he played with on the streets, where he first learned hardcourt hoops.
His parents weren’t even supportive of his interest in the sport, Erram said.
“Maraming negative na sinasabi ‘yung mga tao 'non, lalo ‘yung magulang ko. Wala daw akong mapapala diyan, kaya ‘nung bata ako ‘pag ala una ng tanghali, tumatakas ako para makapaglaro sa labas, shoot-shoot lang kami ng mga bata kong kaibigan sa court kasi pagdating ng hapon, mga matatanda na naglalaro diyan.”
Often, he was tempted to give up and just surrender to whatever life threw at him. But in one small-town summer league, he crossed paths with coach Arvin Martinez, and soon his basketball journey took off.
“’Nung bago ako mag-high school, may Milo Olympics sa Cagayan. Sumali ako. Sa volleyball pa nga laro ko, tapos may coach na nagre-recruit sa akin. Tinanong ako kung saan ako nakatira tapos ‘dun na nagsimula yon. Si coach Arvin nagturo sa akin ng fundamentals ng laro,” he said.
Erram is grateful that his first basketball coach acted more like a father to him than his own at times.
“Dati kasi sa probinsya noon, uso ‘yung mga bentahan ng players," Erram said. "May mga malalaking offer. Pinapabasa niya messages sa akin. May mga nagre-recruit from Cebu, pero kahit isang beses hindi siya nagdalawang isip na ipamigay kami. Ginawa niya kaming mission, at sobrang thankful ako ‘don."
After graduating from high school, he continued his journey, representing Xavier-Ateneo de Cagayan before finally getting the opportunity to try out in Ateneo's main campus in Manila for an even bigger opportunity to play in the UAAP.
When he moved to Katipunan, Erram had to face another battle: Fitting in to a whole new different culture, far from the one he was used to growing up.
“Pagdating ko ng Ateneo, grabe, one month pa lang, gusto ko nang umuwi," said Erram. "Hindi talaga ako marunong mag-English. Naisip ko, ganito pala sa Manila, ibang-iba, pero kailangan kong makibagay para matupad pangarap ko. ‘Yung mga allowance ko galing sa school, ipinapadala ko pa sa CDO para sa pamilya ko.”
Erram, with his hallmark instinct for success, perservered, banking on his capability to build a career of his own.
TNT regularly conducted practices in Ateneo's Moro Lorenzo Gym at the time and was familiar with him. So it was no surprise that in 2013, he was taken as the 15th pick overall by the Tropang Texters in the PBA Draft. But, much to everyone's astonishment, Erram was left unsigned by TNT.
Seven years on, Erram is back with TNT although in totally different circumstances. The do-it-all center has proven himself as one of the premier big men in the pro league during his stops with Blackwater and NLEX - enough to convince the KaTropa to pull off a major trade to get their hands on him.
Beyond his athletic career, he also pledged his full commitment to his wife, Jerry, and their two children, one of whom he had out of wedlock. The Gilas mainstay vowed to take care of the child and his wife has come to accept him.
The last thing he wants, Erram said, is to have his kids experience the deprived childhood he had to endure.
“When I had my first baby sa ibang babae, naisip ko nagiging katulad na ba ako ng tatay ko? Pero tinanggap ako ng asawa ko, at tinulungan niya akong magpatuloy," Erram said.
"Kaya ngayon, sisikapin ko na hindi ko ever ipaparanas sa pamilya ko ‘yung naranasan ko noon na walang masandalan. I love my wife and I love being a father to my children."
Looking back, Erram said the humble beginnings only made him stronger both as a player and as a person.
“Gusto ko mabigyan ng confidence sarili ko na may kaya akong gawin kahit na ganon pinagdaanan ko," he said. "Nakayanan ko at ginawa kong motivation yon para maging mabuting player, asawa, at tatay ngayon.”