Asi Taulava admitted that the Fil-Sham controversy he got embroiled in two decades ago still brings much pain whenever he looks back on that challenging period of his illustrious career.
That issue rocked the local basketball scene in the early 2000s, throwing the credentials of several Fil-foreign cagers into question. An inquiry by the Senate Committee on Games, Amusements, and Sports was even conducted.
“It was tough times, and I was in the middle of all that,” Taulava told 2OT, presented by SMART and supported by Phenom Sportswear Inc.
“Sometimes, just thinking about it and going back to it just brings a lot of pain. I went through it for a while.”
That was hard for Taulava, whose citizenship has been in question since he arrived in the PBL in 1998. Worse, the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation ordered his deportation in 2000, along with Sonny Alvarado.
The Fil-Tongan center, though, came back shortly after and returned to the Talk N Text Phone Pals, which he led to the All-Filipino Cup championship in 2003, the same year he won Most Valuable Player honors.
But that didn’t stop there. During the 2004-05 season, Taulava and five other Fil-foreigners were suspended indefinitely by then-commissioner Noli Eala, as the Department of Justice said that they have irregular documents.
Taulava, though, was favored by the court in January 2005 when Judge Rogelio Pizarro of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 222 issued a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction basically telling the PBA to let him play.
The 6-foot-9 slotman even suited up for Talk N Text in Game One of its Philippine Cup Finals versus Barangay Ginebra and they won, but Eala forfeited the game as Taulava was still suspended by the league.
Taulava never returned in that series, and although the Phone Pals put up a gallant stand to defend their crown without him, it still wasn’t enough as the Gin Kings won the series in six games.
“It was tough times, very challenging,” he recalled.
“I remember talking to my wife, asking if this was really worth it? You know, just to be blasted like this on the news, all over the press and everything about being a Fil-Sham.”
Taulava saw the end of his suspension during the 2005 Fiesta Conference Finals when Talk N Text battled San Miguel Beer, though his return did not pan out the way he wanted as they lost in five games.
The issue, like many others, eventually ended. And for Taulava, he’s proud to have fought such a battle — and now he is, standing tall with a career that is the stuff of legend.
Aside from the championship and MVP honors, he also has a Best Player of the Conference plum to his collection, as well as four Mythical First Team citations and 17 All-Star inclusions, to name a few.
Also a member of the national team for multiple times that saw him win medals in Asian competitions, Taulava is now entering his 21st season in the PBA with the NLEX Road Warriors, where he looks to have his one last run.
‘I had to fight for my rights. I’m glad I did because I have kids now. My daughters, they have to fight for what they believe in, you know, for what’s theirs. I’ve gotten past it,” the 47-year-old said.
“Now, going into my twenty-first season, you know I just look back at everything, it’s just been a journey. Roller-coaster, like you say. It goes up and down. And it’s been awesome. You take the good and the bad together. Just enjoy the ride.”