Twenty-one years ago, hundreds of thousands watching at home saw on their television screens Asi Taulava, sitting on the bench reduced to tears as the agony of defeat struck him hard.
It was May 12, 1999, and his heart got shattered as Mobiline lost to Ginebra, 82-81, in the All-Filipino Cup quarterfinals — the first time in PBA history that a top seed lost to a number eight team.
“Shed some tears,” recalled Taulava in the Hoop Coaches International Webinar hosted by his former coach and current Blackwater Elite alternate governor Ariel Vanguardia.
What made it even more unfathomable for Taulava was the way the Phone Pals lost, no thanks to Bal David.
With two seconds left, David came off a series of screens, then went to the right-wing to receive Noli Locsin’s inbound pass. He took one dribble, spun over Jeffrey Cariaso, and went up for a leaner.
And then there was Taulava near the rim, helplessly watching the ball float above his head before it kissed the glass and went in as the buzzer sounded, sending the pro-Ginebra crowd into a frenzy.
It has been 21 years since, but Taulava confessed that people always remind him of that shot. And he himself has never forgotten all about that one painful night that happened in ULTRA, either.
“Everyday, people remind me of what happened that night. And this was 20 years ago,” he said.
“Anytime, somebody says that to me and says, ‘Hey, do you remember that night? That All-Filipino quarterfinal game against Ginebra?’ And to be honest, I’ve never forgotten that shot.
“That shot stuck in my mind. I still remember it just like it was yesterday. Me standing there, didn’t move, just watching Bal drive, time going down, he shoots the ball, and it goes in,” he added.
But he did not let that setback define him. Four years later, he became the league’s Most Valuable Player as he led Talk N Text to the All-Filipino Cup title, bagging Finals MVP honors as well.
“But then, I got my butt right back up and I remember that feeling. Just continued working,” shared Taulava, who was also named the 2003 All-Filipino Cup Best Player of the Conference.
For the Fil-Tongan center, that heart-wrenching buzzer-beater made him better as a player and as a person.
“I always tell people this. What happened in that series, my rookie season, to Bal David and Ginebra, made me the man I am today.
“It gave me the motivation, the strength. I knew there were no shortcuts if I wanted to achieve things,” said the 47-year-old who’s now in his 21st season in the league,
Still, Taulava experienced tough defeats after that. He was part of the Philippine team that lost to South Korea in the 2002 Asian Games semifinals following a buzzer-beating trey by Lee Sang-min.
“I was like, Im’ma try my best not to let that happen again. But it did. It happened to me again, versus Korea,” he recalled as the Filipino cagers went back home from that meet without a medal.
And just last season, Taulava witnessed history repeat itself. His top-seeded NLEX Road Warriors lost to the eighth-ranked NorthPort Batang Pier in the Governors’ Cup quarterfinals.
Losses hurt, definitely. But for Taulava, what really matters the most is getting back up and redeeming yourself.
“Those tough moments just makes you tougher.”