Bal David, Vince Hizon, Noli Locsin, Marlou Aquino, Pido Jarencio, Benny Cheng, Jayvee Gayoso, and Wilmer Ong.
They were the core of the Gordon’s Gin Boars in the 1997 Commissioner’s Cup when the team last won a championship, with ‘The Living Legend’ Robert Jaworski Sr. serving as the playing coach.
Fast forward to 2019, 20 years after their swansong. The squad reunited with a bang for the classic PBA Legends Game, dubbed the ‘Return of the Rivals’, on Sunday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Picking up where they left off, the crowd darlings emerged the victors following a 97-89 Manila Clasico win over longtime rivals Purefoods – with Jaworski, of course, serving again as the captain of the ship.
David, one of Jaworski’s most trusted point guards – especially in crunch time – felt as if it were 1997 again. Ginebra played on the same page en route to a win together, with players from other eras like Leo Isaac, Bobby Jose, Joey Loyzaga, Rudy Distrito, Bennet Palad, and Jayjay Helterbrand.
“Na-miss namin talaga yung isa’t isa.
“Enjoy kami sa practice. Walang naiba. Same lang nung naglalaro kami sa kanya. Parang sobrang sarap mag-ensayo sa kanya,” said David, who also played in the post-Jaworski era until his retirement in 2005.
Unknown to everybody, though, the grand Ginebra reunion nearly did not pan out in this Return of the Rivals, organized by the PBA Legends Foundation for charity purposes, due to their other commitments.
But Jaworski made a call, and that’s all it took for the original Ginebra cagers to heed it, according to Hizon.
“When coach asked you to come, you go. As simple as that.
“Even though some of us [were] on the wall whether we’re gonna participate or not… But when coach said, we’ll play, then we’re all in,” said Hizon, the co-MVP of the game after finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds.
“I think, that’s really what it’s all about. Coach Jaworski is really the glue, and without him, it’s a lot different,” he continued.
True enough, Ginebra played like it was 22 years ago, flashing their vintage ‘Never Say Die’ spirit which endeared them to their legion of fans.
“We’re going back in time but it does not change. We’re still one family and never say die,” Hizon added.
“Coach Jawo started it.”
As for the former Senator Jaworski, though, things went beyond the Ginebra reunion. Their game was dedicated to helping the retired pro-league players who are in need of serious medical attention as part of the PBA Legends’ initiative in partnership with the UNTV and the PBA.
“I just told them to just enjoy the game and just give your best because it’s for a good cause. That’s it,” Jaworski said.
“We’re invited to support and here we are.”
But as nostalgic as the Ginebra reunion was for the fans and the players themselves, Locsin said there’s something different this time – Jaworski was not in uniform, unlike the old times of his career as a player-coach.
“Sana nga naka-uniform siya tsaka nakapasok para sa mga tao,” Locsin quipped.