After a gutsy PBA Philippine Cup finals performance by Chris Ross which culminated in a historic championship for the San Miguel Beermen and a Finals MVP award, people might have to change their impression on the point guard.
Still, it wouldn’t matter, because Ross stopped listening a long time ago.
“For me, I really don’t care what other people think about me,” Ross, whose up-and-down PBA career reflected San Miguel’s finals journey, said. “My teammates know what I bring to the table. The coaches know what I bring to the table. I know what I bring to the table.”
The third overall pick in the 2009 PBA Draft behind Japeth Aguilar and eventual Rookie of the Year winner Rico Maierhofer, Ross hadn’t had a seamless ride in his first few years in the big league.
His career spiralled early as he hopped from one team to another. While he showed great athleticism and speed, Ross’ shooting and other aspects of the game were suspect, and he seemed to never have found a home where he could contribute and make impact.
Ross suited up for Coca-Cola, the team that drafted him; Sta. Lucia; Meralco in his first four seasons in the league, before the Bolts sent him to Globalport for Gary David, AJ Mandani, and Chris Timberlake. 19 days later, the Batang Pier sent Ross to the Beermen (then Petron Blaze Boosters) for Denok Miranda.
Finally, Ross flourished as a premier back-up guard who could inflict damage on both ends of the floor. And it was a feeling perhaps he hadn’t had in the past.
“They had faith in me. They traded for me and had faith in my skills and abilities. The players, coaches, and bosses are trusting me. It is a better atmosphere when everyone has trust in each other,” Ross said of how to management looked at him long-term.
Ross isn’t of superstar or franchise-player material. It would too ambitious to try and turn him into one. And it’s okay, because San Miguel did not have to. But the team put Ross in a position where both sides would be successful in the long run, strengthening the relationship even more.
The 30-year-old playmaker has never averaged more than 25 minutes a game in any season of his three-year stay with the Beermen and in the recently-concluded conference, he only averaged 5.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, and 1.7 SPG.
But the team saw what Ross can do, and made him thrive.
“A lot of guys think it’s just hustle or defense, but I am one of the best lead guards to lead a team out there. I get people the right shots. I make sure everyone touches the ball. That’s really one of my skills. If you don’t know basketball, you don’t see that. A lot of the stuff I do don’t show up on the stat sheets,” Ross said. “Today, I had a big scoring game but I enjoy when my teammates are doing well. That’s what I enjoy. Today it just happened to be me but I can’t do it by myself.”
Trust played a big part in that. And how vital exactly was the trust factor in building this championship team? Head coach Leo Austria had even praised Ross for the point guard’s Game 4 showing.
“The turning point for me was Game 4. We were down 11 points in the last three (plus) minutes. But Chris Ross refused to give up. True enough he showed it to his teammates and it rubbed off. That was the start. Nanalo kami in overtime and sabi namin, the first three (losses) were all close games and we have a chance,” Austria spoke of Ross.
Such a relationship did not only make Ross and the rest of the Beermen comfortable, but it gave them an extra push when no one else believed the group could pull off a miraculous and seemingly improbable comeback.
“There was never any doubt (for us). Even when we were down 0-3, I didn’t really picture those doubts. Not in our expense. I just knew the type of guys we have in the locker room and I know we could win. Those three games (we lost), we were in every game. We had the opportunity to win and we just did not make the plays,” Ross shared. “We just needed that one game to put us over the top, then the big fella came back and that is a big help also. It’s just always the group of guys who always believed and never had doubts.”
And Ross even deflected the credit, in the same way each player defers pride or ego for team success.
“It was not just me. Gabby (Espinas) in Game 4 had 21 and 14. Marcio (Lassiter) had 26. Arwind (Santos) was everywhere. All the way down the line, it’s not just me, it’s the entire team,” he said.
“When June Mar went down it was a blessing in disguise. We struggled in the first three games but we could have won those games. We figured if we can do it without June Mar, if June Mar came back… we just have the talent in this team. If one man goes down, there’s a next man up.”
For years, Ross’ career has been a constant battle against the odds. It has been rocky journey. Every time he hit the floor, he had to prove he belonged in the league.
The series reflected such a ride for the journeyman, who has answered adamantly he is more relevant than ever.
“When you are down, you can’t really look at the numbers. You just have to win it by possession. Possession by possession, win the quarter, win the half. You can’t look at the destination. You have to enjoy the journey of just getting to the mountaintop. It was rocky at first but we weathered the storm and made the top,” Ross said.
“If (he) can bring you to it, (he) can bring you to it. That is one of my mottos. There is never an obstacle too tough to climb. Can’t get over it? Get through it. This is what I embraced in this series and in my whole life. It is still an unbelievable feeling in the end. We couldn’t have done it without a better group of guys in the locker room. When we were down 0-3, everyone still believed. It is just amazing to deal with that.”
Cover photo courtesy of PBA Images