A wide-eyed Arvin Tolentino felt goosebumps all over as he basked in the loud, passionate “GI-NE-BRA!” chants while Barangay Ginebra San Miguel took on fierce rivals Meralco in last season’s PBA Governors’ Cup Finals.
At that time, the Gin Kings had just drafted the 25-year-old. But he and fellow rooks Jerrick Balanza and Kent Salado were with the team already, and they all witnessed their seniors lord over the tilt for the third time in four years.
“Na-experience namin ‘yan nung Finals last conference, against Meralco. Kasi kasama na kami sa team, nandun na kami buong series. Ang sarap,” Tolentino recalled in an episode of 2OT, presented by SMART.
“Ang sarap sa pakiramdam, ang sarap sa tenga kahit sobrang lakas. Alam mo ‘yung every basket nagchi-cheer ‘yung mga fans, especially ‘yung mga crucial moments. ‘Pag naririnig mo ‘yung Ginebra, goosebumps eh,” he added.
Tolentino himself confessed that he was a Ginebra fan growing up. So it was definitely a dream come true for the former UAAP Rookie of the Year to be chosen by the team that he and his family have been supporting all these years.
“Solid ka-Barangay kami noon, buong family ko,” said the Barangay’s 10th overall pick in last year’s regular draft.
“Pangarap ko mag-PBA ta’s pangarap ko maglaro para sa Ginebra, parehong natupad sa moment na ‘yun.”
And since he experienced the wild roar of a pro-Ginebra crowd that could rock any venue, Tolentino couldn’t help but imagine being on the court and being showered with those very chants.
“Dati nakikisigaw lang din kami noon eh, sa chants ng ‘GI-NE-BRA’. Ngayon kami ‘yung sisigawan. Naiisip ko rin,” he admitted.
Fast forward to Sunday night, and Tolentino is living beyond what he dreamt of. The 6-foot-4 forward was part of head coach Tim Cone’s starting unit in his first-ever PBA Finals appearance.
The only thing missing was the crowd, since the 2020 Philippine Cup is taking inside a bubble in Clark, Pampanga.
But if there were the Ginebra faithful inside the SMART 5G-powered AUF Sports and Cultural Center, there’s no question that they would all erupt in jubilation, since Tolentino made a big mark in the title bout opener.
The former Far Eastern University standout was responsible for sending the grind-out affair into overtime. He sank a lay-up off an LA Tenorio dish to tie the game up at 92-all with five seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Eventually, the Gin Kings won, 100-94, to seize the 1-0 lead over corporate rivals TNT Tropang Giga in the best-of-seven series.
Tolentino finished with 14 points spiked by a couple of triples, on top of four rebounds, three steals, and a block in over 32 minutes of play. And he earned the praises of no less than Cone himself.
“The thing I like about Arvin is that he’s fearless. He’s not afraid of taking shots, or driving to the basket. I get on him hard a lot, but he’s absolutely fearless. He’s fearless of me, he’s fearless of the game, and he has multiple skills,” he said.
“He’s the perfect guy right now playing TNT because of his versatility,” Cone added. “He’s quick up and down the floor. He’s athletic. He came to us at the right time to play TNT. He’s a difference-maker for us.”
Tolentino’s dream of hearing and soaking in those ‘GI-NEB-RA’ chants, though, will have to wait for a while. But he surely made every ka-Barangay proud with his performance — under the brightest of lights.