Years have passed, and yet Paul Lee still vividly remembers how it felt when he got traded for James Yap in easily one of the biggest deals that has ever taken place in the PBA.
Shock waves shot across the league back in October of 2016 when Rain or Shine sent Lee — then entering his sixth season in the pros — to Star for the two-time MVP in a one-for-one deal.
“Of course,” Lee said as he recalled the days leading up to that much-talked about trade in Saturday’s episode of 2OT, presented by SMART and supported by Team Phenom Sportswear.
The Elasto Painters then were coming off a disappointing finish in the 2016 Governors Cup, having missed the playoffs. And Lee admitted that he felt something wrong with the team at that point.
“Ang nangyari noon is siguro sampung player yata sa team, expiry that time. Doon ko naramdaman na ‘yung team parang naghihintay kung anong mangyayari about sa contract. Parang worried talaga lahat, kaya hindi makapag-focus ng maigi sa game,” said Lee, as Rain or Shine finished ninth in the eliminations with a 5-6 win-loss record.
“Then ‘yun nga, off-season siya. Tapos ang tagal, ang tagal noon, siguro lagpas ng isang buwan — kasi usually kay Coach Yeng, three weeks pinagpapahinga nila kami tapos babalik na kami ng practice. Sabi ko, ‘Lagpas na isang buwan ah’.”
Soon, major changes took place in the franchise, which began with the sudden departure of Yeng Guiao after five seasons as head coach, in a tenure highlighted by a couple of PBA championship runs.
“Tapos biglang pumutok na ‘yung kay Coach Yeng — kasi nauna yata si Coach Yeng sa akin ng one week eh,” Lee remembered.
“So sabi ko, ‘Bahala na kung anong mangyari sa akin.'”
And then, the trade involving Lee and Yap happened, followed by the shipping of big man JR Quinahan to GlobalPort for Jay Washington that was also approved by the league on the same day.
Lee confessed that he got the news after a personal workout at the University of the East gym through a text message from Atty. Mamerto Mondragon, the Elasto Painters’ team governor.
“Nagii-start na ako magpakundisyon ulit tapos ‘yung phone ko iniwan ko sa kotse kasi nagpakundisyon ako sa UE … So iniwan ko lang ‘yung phone ko. Pagbalik ko sa phone, ang daming missed calls sa akin ni governor namin sa Rain or Shine, si Sir Mert Mondragon,” said the gunslinging guard, who won his first two PBA championships with Rain or Shine.
“Sabi ko, ‘Bakit ang daming missed calls ni Atty. Mert?’ Kasi nung time na yun, dadating din yung kontrata ko dito sa bahay, pinadala sa’kin yung kontrata ko para icheck ko daw kung ano daw masasabi ko, pagaralan ko daw,” added Lee as the two-year max deal he signed with the Elasto Painters back in 2014 was expiring then.
“Then ‘yun nga, maya-maya nag-text siya, sinabi niya kaagad sa akin — talagang direct to the point ah — ‘Paul, na-trade ka namin sa Star Hotshots. Good luck sa ‘yo doon, mag-iingat ka doon and magpapakabait ka doon.'”
Lee admitted that he felt excited upon learning that he was about to join the Hotshots, since the squad then had practically the same cast that won the Grand Slam in 2014, including Marc Pingris and PJ Simon.
“Inisip ko kaagad, sabi ko Star Hotshots? Malakas pa ‘yun. Nandoon pa si James Yap, nandoon pa si PJ Simon, Pingris, [Mark] Barroca, [Justin] Melton, [Alex] Mallari, Allein Maliksi, RR Garcia. Sabi ko contender ‘tong team na ‘to.”
Lee still had no idea, though, whom he was traded for. Atty. Mondragon did not inform him, and neither did Hotshots governor Rene Pardo and SMC sports director Alfrancis Chua when they welcomed him to his new home.
“Hindi ko alam kung sino ‘yung ka-trade ko,” Lee shared.
“Tumawag sa akin si Boss Pardo that time, at saka si Boss Al na welcome sa team, ganyan ganyan. Wala rin sila sinabi na ganon.”
Lee only learned that he was dealt for Yap through his friends who texted him. That left him in disbelief, and later on, he said, the excitement he felt turned into pressure, since he realized he had big shoes to fill.
Yap — undeniably one of the best players in league history — was the face of the Purefoods franchise, which he led to seven championships, including the rare treble in 2014.
“Sa mga kaibigan ko pa unang [nalaman], nagte-text sila. Sabi ko, ‘Imposibleng James Yap!’ Nung nagbasa na ako ng news, doon parang tumayo ‘yung balahibo ko na parang, ‘What, si James yung ka-trade ko?'” said Lee.
“Parang doon pumasok ‘yung, ‘Patay, pressure,’ sabi kong ganyan. Alam mo ‘yung dalawa ‘yung feelings mo? Na sobrang happy mo kung saan ka napunta kasi kahit na anong sabihin mo, ‘yung Purefoods isa rin sa pinaka-matatag na franchise talaga sa liga natin eh ‘di ba? Ngayon James Yap ‘yung kapalit ko, kailangan meron akong madala sa table nito right away,” admitted the 6-foot combo guard from Tondo
“Ganon ‘yung feeling ko, kumbaga big shoes to fill talaga. Alam ko ‘yung naghihintay sa akin na expectations nung tao, ng mga fans, ng management.”
It has been years, but based the Hotshots’ performance since that surprising trade, it’s safe to say that Lee has managed to meet such expectations. The 2018 Governors’ Cup title alone could speak for it.
Meanwhile, Yap, who turned 38 last February, remains keen on fulfilling his goal of helping Rain or Shine win a championship, something that the franchise last won in 2016 when it ruled the Commissioner’s Cup.
“Hopefully right now, na-satisfy sila sa mga pinakita ko or ginagawa ko on and off the court. Then sa mga fans din namin, sana nasiyahan sila sa first four years ko dito sa franchise.“
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