When Renaldo Balkman’s name was called by the PA announcer prior to tip-off of Alab Pilipinas’ game against the Westsports Malaysia Dragons, the jampacked Filoil Flying V Centre drowned him with cheers. It was the exact opposite of what he had received 1759 days ago.
The last time the 6-foot-8 forward was playing in the Philippines, he figured in one of the most talked-about moments in the history of the PBA.
The Petron Blaze Boosters had been up against the Alaska Aces during that night. Petron had been down 73-80 with 21.6 seconds left when Balkman was not able to get a call that favored him. Arwind Santos tried to calm him down, but Balkman did not take kindly of it, choking, shoving, and slapping his teammate’s hands away.
This resulted in him being slapped with a lifetime ban by the PBA.
But with Alab Pilipinas struggling, coach Jimmy Alapag needed a player that could help them in their campaign. And he immediately had one person in mind: Balkman.
“When I saw him in Spain (during the 2014 FIBA World Cup), he said, ‘If you ever get to coaching and the doors open for me to come back to Manila, I’m willing’,” Alapag shared.
“We’re thankful to GAB (Games and Amusement Board) for approving his license.”
Balkman did not disappoint. Even if he had just arrived earlier in the day, the now-33 year old dropped 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds, four steals, and two blocks. Conniving with Justin Brownlee, they were able to lift Alab to a 90-79 win to open the new year in style.
And he was immensely grateful to the Filipino crowd who welcomed him back with open arms.
“It felt good. I didn’t expect it, but the past is the past,” Balkman expressed. “I did lots of things since then and tonight, it wasn’t on my mind, it wasn’t on my head. I just went out there to play basketball.
“It’s been a long time.”
His last stint in the country did not end up well, as he did not have a championship to boot — and he was slapped with a huge fine that definitely hurt his savings. This time around, the 20th overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft is a man on a mission: to win an ABL championship and return to the PBA.
“That’s the goal,” he remarked about a potential return to the big league, “But right now, we’re gonna finish the ABL first. We’re gonna finish this and see where it goes.
“Right now, it’s about the ABL and we can talk about the PBA later. Right now, our goal is to win a championship in the ABL.”