There have been many lifelong friendships formed because of Gilas Pilipinas.
There are former rivals turned good pals, Chris Tiu and Jvee Casio. Fierce enemies turned best friends Calvin Abueva and Raymond Almazan. Ilonggos Kiefer Ravena and Raymar Jose.
This time around, there’s Asi Taulava and Paul Lee.
Before every practice of the Men’s National Basketball Team, two baritone voices shouting and sneakers squeaking can be heard inside the Meralco Gym. It’s Asi Taulava and Paul Lee doing their own shooting and running drills.
After 20 years as a pro, the Asian Games was the first time the 6-foot-9 Filipino-Tongan got to play with Lee. And the two immediately clicked.
“The bond we have, I guess, is because Paul played for coach Yeng and both of us were just trying to learn from another,” shared the 45-year-old Taulava. “I’m trying to learn how to shoot threes and play on the perimeter, the way the guard thinks. And he’s picking my brain on how to deal with young guys and what the big guys like to do.
“So it’s a give and take relationship. And I’m just happy that I’ve got to know him in the Asian Games.”
“Parang gusto ko pang matuto ng maraming bagay. Siya yung pinakamatanda sa amin so nagpagdaanan na niya lahat ng bagay. Ilang Asian Games na rin napagdaanan niya,” added Lee, who is 16 years younger than Taulava.
“So far, ang dami niyang natuturo sa akin both on and off the court.”
Even in the big league, Taulava and Lee never had a chance to become teammates. Taulava has always been part of the Southern All-Stars, while Lee – who was born in Manila – represents the North All-Stars.
Though there were plenty of chances for the two to play together in Gilas, it only happened in 2018.
And the friendship the two have developed extends off the court as well.
“Even tonight, we finished at ten-thirty, when I get home at eleven-thirty, we’re always messaging each other,” disclosed Taulava.
“We go into workouts in the morning. That’s fun. You want friends like that. Somebody that’s gonna push you. You don’t want somebody that just gonna go stay up late night and hang out in the bars. You want somebody to get up at five ‘o clock in the morning and go get some work in. That’s the type of person Paul Lee is,” he beamed.
After seeing the hard word Taulava still puts in, Lee kidded that he wouldn’t be surprised if Taulava will still be in the big league with his kids – and even his grandchildren.
“Blessing sa akin na naging mag-teammate kami at naabutan ko siya,” expressed Lee.
“Baka nga maabutan pa niya yung baby ko o yung magiging apo ko kapag kaya pa niya.”
“Paul said that?!” quipped Taulava. “But being practical, we’ll see. We’ll evaluate at the end of the year. We’ll go from there.
“Right now, I’m just enjoying the moment and it’s so much fun right here to be with the young guys. “