MANILA, Philippines – In the middle of the chaos of a partisan 20,374-crowd, Jayjay Helterbrand and Mark Caguioa, two of the biggest stars of their era, shared a hug.
Few, if any, words were said. But the emotions, after a finals-deprived 3 years and an even longer 8-year title drought, came rushing out and moved those who saw and understood what it meant. Helterbrand’s tears threatened to escape, and Caguioa came just as close.
“One last ride, just like the movie,” a grinning Helterbrand told Caguioa after the game when the pair known as “The Fast and the Furious” granted an interview together.
It was a poignant moment with both veterans at the twilight of their unforgettable careers.
The 39-year-old Helterbrand, known as “The Fast” of the duo, is already at the precipice of retirement, having reportedly already said he will hang up his jersey after this season. When Helterbrand retires, it’ll be the end of a major era in PBA and Barangay Ginebra basketball.
Caguioa, 36, conceded he has yet to accept the impending parting of ways.
“I still don’t want to think that he’s gonna retire,” he said. “Don’t want to think about that.”
Barangay Ginebra, the PBA’s most popular ballclub, returned to the finals for the first time since the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup and will have a chance at satisfying its hunger for a championship after last winning one in the 2008 Fiesta Conference.
They defeated defending champion and sister team San Miguel Beer in Game 5 of the Governors’ Cup semis, 117-92, on Tuesday, October 4. It’ll be the 21st finals appearance for the 37-year-old franchise.
“This is surreal. It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Helterbrand said, pausing for a moment as he struggled for the right words.
“I don’t have words to describe the way I’m feeling right now. All I can say is it’s harder to watch than when you’re out there playing. It’s different.”
“I think this is the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “I gotta go check my blood pressure.”
Caguioa and Helterbrand’s partnership began in 2001 when Caguioa was drafted third overall by Ginebra. Helterbrand joined the team a year prior as a direct hire.
Their fast-paced and exciting combo initially earned them the nickname “Bandana Brothers” because of the headbands they wore. The monicker “The Fast and The Furious” came in 2004, when the pair helped the Gin Kings win two straight titles.
With 4 PBA championships, a combined 17 All-Star appearances, two Most Valuable Player recognitions, and 5 Best Player of the Conference awards between them, the duo is known as one of the best backcourt tandems in the league.
The speedy Helterbrand and Caguioa have since slowed down in recent years, and this series over the next two weeks could possibly be the last time we will see them playing side by side on the court.
“Man. I don’t know,” Caguioa also strived to articulate himself. “I’m just… Like me and him, we’re looking at each other over there and we just can’t believe that we’re here.”
With the youth leaving their legs, Caguioa said it’s been the undying fan support and love that have propelled them through every setback and fightback, especially in the last 8 years of criticism and doubt.
“For us we were just thinking about the fans. They deserve this. More than us,” Caguioa reflected. “They’ve been there through thick and thin. Muntik na nga akong umiyak (I almost cried). I’m just so happy that we made it to the Finals.”
It will be a bittersweet finals for both men whatever the result.
“That’s what I was telling him. When he retires, and then there were none. Paunti unti na lang (Little by little). The Last of the Mohicans,” Caguioa said, referencing the 1826 novel adapted into film several times up until the 90s, about the final journey of the remaining members of a dying Native American tribe.
Caguioa and Helterbrand are the last men standing from the 2008 champion team.
“That’s why we gave each other a big hug. We’ve been here since the beginning,” Caguioa said thoughtfully.
“Nagpalit ng mga coach, ng mga players, pero nandito pa rin kami (Coaches and players came and went, but we’re still here).”
Ginebra will face an equally title-starved Meralco in a best-of-7 series beginning Friday, October 7.
It’ll be one more run and likely one last ride or die for “The Fast and The Furious.” – Rappler.com