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Asi Taulava sees career ending with NLEX after championship win

MANILA, Philippines – With 3:23 left in the fourth quarter of the NLEX Road Warriors’ game against the Mahindra Enforcers on Friday, February 26, Asi Taulava grabbed an offensive rebound that made history.

Taulava, who cleaned the glass after a miss by his rookie teammate Simon Enciso, grabbed his 11th rebound of the game and 6,000th of his career, becoming just the fifth player in PBA history to reach that landmark.

The accomplishment was just the latest in the career of the soon-to-be 43-year-old, who already has a league MVP award (2003) and 4 PBA Mythical First Team selections to his name.

“It would have felt better with a win,” was what Taulava said about it after the game, which his Road Warriors lost, 106-99, to drop to 2-2 in the 2016 Commissioner’s Cup.

But he did acknowledge his achievement, expressing gratitude for  still being able to play at a high level.

“I’m just happy and grateful that I’m still playing at my age,” said the 17-year veteran. In a couple of days (March 2), I’ll be the big 43. I guess I can take that as an early birthday gift, but I just want to continue working, help NLEX win games.”

If Taulava has plans of breaking the league’s all-time rebounding record, he has a long way to go. 2,651 to be exact. 

The record is held by Ramon Fernandez (8,652), who’s closely trailed behind by Abet Guidaben (8,570). Jerry Codinera (7,034), Alvin Patrimonio (6,152), and Taulava (6.001) round out the top 5.

“I try not to look at it that way. I just want to continue playing, enjoying the game,” he said about performing with the finish line of his career in sight, although he’s unsure when exactly he plans to call it quits.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” was his response to whether he can grab a thousand more boards. “If I can hold it together, If I can hold my body together, I’ll just continue playing.”

Winning a championship

The reason why Taulava continues to persevere and fight through wear and tear is his dream to taste another PBA title. 

He’s only celebrated one so far in his career: the 2003 All-Filipino Conference championship, which was given to him along with a Finals MVP plum.

The Fil-Tongan big has many other feats to be proud of, such as being a 3-time PBA Mythical Second Team selection, 3-time PBA Defensive Team selection, winning the PBA’s Comeback Player of the Year award in 2014, and being a member of both the 5,000 points club and the 40 Greatest Players list.

But getting to celebrate another PBA title, with the confetti falling from the heavens, is what he really hopes to achieve, even with how appreciative he is of the other accolades he has attained.

“Everything else that falls, comes in along the way, is great, but the ultimate thing that I have on my checklist is to win a championship,” said Taulava.

“That’s the reason I’m still playing. That’s the reason I’m still challenging myself every day, coming in, pushing myself.”

The 6-foot-10 Taulava has recently lost weight to reduce the strain on his body. He says that winning a silver medal with Gilas during the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship was the other goal he needed to accomplish. Now that that’s done - thanks to some help from Andray Blatche, Calvin Abueva, Terrence Romeo and company - he turns to his remaining task.

If he achieves it, that’s when he believes he’ll walk away from the game that’s made him a household name for nearly two decades.

“I think if I win it, I think it might be time to walk away, end it on a good note,” he said, before adding this caveat:

“But you never know with Boss Ronald [Dulatre] (NLEX team manager).”

Taulava also said that his current contract ends after the Governors’ Cup conference this season. “I don’t know, you should ask him, huh?” he jokingly answered while looking at Dulatre, who was a few feet away, if an extension is in play, before taking a more serious note:

“Whatever boss wants. I’ll be happy to stay. It would be great to have a younger guy come in so I can teach him the ropes before it’s all said and done with me.” 

Only time will tell how long that may be. –