MANILA, Philippines – The finals battle between giants June Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter PBA fans and pundits had craved for throughout the years is finally happening.
It will be the first time Fajardo and Slaughter will face in a PBA finals as San Miguel and Barangay Ginebra vie for the 2018 PBA Commissioner's Cup title.
The two towering centers go a long way back.
In 2009, Slaughter's University of Visayas (UV) bested Fajardo's University of Cebu (UC) in 4 games of their best-of-5 duel to win the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI) championship.
That was Slaughter's last year in UV before he flew to Manila to play for the Ateneo de Manila University and it was after he left that Fajardo won CESAFI titles in 2010 and 2011.
Of course, "The Kraken" wants to win won over "GregZilla" in the biggest stage in Philippine basketball.
"[H]oping ako na ako naman 'yung manalo. Pero hindi ganoon kadali 'yun," the 6-foot-10 said during the finals presser at the Sambokojin Restaurant in Eastwood on Tuesday, July 24.
(I'm hoping that I will win this time. But I know it will not be easy.)
"For sure, matutuwa 'yung mga taga-Cebu kasi nga nagkaharap kami ng Greg ngayon and then parang mare-reminisce nila 'yung CESAFI days namin. Ganoon din ako. Naalala ko din 'yung mga games namin sa Cebu."
(For sure, Cebuanos will be happy seeing us face each other in the finals. They will reminisce the time when we were playing in the CESAFI. I also reminisce those moments.)
Slaughter, knowing Fajardo's hopes, will not give in.
"He said he's eyeing vengeance?" the 7-footer said with a smile.
"You know, yeah, I would be too. As competitors, we’re here to compete. We’re competing against each other since our CESAFI days. It’s another opportunity to compete against each other."
A lot has changed since that CESAFI finals series.
Fajardo has established himself as the most dominant player in the league by nabbing 4 straight Most Valuable Player awards and 6 Best Player of the Conference (BPC) plums.
He also has 6 PBA championships to his name and is on pace to win a bunch more at 28 year old.
Slaughter, meanwhile, had been hobbled by nagging injuries that prevented him from seeing action in numerous crucial playoff runs by Ginebra.
But when healthy, he has proven to be a force – winning the BPC and helping the Gin Kings defend their Governor's Cup last year.
"Pareho kami, malayo na 'yung narating namin," said Fajardo. "Thankful lang kami na nandito kami."
(The two of us have come a long way. We're just thankful that we are here.)
It's a team game
While the Fajardo and Slaughter have been pitted against each other since they entered the league in 2012 and 2013, respectively, the two agree that it's a team game after all.
"[H]indi naman tungkol sa akin at kay Greg 'to e, tungkol ito sa Ginebra at San Miguel," said Fajardo.
(This is not about me and Greg. This is about Ginebra and San Miguel.)
"Gagawin namin lahat para mabigyan namin ng magandang laban 'yung mga fans and syempre, gusto namin manalo ng championship, ganoon din sila."
(We will do everything to give a good fight for the fans and of course, we want to win the championship. They also want to win the championship.)
Slaughter echoed Fajardo's statement.
"It’s a tough matchup and a huge obstacle to overcome but I’m not making it as a personal matchup. It’s a team matchup. At the end of the day, we’re both trying to win a championship," he said.
Game 1 of the best-of-7 finals series is on Friday, July 27, at the Araneta Coliseum. – Rappler.com
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.