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JayJay hangs up sneakers

MANILA, Philippines — The man who personified the “Never Say Die” spirit of Barangay Ginebra in 16 years with the PBA franchise is retiring from playing the game he loves. JayJay Helterbrand, 41, said yesterday he’s hanging up his sneakers after a storybook career that was marked by a Mr. Quality Minutes citation in 2003, a Comeback Player trophy in 2005, an MVP award in 2009, two All-Star Game MVP honors and six championships.

Helterbrand played in only four games in the just-concluded Governors Cup and was on the bench in uniform when Ginebra clinched the Finals series in Game 7 over Meralco before an all-time record crowd of 54,086 at the Philippine Arena last Friday. The next day, Helterbrand advised Ginebra management of his decision to call it quits.

“When I joined Ginebra, we weren’t winning championships but eventually, we came together,” he said. “That’s what I’ll cherish most about my PBA career  – the championships. The individual honors were nice but winning as a team was the best experience. I’m grateful to Ginebra management for the support all these years.”

Helterbrand said he was offered an assistant coaching job with Ginebra. “I’ll take a little break from the game at the moment,” he said. “For 16 straight seasons, I played basketball and I owe it to my family to make up for all the lost time. I’ve got family in Kentucky, Denver and Atlanta. My dream is to be able to get everyone together, maybe in the Philippines if we decide to settle here for good or in one state where we can all be together as a family. It’s something I’ll still need to work out. Right now, I have no schedule of leaving the country. I’ll definitely be around. Whatever is the decision, I see myself going back and forth between the US and the Philippines.”

Helterbrand said while he’s walking away from the game now, he’s not closing the door on Ginebra’s offer. “We’ve got a great coaching staff at Ginebra and if ever I join, it’ll be a learning experience,” he said. “I’m grateful for the offer and I’ll definitely consider it. Boss Al (Ginebra PBA governor Alfrancis Chua) and coach Tim (Cone) have always had my back and I’ll never forget what they’ve done for me and my family. As for what to do in retirement outside of basketball, I’ll continue to be involved in a skin care business with my partners and I’m thankful to San Miguel management for inviting me to do a company-related business. I’m hoping to sit down soon with San Miguel to explore opportunities.”

What if another PBA team makes an offer to play? “That’s never crossed my mind,” he said. “I’ve played my entire PBA career with Ginebra and I couldn’t be happier. I could never imagine myself wearing a different uniform.”

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Helterbrand said he’d like to hang out with his two daughters more in his retirement. Keana, 22, just graduated from the University of Denver and Jalyn, 18, is a senior high school student. 

Helterbrand said Ginebra wanted to honor him by retiring his jersey.  “I asked if I could wait for Mark’s (Caguioa) retirement so both our jerseys could be retired together,” he said. “Mark and I started out together. We had some amazing moments with Ginebra. It would be an added honor for me if our jerseys were to be retired together.” 

With Helterbrand retired, Caguioa will miss his partner in the fabled Fast and the Furious tandem. In the PBA draft last Sunday, Ginebra’s picks were Jett Manuel in the first round and Elmer Cabahug in the third. Both Manuel and Cabahug are combo guards with deadly perimeter shooting. Whoever will take over Helterbrand’s spot has big shoes to fill. There will never be another Helterbrand.

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