Vernon Macklin owes a lot to the PBA for saving his career which was on the downtrend after an inconsequential stint averaging 2.0 points in 23 games with the Detroit Pistons in the 2011-12 NBA season, a testy situation in Turkey and a second stint in the NBA D-League.
When Macklin suited up for Barangay Ginebra in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup, he averaged 23.3 points, 14.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists while hitting 56.2 percent from the field. Ginebra advanced to the finals but fell short of bagging the championship. Still, Macklin said it turned his career around. “I realized I can do this,” he said. “From my heartbreaker in the NBA, I went to Turkey where the league is the most physical I’ve ever experienced. I left Turkey not sure of myself. Then, I fell in love with the Philippines. With Ginebra, my best teammate was L. A. Tenorio who’s a super smart guy. When I went back to play for Magnolia in 2018, my best teammate was Rafi Reavis. I’ll never forget the Filipino fans, probably the best in the world. That’s where I was called Big Mac. The PBA’s highly competitive, a lot of talented players. They’re in your face during a game but after, it’s all cool, we’re friends again. I respect the PBA referees, they were never a problem.”
Macklin has played in China, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Japan and Korea aside from Turkey and the Philippines so he’s been around. “The PBA is right behind Turkey in terms of physicality but I like playing physical,” he said. “Puerto Rico was tough because the refs don’t like making calls. Maybe, four years ago, if I was offered to play for a national team as a naturalized player, I would’ve done it. Look at Ricardo Ratliffe playing for Korea. He’s not playing for a paycheck. Ricardo stands up for Korea and I remember him telling me how much he loves the KBL, so why not play for the country? As for me, at my age 35, I don’t want to be too long away from family and home. I love the game so much but right now, family is my priority.”
The closest Macklin came to playing for a country was when he suited up for Mighty Sports in the 2016 Jones Cup. “My Filipina agent Sheryl Reyes, God bless her soul, invited me to join Mighty and that was a no-brainer with the kind of talent we had,” he said. “Al Thornton, Mike Singletary, Hamady N’diaye and Dewarick Spencer were on the team and we went undefeated. I thought it was cool winning the championship for the Philippines with coach Bo (Perasol) and coach Charles (Tiu).”
Macklin said he had a rough start at Georgetown in the NCAA. “Coach (John) Thompson was smart but we had our differences because I thought I knew it all coming from high school,” he said. “I learned a lot from coach Thompson and my teammates Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green. But after two years, I moved to Florida under coach (Billy) Donovan. Then, I was drafted by the Pistons in 2011. It was difficult in the NBA. Coach (Lawrence) Frank was all business, nothing like it was in college. Charlie Villanueva, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Rodney Stuckey took me under their wings. Joe Dumars was the team executive who drafted me. From the NBA, I went to Turkey. Everywhere I’ve played, I gave my best. As an import, you respect the culture of the country you’re playing in, your teammates, your coaches, the officials. You work hard to win games and stay humble. I played three years in Qatar and I enjoyed it there, too.”
Macklin said the emergence of EASL as a regional league will grow the game even more. It’s uncanny that Macklin has played in the four countries represented in EASL – China, Korea, Japan and the Philippines. “It’s a great platform to showcase your skills and the level of play will surely improve in every country,” he said. “Fans will welcome the competition because the best players of every country go up against each other. It will benefit the PBA, KBL, CBA and the B-League in Japan.”
Macklin said he’s not done playing. “I’m taking two months off to be with family then I’ll consider my options,” he said. “When I retire from playing, I’d like to represent athletes as an agent. Coaching’s not my biggest point so I won’t go into that. Early in my pro career, I lost $21,000 to an agent who didn’t act in my best interest. I don’t want that to happen to other athletes so I’d like to be able to do something to make representing athletes right.”