Francis Arnaiz

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star
Francis Arnaiz
Francis Arnaiz (right) and Marte Samson.

Basketball legend Francis Arnaiz has always embraced what life has sent his way. From intensely playing basketball and football as a child in Bacolod and Iloilo, to getting spotted by the Ateneo Blue Eagles at a national high school championship in Marikina, it seemed his path was already predestined. Scrapbooks of his uncle, Rusty Cacho, fired up his desire to play in college. And all of his uncles were from Ateneo, so even before he was recruited, he had actually already taken the entrance exam.  The result was the 1969 NCAA championship, and a Rookie of the Year Award.

As fate would have it, he initially declined the invitation to play in the MICAA. But when school didn’t work out, he took up Komatsu on their offer. Komatsu eventually became Toyota, and Francis was inescapably paired with Robert Jaworski.

“I can talk about Sonny and me,” the 10-time PBA champion told this writer. “You know, we just played a hundred percent every single night, every single day. I guess we had the same general philosophy abut the game, that we just clicked.”

“It was his passion for the game that I saw right away,” says 1976 PBA Rookie of the Year Gil Cortez, who started at power forward to the Jaworski-Arnaiz backcourt, with Mon Fernandez at center and Ompong Segura at small forward. “He would take a hundred shots even before practice started.”

Since most of the players lived together in the team quarters in Makati, they grew a close bond with one another. The result was clear: 10 league championships in the PBA’s early days. Then, a fuel crisis raised gas prices 400 percent, and it became impractical for car companies to stay in the country. The team was split into two, with Jaworski, Arnaiz and company joining a young Gilbey’s Gin squad which would later become Ginebra San Miguel, which became Philippine basketball’s darling.

“He was known for being Mr. Clutch, for making that shot, that critical shot to win the game” says his daughter Tammy Arnaiz-Tuason. “And a lot of people under pressure kind of fold. But he was okay, and actually thrived with the challenge.”

“In the first couple of years, we never won a championship,” Mr. Clutch recalls. “But we really played our best, which was exciting to watch, until 1986, when we eventually won our first championship as Ginebra.”

Shortly thereafter, Francis retired from basketball. He had left it all on the hardwood, and had a clean slate moving forward. He awaited the next thing to pour his entire self into.

“It was time to move on. The passion for the game was really not there anymore,” he admits. “I was also struggling with my knees. I remember the last season, I missed half a conference because of that”

Arnaiz sought his future in the United States, where he would take on any job. He tried golf, and gave it the same fiery attention he had given basketball. Inevitably, he landed a career at the state capital in Sacramento, down the hall from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Almost a decade ago, he retired. On to the next thing, which turned out to be painting. Seeing his mother with a draw-by-the numbers book, he tried painting. It then consumed him, and he spent six hours or more every day painting, just the simple things he would see: the beach, flowers, his grandchildren. This has led to successful exhibits back in the Philippines. With the help of art gallery owner and his former coach at Toyota, Dante Silverio.

“This all comes from God,” Francis declares. “What comes from him is the passion. He gives you the desire. He knew I loved art. He gave me the passion to do it. You put in the hours. I’ll give you the love for it.”

That pretty much sums up how life should be, doesn’t it?

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