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Sports

Perseverance, redemption & triumph

Rick Olivares - Philstar.com
Perseverance, redemption & triumph
The Meralco Bolts
STAR / Russell Palma

MANILA, Philippines – If you go to the Meralco Gym inside the Meralco compound along Ortigas Avenue, there is a canteen next to the badminton court and about a minute’s walk from the basketball court.

Once inside, the wall has several mounted photos of the old Meralco Reddy Kilowatts that competed from 1968-1972 in the defunct MICAA (Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association). The photos celebrate the 1971 MICAA Open, where the Reddy Kilowatts defeated Crispa. There are also photos that celebrate their National Seniors and National Invitational trophies that were organized by the then-Basketball Association of the Philippines.
 
When I would eat there, when attending practices to interview the coaches and players, I would sit in the canteen and look at all the pictures. At first, it was with a sense of wonder. Later, I wondered as the Bolts were continuously frustrated by Ginebra if the organization was living off old glory.

I worked for the Meralco Bolts from 2014-17, writing stories for their website as well as regular media. During that time, they made the finals four times, losing every one of them to Ginebra. That is why I was there in the canteen to mull over what was happening and when the frustration would end. 

After Meralco defeated Ginebra and then San Miguel en route to this Philippine Cup title, I thought of those who were there from the beginning of the heartbreak (let’s be clear — the beginning and not the middle — Cliff Hodge, who was selected in the 2012 draft; Anjo Caram, who was picked on the 2013 draft; and Chris Newsome, who came on board from the 2015 draft. On the coaching staff were Gene Afable, Reynel Hugnatan, who suited up for the bolts during those finals teams that were unable to bring home the trophy; Norman Black, who presided over the Meralco teams; and Paolo Trillo, who remains team manager).

It would have been nice to have bagged the title earlier, but at least they are still part of the organization.

And I thought of the photos on the canteen’s wall. They should proudly post these new photos next to the old ones. The fact that they are in color will differ greatly from those old grainy black and white pictures. It’s new, very recent, and well, apt. 

As the final buzzer sounded and Meralco celebrated their long climb to basketball immortality, I watched the old hands beam and celebrate.

It is also fitting that Newsome scored the title-clinching basket. Yes, I heard all the comments from within and outside that he couldn’t lift this team, that his game was hurting the team, and that he only got playing time because of Black, who brought him from Ateneo. 

Hodge, who came up from the NLEX Road Warriors in the PBA D-League, was a stalwart in the squad. But his teammate Calvin Abueva grabbed the spotlight. And even as they turned pro, Abueva took Rookie of the Year honors in 2013 while with the Alaska Aces. 

As the Bolts were unable to get over the hump, Hodge was said to be just another talented player who was unable to lift his squad. He has his first title since his D-League days with the NLEX Road Warriors. 
 
Caram is quite another story. He was said to be too small to play in the pros. He has outlasted many of his teammates from those multi-titled San Beda squads. And it isn’t like he is a benchwarmer. You do not last 11 seasons in the PBA by burning a hole on your shorts at the end of the bench. 

And how can you not be happy for Luigi Trillo? I saw how he endured so much when he coached Adamson in the UAAP. He still got some stick when he coached Alaska but all became quiet when he steered the Aces to their 14th league crown and first in the post-Tim Cone era. He also received the Press Corp’s Coach of the Year Award.

While Black was abroad, Luigi took over the reins of Meralco and got them to defeat Ginebra in a playoff series. No doubt, the big bosses noticed that and when the former’s tour of duty was done, Trill got the nod to take over.

After so many years of knocking on the championship door, the Bolts finally got it done. And theirs is a story of redemption and triumph. 

That has to feel so damn good.

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