Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wounded Tiger. Hidden Dragon.

(This appears in my column in the sports section of today's Business Mirror.)

This is a basketball story. At times it reads like an inspirational story. Sometimes it reads like a story out of the Old Testament including wrath of God types of plagues that would have felled a man and a team of less fortitude. But it’s a story of scruples, principles, and a steel-determination to rise above the challenges of life and basketball.

Binky Favis was a star for La Salle Greenhills – “elementary to high school,” he emphasizes. He was recruited to move up to the senior circuit at Taft in 1988 and he was very much elated. He did make the team but found himself riding the bench – a third string back up to Dindo Pumaren and Teddy Monasterio. He didn’t mind thinking he’d eventually get his minutes. Only they never came. Not even another spot on a team that was ready to dominate after their archrivals from Loyola Heights began to crumble.

In his sophomore year, he found himself without a spot in the line-up. Even worse, a missing scholarship. Hurt and disconsolate, it took him only a day to feel bad about getting cut before he packed his belongings and took that short ride from Taft to EspaƱa to transfer to the University of Santo Tomas.

“It was hard at first facing my alma mater,” said Favis of that big move. “I could have stayed in La Salle without a scholarship, but my passion for the game and my desire to achieve wouldn’t let me stay put. I could have sulked, but that is not in my nature. I told myself that it was a challenge to hurdle.”

He joined a Glowing Goldies team that then-coach Aric Del Rosario was slowly building into a contender. Only they ran into some stiff competition from the University of the East that had Bong Ravena and Jolly Escobar, Far Eastern University with Vic Pablo and Johnny Abarrientos, and La Salle with Jun Limpot and the Lago brothers.

By the time he hung up his sneakers, his former teammates blitzed the league with an undefeated season that saw them bag their first title in ages (it was the start of the school’s mythic four-peat). Binky heard the good-natured jokes all right. “Hinintay ka namin mag-graduate bago mag-champion,” joked some.

“No. Hinintay niyo lang ako mag-coach sa inyo para turuan kayo kung paano manalo,” was his magnificent comeback.

Coaching. It never crossed his mind. He wasn’t even that rabid a fan of the game off the court. Sure he rooted for Crispa and would watch the odd pro game if he ever caught it on television, but if he wasn’t hitting the books, he was in the gym. Dribbling. Shooting. Working out. Pushing himself to get better.

After Binky’s last playing day, a professor who he owed some school work to asked if he could coach the College of Science team during intramurals (Favis took up BS Math majoring in Computer Science). Since he “owed” the prof, he reluctantly agreed. “I went in there and didn’t expect much,” recalled Binky of those halcyon days. “With all due respect to the students from the College of Science, these were the studious types. Yung nerds. They would rather study than practice.”

“I thought that after a couple of practices it would be enough, but a few days before the start of the intramurals, my professor reminded me of the game. I agreed to attend only if he would be there as well.”

To Favis’ surprise, his team, his “nerdy students” were running everything he taught them during those few practice sessions. “Aba, okay ‘to ha,” he thought to himself. His team won that first game. And the next. And the next until they were in the finals against the team from the College of Commerce which had in its fold some of UST's Team B players. But the College of Science team won in a monumental upset.

Binky thought none of the accomplishment or the job until a school priest approached him and said he’d be coaching the high school team after their mentor passed away. He reorganized the program by lining up undergrads and players who would study. He pre-dated Coach Carter by cutting players who would not attend class and pass their subjects. “I may have cut them,” said the uncompromising coach. “But that doesn’t mean I abandoned them. I helped them out. Until they were ready once more to play.” And as a sign of appreciation for his burgeoning hoops chops and his strict adherence to academic excellence, Binky found himself an assistant to Del Rosario during those championship years (he won a couple while coaching the juniors team as well). Even after UST, he thought he’d get a real job. He played and coached the game for the sheer love and fun of it. His assistants on Coca Cola, Richie Ticzon and Boybits Victoria dreamed of a pro career even while in college. For Favis, X & Os were not in his to-do list.

But as fate would have it, Ron Jacobs came calling trying to resurrect a downtrodden San Miguel franchise. From there it was the Metropolitan Basketball Association, Letran, Ginebra, Coca Cola, and the National Team. “Everywhere I went there were challenges.”

Coca Cola. Gone are those championship days with Chot Reyes, Rudy Hatfield, Rafi Reavis, and Jeffrey Cariaso. Normally a change in team ownership would mean the players would have to make some adjustments. Except that Favis found himself the only constant in a team that not only changed management and but almost its entire roster overnight. Even the head coach was gone.

In their place he got journeymen, stars in the twilight of their career, untested rookies, and discards from other teams. “I prefer to call them acquisitions,” corrects the coach. “I believe that they will become great basketball players one day.” Only he never had the full complement of his team. The Tigers were a team of walking wounded. They were so banged up that they were actually fielding their reserve players in the starting unit (like Ronjay Buenafe). Some like RJ Rizada have had to play out of position.

The losses since last year have been mounting and certain quarters have been calling for his head on a pike. And the team has been looking for good cheer wherever they may find it. During team practice last Friday, gunner John Arigo hyper-extended his left arm casting doubt on his availability for the next few games. “You know what they say about rain when it pours,” remarked the coach albeit with a tinge of optimism. “This is the greatest challenge of my coaching career. It’s difficult, yes. But such is life with its ups and downs.”

“I’ve been blessed with a loving wife and a great family. The only thing I don’t have is a PBA championship to call my own. But I’m sure you also know what they say about wounded tigers with their backs against the wall…”

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