|The Big J with that tender moment with his late coach.|
This appears on abs-cbnnews.com
A Legend says goodbye to a Legend
by rick olivares
Robert Jaworski patiently waited his turn as the congregation at the Mass of the Resurrection at the Church of the Gesu inside the Ateneo de Manila University in Loyola for the late Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan lined up to pay their last respects. A teammate of his from the University of the East, Joseph Wilson, who was ahead of him in the line, was failing in maintaining his composure. He fought back the tears and said, “I owe what I am to that man.”
A few minutes later, Jaworski found himself in front of Dalupan’s coffin. He looked at his old coach during his collegiate playing days at UE then placed his massive right hand, that hand that once easily gripped and palmed basketballs as if they were volleyballs, on top of the glass. The man they called “the Living Legend” never gave in to pain on the hardcourt. He was a tough man who played even tougher.
Yet on this day, Jaworski showed a tenderness that he was also known for to friends and fans to a man who channeled his talent, who coached him and coached against him, and who was at once a father, mentor, and friend to him.
“Paalam, coach,” he said as he coast a loving look at the late 92-year old coach who succumbed last Wednesday, August 17, due to complications arising from a recurring battle with pneumonia. “I have always cherished you when you were alive and now that you’re gone, I cherish you even more.”
Jaworski said no more and bowed his head. He played for Dalupan at the University of the East for college winning championships in the UAAP from 1964-67. He also suited up for the coach for the World University Games in 1967 and the Asian Games in 1970. From there, the two parted ways as Dalupan further carved out a name for himself as a brilliant coach. The man dubbed “the Maestro” won a grand total of 52 championships not only in UE but also in his return to his alma mater, Ateneo, but also in the pro ranks with the dynastic Crispa Redmanizers and the Great Taste Coffeemakers but also later with Purefoods.
Jaworksi, the protege, likewise cut his eyeteeth on the court; hence, “the Living Legend.” He won nine championships in the PBA and coached four title teams as playing coach. As an ultimate honor, Jaworski was named head coach when the first all-professional national team was formed during the 1990 Asian Games where the team took home a silver medal. For his blood and guts, never-say-die approach to the game, Jaworski endeared himself to a legion of fans. By the time, he hung up his sneakers in 1998, he had joined his coach in the basketball firmament as one of its all-time greats.
Now with his old mentor one last time as he was soon going to be cremated, the Big J, in a final gesture, kissed the glass. Stood to compose himself then turned to hug the coach’s widow, Nenang who sat nearby. “He always talked fondly about you,” she told the Big J who fought back the tears.
The Big J gave her a long and tender hug and whispered words of love and encouragement to Nenang. No more had to be said, theirs was a shared history longer than with most people. Jaworski planted a kiss on her forehead then let go. He nodded then joined Wilson near the altar as the coffin was prepared for a funeral procession.
“When I won my first PBA championship (the 1986 Open Conference that saw a Billy Ray Bates and Michael Hackett reinforced Ginebra team defeat Manila Beer in five games), I shared this with Coach Baby,” shared Jaworski later with Wilson and some family members of the Dalupans and the Floros nearby. “He told me to cherish and celebrate the championship with the people who got you there because they understand how difficult the journey was and in doing so we formed a bond.”
“I think looking back at those words from what — 30 years ago — they ring even more true,” added the Big J. “And here inside this Church, I see former teammates and colleagues who share that bond. Even the players on his other teams from Ateneo or even Great Taste they are here. All are here because of those bonds. And that makes this special. It is what makes Coach Baby special. And we should be thankful for that."